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Younger gay guys: please don’t forget the drag heroes of the past

Arguably, drag has never been bigger with the RuPaul phenomenon showing no signs of sashaying away anytime soon but are younger gay men in the UK spending too much time watching stateside queens and not enough time learning about homegrown gay culture?

Author Ian Elmslie was one half of the glorious cabaret act Katrina and the Boy and has just released his new book: A Marvelous Party. He wants us all to remember the queens and kings of days gone by.

As Katrina and I arrived at the launch party of “Open the cage, Murphy”, the fourth instalment of Paul O’ Grady’s exhaustive memoir, he greeted us with a poignant observation.

“There’s fuck all of us left.”

And he’s right. When Katrina and The Boy joined the twilight world of the gay cabaret circuit in 1990, we were introduced to a colourful cavalcade of drag queens, each and every one a legend in their own time.

Katrina and The Boy with Lily Savage

A glance at the “hymn board” in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern would alert your attention and applause to the very best in the business.

Her Imperial Highness, Regina Fong, would hold court on Monday night, leading the audience to heights of participation that not even the crowd at Rocky Horror could dream of scaling.

Thursday night was Workers Playtime with Lily Savage, the undisputed queen of the circuit, and a sure-fire guarantee of foul-mouthed comic genius played to a packed and adoring house.

The seemingly-immortal Lee Paris and Jimmy Trollette would lead the Saturday night singalong, with the best male voice in town raising the roof to the likes of “Sweet Caroline” and “Delilah”.

If you were still able to stand the next day, you would stagger along to Sunday School, overseen by the Super Destroyer Adrella, who wouldn’t be let off the stage without her infamous impersonation of Liza Minnelli, barely visible behind clouds of baby powder.

We lost Adrella in 2012 but her amazing Liza impression should never be forgotten

Of all these legends, only Lily and Jimmy are still alive and while we’re strolling down memory lane, let’s not forget others who took the final curtain call with the crowd still calling for ‘more, more, more!’

Candy du Barry, Dockyard Doris, David Desire, Nicky Young, and possibly the greatest of them all, the incomparable mistress of the belly laugh gag, the brilliant Phil Starr.

In the 90s, you could travel to all four points of the compass around London and find bars and clubs with regular nights of cabaret, all now long-gone and barely in memory.

Iconic venues like the Royal Oak in Hammersmith, the Black Cap in Camden, the Black Horse in the East End and the Gloucester in Greenwich are now restaurants, straight bars or empty tombs, with only the RVT, Two Brewers, The White Swan, Halfway to Heaven and the George and Dragon still flying the rainbow flag for this glittering lynchpin of our community.

The Black Cap in Camden closed in 2015

Too many gone. And forgotten? I hope not.

If we really are 1 in 10 of the population, then we have to fight ten times harder to preserve our history.

Every time a bar or club closes the doors for the last time, or a drag queen takes the final bow, we lose a little bit of the magic that makes the LGBT world a spectacular celebration of ourselves.

Some might say that cabaret has had its day, and in the words of the all-conquering Dame Edna Experience, all the kids wanna do is “fucking dance”.

But, oh what a world you might be missing!

There is still a wonderful collective of performers who go out to work in the early hours of the evening, pat on the pancake, stick on the lashes, apply the lipstick and go into battle, all in the name of entertainment.

The old guard of Dave Lynn, Lola Lasagne and Sandra are rubbing shoulder pads with the new queens on the block, Miss Jason, Tanya Hyde and Mary Mac, to name but a glorious few.

And maybe, if you lift your face from your phone, take a break from searching for love on an app, and look at a stage, you may experience a shared joy that no amount of blue “like” thumbs could ever match.

The sequined baton is being passed on, and those that we have lost are remembered and honoured by those who still stalk those hallowed boards.

Let them entertain you and give them the support they need to keep the memory of our lost drag queen loves alive.

Buy Ian Elmslie’s book, A Marvelous Party here!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Michael Connew

    March 13, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    I was fortunate to see all of these marvellous acts but I would like to add a few more names to the list Marc Fleming (Auntie Flo) whose acid tongue and quick wit was second to none, and another stalwart of The Black Cap Mrs. Shufflewick whose act the majority of the audience knew backwards, Tony Paige standing around six foot even without the high heels and his wonderful singing voice and David Dale whose face at times seemed to be made of rubber both of whom I am happy to say are very much still with us as are most of members of two of the many wonderful mime acts from that period The Harlequeens and the Disapointer sisters whose costumes and performance could leave you speechless.
    Their talent can still be enjoyed there are a number of videos of so many of these acts on Youtube so please take the time to watch and enjoy.

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