HOLING himself up in a hotel room eating nothing but peppers and drinking milk while reading Nietzsche and Crowley. Walking around "the rough part" of Hastings wearing Pierrot make-up. Fronting the band The Thin White Duke. Lighting black candles in his room painting expressionist pictures while listening to German music… These are activities now put behind professor Will Brooker, who has just completed a project where he spent a year living his life as David Bowie.

The academic who teaches film and cultural studies at Kingston University, spent a few months at a time experiencing the ever (ch-ch-ch-) changing phases of the star’s lengthy career, as part of an immersive research project which he took on in order to write a book and make a film about the late legend.

He will be coming to the Railway Hotel this Sunday, as a special guest of an all day Bowie tribute event - Strange, Mad Celebration - curated by Andrew Branch, co-founder of the Club Critical Theory project.

The free event, which kicks off at noon and ends at midnight at the pub in Clifftown Road, Southend, also sees special guests Lee Rourke and Sophia Deboick, with the Ship Full of Bombs DJs, a Bowieoke and Bowie quiz also scheduled throughout various parts of the day.

KB: Hello Will. Please can you explain to us the purpose of this project?

WB: It began as quite a modest, personal attempt to start my book research by trying something a little new and original. I had built up a library of biographies and books on Bowie and was daunted by the idea of adding anything to that existing work. So I compiled, from all those books, a list of all the music Bowie had listened to at various points, all the films we know he watched, the books he read, the TV he enjoyed, and the places he'd lived. I decided to try to immerse myself in the culture he had experienced, throughout his life, and see if it gave me a better understanding of his work - to experience some of what went into Bowie's head, basically, and see if it helped me understand what came out in his art.

In the process, in 69 days between February and May 2016, I wrote a book, which is about 90,000 words, called Forever Stardust, and will be published in January 2017. I also documented the whole research project on film, and that film, called Being Bowie, is now being screened at small festivals. I have currently only finished Act One, with my co-creator editor Rebecca Hughes, which takes us from the start up to Bowie's death. Act Two, from Bowie's death to the end of the project, will premiere at the Bowie conference in Lisbon in September.

KB: Why did you decide to take on the extraordinary, all consuming task of living as Bowie? Why was the research, just not enough?

WB: I was simply stuck when starting my research, around May 2015. I needed to find a way 'in', for myself, to find some kind of original approach - otherwise I felt I'd just be repeating what had already been done. The book, in the end, doesn't talk about me or my research at all. It's about Bowie as an artist, not about me. But I think my immersive research, the attempt to 'become' Bowie, subtly informs it all the way through, and gives it a distinct perspective. It was only meant to be a kind of personal experiment for my benefit, but these things grow as more people learn about them. When people expected me to be in costume and asked me onto daytime ITV shows, or to perform live, or to present at international conferences in the guise of 'Bowie', I wanted to take those opportunities and see what happened. So it is fair to say that it took on a life of its own.

KB: Would it be safe to assume you were a big Bowie fan prior to starting the project?

WB: There are always bigger Bowie fans, and there are a lot of people more expert and more devoted than me. But I have loved Bowie for a long time, yes, and his work is very important to me personally. I think all fans have their own personal relationship, and each is different to the next.

KB: As I understand it, you lived as Bowie for months at a time? Was it really a 24/7 thing, or did you get to kick off the platforms at night when you finished the day’s work and went home for your tea, so to speak?

WB: Yes, but so did Bowie. Ziggy Stardust was, after all, a stage costume. He apparently started to blur the boundaries between Ziggy and Bowie (and of course Bowie is a character anyway, a stage name for David Jones) but he didn't hang out dressed like that all the time at home. He wore a silk Japanese kimono, as I did at home during that period - very sensible clothing. Bowie ate his tea just like anyone else did. He enjoyed his food and drink, except during his more unhealthy periods. During the 2000s, in particular, he very much lived as David Jones. Iman has said she married David Jones, not David Bowie. He never changed his name legally. He retained an increasingly private, fairly normal (if a billionaire superstar can be normal) lifestyle during his last fifteen to twenty years, going to New York bookshops, delis and coffee shops, watching films and enjoying time with his family.

But I didn't listen to any music Bowie wouldn't have listened to, during that year, and I was reading pretty much nothing but books about Bowie, or books Bowie read, so I think my mind was very often in a 'David Bowie' place. I dreamed about him most nights.

KB: Can you tell us the kind of things you were doing to live as Bowie, such as holing yourself up in hotel rooms with only peppers and milk, reading Nietzsche and Crowley, etc?

WB: Yes, I did those things, certainly. I sustained myself on a diet of peppers and milk for a while. I didn't sleep for the best part of a week, though this was because I was flying from London to San Diego, then LA, then Melbourne, and really consuming nothing except coffee until about 5pm and champagne from 5pm onwards. So the demands of the lifestyle sometimes meant I was led into a very hazy, spaced-out frame of mind, and that comes across in some of the interviews I did at the time. When I watch them now, I can see I am struggling for the next sentence.

I was on crutches for two weeks after falling over in platform shoes. I don't think Bowie ever did that. That was simply careless of me.

I have deleted the video diaries I made after holing up with Nietzsche and Crowley books as I was just coming out with disturbing, pseudo-philosophical, political views, trying to get into Bowie's 'Thin White Duke' character. Bowie always said he couldn't remember that period, and I don't blame him for blocking it out.

KB: How difficult was it, to become interested in ‘another person’s’ interests, read their choice of literature, eat their choice of meals, and maintain that interest, when it may have not necessarily been your own?

WB: I think it was a useful exercise. We can all benefit from stepping outside our comfort zone in terms of the culture we encounter. I listened to music I wouldn't have listened to, and read books I wouldn't have read. I also went to a lot of places I wouldn't otherwise have visited, and had loads of really great experiences, like performing with a band.

My overall feeling about it is that while none of us can ever be Bowie, by aspiring to be MORE like him, we can become better versions of ourselves.

KB: How did you manage to split the two practices, of a) analysing what Bowie must have been thinking and going through, whilst in each phase, and b) becoming influenced and engrossed in the individual projects yourself? For instance, say you were reading a piece of literature, or performing in a band, did you ever feel you weren’t allowed to let your own thoughts and inspiration take over, and lead you on another path? Was it ever hard to keep everything contained and focused?

WB: I am not an actor but I casually compared the process to method acting, throughout, just to give people a rough idea of what I was trying to do. I imagine method acting must involve something similar - trying to inhabit a character but also remain aware of what's going on, and take notes on it from an 'outside' position.

KB: Would you say you were obsessed by Bowie?

WB: No, I would say I have my own personal relationship with Bowie. To be honest, I now feel I wouldn't mind some distance from Bowie!

KB: Did it ever get a bit dark? Did you ever freak yourself out psychologically, with what you were doing, especially when you pushed yourself to having no sleep and living as him?

WB: I had my only ever experience of what is called a 'night terror', where you are pinned down while asleep, and can't move. I dreamed that Bowie as the Thin White Duke was holding his black, silver-topped cane on my chest, and standing over me. That, I would say, freaked me out.

KB: Did you take any drugs?

WB: I must remind you that the type of drugs you are probably referring to are illegal.

KB: What was the most extreme thing you have done as Bowie?

WB: The whole concept was quite extreme I suppose, and there were many aspects people might think were extreme. I paid a great deal of money (my own money) to stay in the hotels Bowie used to frequent, like the Dorchester, Claridges and NYC's Sherry-Netherland. Their cocktails go up to £35 apiece, which to me is pretty expensive.

I had a custom Ziggy Stardust suit made by Jo Irvine, designer for Little Mix and Strictly Come Dancing, and a tribute to Bowie's Alexander McQueen coat, made by a local tailor. I wore six inch heels on stage. I walked through the rough part of Hastings wearing Pierrot make-up. There were some moments that would have been outside my previous comfort zone, I think it is safe to say. And I think that's a positive thing.

KB: What was the most enjoyable part of being Bowie and why?

WB: Performing Bowie's songs live with tribute band The Thin White Duke, to an audience of Bowie fans, in my Ziggy costume, 44 years to the day after he had performed at that venue (Kingston University), was a glorious highlight. In terms of Bowie characters, I liked the 1997 Earthling album character best - a fifty year-old man, playing the role of a pantomime wizard. I think that was his last burst of really playful fun.

KB: What was the most unpleasant part to put yourself through?

WB: The bleakest time for me was around March- always a bleak time of the year, but I was living the life of a hermit, writing my book every day, indoors, with no air or sun, just trying to get it written - and moving towards Bowie's death, in my chronological research. As the project had to end with Bowie's death, that became very depressing. That's why I deliberately concluded with a 1972-style gig at my own university, to celebrate Bowie's life and one of the peaks in his career.

KB: What did your wife and friends think of the project or seeing you in Bowie get-up?

WB: Like David Bowie, I have a very loving, accepting and tolerant wife (I mean, like Iman, not so much like Angie Bowie). She claims to have found the process interesting. My friends, equally, have been supportive and encouraging. I think people aren't your friends if they don't take a positive attitude towards that kind of thing. Some people might be hostile and challenge it, but I don't know if I would consider them friends.

KB: Have you been at all shy or nervous about putting yourself in situations as Bowie?

WB: I have certainly felt nervous before going on stage, yes. It's good to feel nervous as I don't feel any stress about speaking in public, teaching, appearing on TV or anything of that nature. So again, I think that kind of novel sensation is useful and interesting. There were times when I felt 'why am I doing this', before I was about to go out before a crowd in costume and sing, on my own. But I always had a very positive reception, and you feel relieved afterwards. I don't think I can allow myself to care much if people think the whole project is ridiculous. I know people do of course, but that is bound to happen if you put yourself in the public eye. I have found Bowie fans are actually the most critical, but I think that's because we all have our own very personal, deep-felt idea about Bowie, and they are protective about it. They are suspicious of anyone messing around with 'their' Bowie. To them I say 'do your own project then'.

KB: How far do you take the role play? For instance, did you check into a hotel, or turn up at a gig, or walk around Berlin, or go to the shops, ‘as Bowie’ even speaking as he may have done, and what were people’s reactions?

WB: I wouldn't ever say I am Bowie, as I think that's disrespectful, especially now he is no longer with us. I think I have found myself speaking more like him, with his kind of speech patterns and pronunciation - but then again, he speaks very differently at different times, and I think his accent and manner was very often a performance.

People have tended to assume I was a professional Bowie impersonator or a tribute singer, and they can understand that. They wouldn't think I am Bowie, particularly because I was dressed as a past version of him. They tend to recognise who I am embodying and ask for a selfie with me, and have a long chat about themselves. It's almost as if, because I was dressed up, they see me as some kind of public figure they can approach in a way they wouldn't with a normal, private individual.

KB: Have you had any bad reactions?

WB: Most people have tended to be amused and entertained, and to admire the make-up and costume. Nobody has ever been hostile or aggressive to my face, in any country or city of the world, from the classy hotels of New York to the seaside of Hastings.

KB: Do you think Bowie’s death hit you especially hard because of the intensity of your research on top of being a fan?

WB: Yes, I think it was the kind of thing that can only happen once - someone tries to connect as closely as possible with their hero, and he dies halfway through the year. I don't think I even realised the effect it had, at the time. I went into denial.

KB: What can the audience of the Strange, Mad Celebration event expect from your visit? Will you be giving a talk, or performance, or both?

WB: I have been invited to screen Act One of Being Bowie, which TV writer David Quantick described this week as 'extraordinary'. I'll also be answering any questions people want to ask, and perhaps singing a couple of songs. I don't now appear 'as Bowie', now the project is over, but as a version of myself... I will be wearing a specially-custom made 'Life on Mars' powder blue suit, for instance.