Perry was born into a working-class family, and his interest in ceramics was kindled during childhood. By age 13 he had confided his transvestism to his diary. He studied at the Braintree College of Further Education in Essex and at Portsmouth Polytechnic in Hampshire, but it was not until the early 1980s, when he was living in a squatters’ community in London’s Camden Town, that he returned to the serious study of ceramics by way of evening art classes.
Perry achieved celebrity status in 2003 when he won the Turner Prize, one of the art world’s premier honours. His receipt of the award strirred some controversy, not only because he was the first potter to win the prize but also because of his tendency to appear in public as a cross-dresser, frequently as his alter ego, Claire, and often accompanied by his wife and daughter.