This Sporting Life. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I have always loathed sport. If someone chooses to hurl a harpoon or a shot put further than anyone else in the world, I find it is nobody’s business but their own. I simply don’t care who can jump higher or run faster or hit a ball faster. Strike that, tennis is man one true love sport though I no longer play.

My youth was spent cheering Chris Evert on at Wimbledon. I love Chrissie. She was the ice maiden of the turf who would have taken the highest number of Grand Slams if it wasn’t for a certain Czech called Martina Navratilova. The Martina/Chris rivalry was the highlight of women’s tennis in the seventies and eighties. Chrissie retired first and Martina still competes at championship level so snaps to both.

My favourite Chrissie match was when she was in the semis at Wimbledon and was one set all 0-5 down. I can’t remember her opponent but I would like to say Jana Novotna: that lovely lady who died last year far too young. The word for round in the  locker rooms that Chrissie was in trouble so all the top seeds gathered behind the Rolex board to cheer her on. She won the next eight games in one.

We all need cheerleaders in our lives. I love mine. Even when I am really in trouble they are there for me cheering me home and back to sanity. Name check Inga, Mrs T, Mum and Dad, Lee, Bernice, Pete and Jennie. I salute you all. Others have approached with caution but not given me the help I needed in the past few weeks.

But back to this sporting life. Tennis is my game because it can be played as singles. I am not a team player. If the buck stops here I would rather be alone. I am not so interested in the professional game now the rackets are not wooden and the finesse has been lost to the grunt, sweat and thwack of the Williams sisters. We need another Chris and Martina rivalry not two sisters.

Well, the day is bright and despite a cold snap coming I feel very cosy again in Bloomsbury Towers despite four burglaries in as many weeks and the loss of all my family jewellery. I was adamant I would move to Menorca permanently. I have now changed my mind. I will spend the month of May writing on Menorca but come home to my London flat afterwards.

Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? I saw the figure skater in the ice dance whose boob popped out and that was my gold medal of the games. I also love the luge ever after a Svetlana from somewhere flipped on her back by mistake and hurtled down the chute legs akimbo. She crashed into the foam pillows wide apart on her twot. As Miss Perry said, ‘she finished last but she did lose her virginity’.

Speaking of Miss P, we are bosom buddies after all our BBC Royal Ascots and she knows more about motor sport than I do about the British Royal Family and that is saying something. I love Miss P. She has my sense of Northern humour. The Winter Olympics are marginally better than summer because of the jeopardy. You can drop a shot put on your toe or fall off the parallel bars in summer but in winter you can slice your head off on an upturned ski in mid-air. What’s not to like?

I wish footballers had more jeopardy. I wish fervently football would be more like The Hunger Games. Why the fuck are these big kids kicking a ball and blubbering when a big bad man takes them down getting paid so much? They earn in a week what I earn in a year and I consider myself much more multi-talented even though I pitch and catch like a big old girl.

I was crap at sport at School and was the only boy who walked off the Rugby pitch cleaner than when I walked on. Cross country running was my thing because you could hide in the gorse and smoke. I loathed – absolutely loathed! – the Birkdale School playing fields up on a moor with a concrete hut with a big concrete bath that smelt of carbolic and smeg.

Football was a nightmare for me unless in goal (smoking again) or playing cricket with one of those sweaty plastic cock covers down your whites. I recall one cross country run when a fat dead Geography teacher dragged me the last few yards and I lost a shoe. He said I was a big girl’s blouse. Can I get an Amen in here? If that were now he would be fired for a hate crime. Plus ça change.

My sporting activities today only stretch to swimming and walking and that suits me just fine. I am fitter than all those gym bunnies who smell of Kuoros and protein shake farts. On that note…

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Madonna Rising. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I am still pondering the ‘Me Too’ movement and the feminist activism by show business personalities like Jennifer Lawrence who is taking a year off acting to ‘empower’ women and Emma Watson who has donated $1 million to further the cause of no tolerance for sexual abuse. It strikes me that all the women in the public eye coming forward are indeed ‘me too late’ rather than lifelong feminists who have fought the good fight with their every artistic decision.

Barbra Streisand is a role model of mine: a Jewish lady who believed she was ‘hello gorgeous’ and a star that deserved respect despite not fitting the Aryan beauty model. Barbra is majorly political and quite rightly uses her art to point out that women directors are still in a minority and undervalued. I consider Bette Midler a feminist icon as a woman who has taken bawdiness that would pass from a man and socked it to em unapologetically.

My number one feminist in the public eye is Madonna. Even back in the day when Like A Virgin was the first vinyl single I bought, I knew that her ‘Boy Toy’ incarnation was laughing at men rather than colluding with the submissive little woman myth. She took the Marilyn Monroe persona and made it strong and sassy for the 80s  audience when women power dressed and had convictions to match and smash the glass ceiling.

Madonna has been ahead of the curve for her whole professional life. She was and is the Queen of Pop who would never demean herself by parading like a lap dancer as have her pretenders Britney, Beyonce, Christina, Miley and Arianna. When Madonna sold sex it was from the perspective of a powerful dominatrix of a woman. She anticipated all the heinous sex tapes that have emerged of young female stars when she produced her semi-pornographic black and white picture book Sex. To me that book said, ‘plenty to see here and I’m proud of my fantasies as well as my reality’.

Madonna appeals to gay men on so many levels;  the most basic being her crusade for gay rights and her powerful work for equality and HIV prevention. Madonna was second only to Bette Midler to admit that the gays ‘got’ her first. And did she pay back in spades. Vogue was a hymn to small time boys and girls who dreamed big and chose to make their fantasies reality with no limits.

I have not always been able to go with Madonna’s music not least in her MDNA incarnation when she seemed to embrace Hip Hop and dance drug culture. However, she’s a braver man than I Gunga Din so I always knew she’d push it to the limits and open my ears to new music and my eyes to new experiences. Madonna is a self-confessed unapologetic bitch and that’s just what you have to be to survive in London as a gay man despite it being much more cosy and fluffy an environment than it was when I came out.

The chameleon quality of Madonna appeals to gay guys. We love the dress-up and the reinvention. Madonna has never let us down in this respect: leading fashion, taking inspiration and making it bigger than the originators. She hasn’t been lucky in love but which of us has? I admire her rainbow tribe family and love the thought that she is a strict parent while being without limits on stage.

The concert of my life was Madonna’s Confessions tour which I attended on the night in Wembley Arena when the show was filmed. I think perhaps that was M on top form though I have to admit Rebel Heart reassured me that the lady will still be wowing the live crowds into her sixties and seventies.

People are swift to criticise Madonna for being age inappropriate, bolshy and rude. More power to your elbow love! She’s always been a diva but I like the self-mockery in her delivery these days for example singing La Vie en Rose in the Rebel Heart finale strumming a ukulele dressed like a 1920s crystal clad flapper. Wherever she goes musically, Madonna in her own words ‘always makes it up to us’.

I suspect M is a workaholic and she never ceases to explore new musical genres and never shies away from a world tour as Gaga, Rihanna and Arianna have done delicate little flowers that they are. It isn’t so much a case of ‘the show must go on’ as ‘Madonna must go on’. I have criticised Madonna in the past for her heinous outfits at the Met Gala Ball in New York and that awful Grammy ‘Boss Hog with a camel toe’ white trouser suit and stetson. But with so many reinventions we can’t expect every new Dr Who to be to our taste.

It may sound like an odd comment but Madonna keeps me young. I love returning to her music played as it used to be on a turntable. I love rocking out in a club or in my kitchen to Four Minutes or shimmying around to Now I’m Following You’ from Dick Tracey. While we’re on the subject of film roles, name me another actress in the 20th or 21st century who could have played Evita with the conviction that Madonna did. That performance was legendary.

As with Streisand, nay sayers crit Madonna as a director. I thought W.E. was a better film than the critics gave credit though Swept Away is harder to forgive. Still, fortune favours the brave and all the divas have had flops. That’s the mark of a true queen: being the comeback kid. So a toast to Madonna who is the role model all those Millennials should be looking up to and bowing down, bitches. Until next time…

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Nasty Blouse. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Be still my beating heart, Jack Whitehall is hosting the Brit Awards 2018 on the telly tonight. I do have something of a pash for Jack ever since he nailed it as Paul Pennyfeather in the BBC adaptation of Decline and Fall. It’s the combination of posh boy cheek and wonderment that his career has gone as smoothly as a pearl-handled knife through Kerrygold.

The Brits is a good excuse to catch-up on who the hell the kids are listening to nowadays. The last time I paid attention to pop music Jethro Tull were still in the charts. And then there are the monsters of frock that make the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards look positively tasteful and demure in comparison.

A lady called Dua Lipa turned-up as a toilet dolly in sugar pink layers of tulle. The name is reminiscent of a cleaning product like Cillit Bang. We shall see what we shall see. Whenever there’s an awards I am on the daybed in Bloomsbury Towers with cigarettes, gin and knitting furiously like Madame Defarge underneath the guillotine.

First for the chop is Paloma Faith. Nasty blouse! I always think Paloma seems like a wraith or fairy creature ie she seems to be living on a different astral plane and appears dazed to actually be on the red carpet if not planet earth. Middle Earth maybe what with Ed Sheehan performing tonight. But what does the ginger moppet care? He’s so rich anyway…

Why does every pop star and red carpet presenter speak that estuary/in-da-hood accent? They can’t all have been born in Bermondsey, innit? I do love them all trying to be right-on and emotional seeing as sincerity is the new punk. Who is Stormsy by the way?

The fashion on the red carpet appears to be frills and pouffy sleeves and frocks. They are all holding white roses to support the ‘Me Too’ movement but the gesture only makes the ensemble look like a naff prom night in Shreveport.

Kylie has changed frocks from red carpet to stage and is sharing the podium with a child called Millie Bobby Brown who looks like Jodie Foster as Tallulah in Bugsy Malone: a kid in too much slap and a grown-up’s frock.

The artist known as Dua Lipa has scored over one billion YouTube hits. A billion? Imagine how Tommy Steele’s Little White Bull  would have done if social media existed in the dark ages. She sounds very RP receiving the award making me question the ghetto image in her videos. I smell Trustafarian from Notting Hill. She thanked every single female who has been on the stage before her. It is at the O2 so that includes Bette Midler.

Dua Lipa’s final sentiment was ‘more women taking over the world’. I bet Boadicea is turning in her grave. A consequence of me having a few more Diet Cokes of late is a sweet tooth. I die for chewy sugary sours to go with my Spritzer in bed. I will end up with teeth like Mrs Miggins.

Pity there is no Madonna, Katy Perry, Gaga or Taylor Swift performing at the BRITS this year. I can do without Sam Smith, Stormsy (who he?) and Mr Sheeran warbling Galway Girl. Who is Georgia Smith asks granny in Bloomsbury Towers? And as for Rag & Bone Man. Actually he has a voice like Paul Robeson being a big fat lad.

Everyone bar lovely Jack Whitehall is tattooed. Do you think I should? If I did it would be a scorpion on my left buttock but I fear I am too old school working class to ever have a tattoo or a piercing, Georgia Smith has rather a pure voice like Billie Holiday in her youth. Lovely duet with Mr Rag & Bone.

Who is Stormsy? Fook, he’s just won Best British Male solo act. Very shiny suit. He’s from Croydon. He thanked God and his Mum so he must be a well brought-up young fellow. Kept it short too. Jack Whitehall is doing rather well I think walking the line between cheeky and offensive with all the ease of a tightrope walker.

I rather like The Killers don’t you? They get my vote for Best International Group but the Foo Fighters are in the building so doubtless will take the gong for showing up. The BRITS do make one feel ancient. So swing if you’re winning and know the line that comes after ‘Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, let me love you Chaka Khan’…

Dua Lipa’s up so let’s see what kind of pistol she is packing. She’s Nenah Cherry crossed with Amy Winehouse and it’s not a good mix. Another damned song that you wouldn’t be able to hum if your life depended on it. I like songs that either build like Total Eclipse of the Heart or have a constant refrain like Chaka Khan Chaka Khan let me love you Chaka Khan. You know the rest Rowley.

I suppose Ed Sheeran is a hero for the snowflake Millennials who are encouraged to think that if a ginger hobbit can make it anyone can. He has a pleasant voice but he’s not Elvis, is he.  I am not sure what all the fuss is about. I think you need a soupçon of sex to be a true rock star and Ed looks about as alluring as a flat batter pudding. Not a fan of falsetto either unless it is Farinelli.

Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis have just made tits of themselves complaining that they aren’t presenting this year. Pity! I always find a little graciousness is in order when you are replaced though I wish I had thought as much when I left the BBC Royal Ascot fashion team. Regrets, I’ve had a few…

Well, enough of live blogging the BRITS. I am in need of sustenance to get through the second half. Maybe a Night Nurse will do the trick. Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whither Fashion? February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

It’s that time of year again when a gaggle of Chinois wearing black culottes, Doctor Martin boots, shaved pudding bowl haircuts and black T-shirts down to their knees herald London Fashion Week being upon us. We see metallic logo handbags so heinous even an oven-ready turkey would demur. We see haircuts so radical and rainbow-hued that one wonders whether Billy Smart is in town. My Little Pony isn’t even in it.

The fashion clowns are all the funnier because they actually believe they look like the bees knees and we just hen pheasants compared unfavourably to their magnificent plumage. What we really wish to do is throw rotten fruit at them or get them off the streets before someone gets hurt.

I was once a member of the fashion pack hauling my cookies from Milan to Paris to London to New York but the fundamental difference in the 1990s and early 20o0s was the pragmatism of the clothing and the genuine desire to make women look beautiful.

Christopher Bailey was to me a role model at Burberry for ice-cream smooth, elegant sport couture. What he showed for his final Burberry show at London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2018 was a tribute to LGBT (have I missed anyone?) rights. What clever spin did he weave around the concept? You guessed it … the rainbow flag. The nation yawns.

I was quite frankly horrified to see that human meerkat Cara Delevingne – the Helen of Troy de nos jours - with her shaven head sporting a rainbow flag fur maxi coat. How many Muppets had to die? To add insult to injury it was lined with Burberry check that clashed horribly and modelled with a white crochet tunic and hideous barrage balloon slouch pants.

I always think Miss Delevingne looks as if she’s fresh off the mortuary slab and have never seen what the industry sees in her over and above being a posh girl whose Godfather was the Chairman of Condé Nasty. The true model du jour this season is Adowa Aboah; she being the premier cover girl of Edward Enninful’s debut as editor of British Vogue.

This lady has mental health issues and is mixed race so naturally the fashion industry clasps her to their bosom. She is now ‘Positive Fashion Ambassador for Model Health and Diversity’. Oh please my nerves! It’s like appointing a Positive Fashion Ambassador for Spiky Old Women and Gay Men who, let’s face it, rule the fashion business as far as the public face is concerned.

I think Miss Aboah is a pretty girl. She is also fashion royalty being the daughter of Camilla Lowther. But God forgive Ashley Williams for letting Miss Aboah model the trend of the moment – the 80s!?!?!?!?!?! – and a nasty lime green sweatshirt reading ‘Don’t Know Don’t Care’ with a bleached denim fishing hat that would make anyone look simple.

Don’t Know Don’t Care just about sums up the temperature of London Fashion Week. Ugly clothes are paraded on a positive Benetton poster of diverse models – Chinois, transgender, mixed-race, black, anything but milky white British unless she’s anorexic – and claim this is edgy and cool. Ugly clothes are not as Vogue says ‘so bad they are good’. They are just heinous regurgitated 80s spew by untalented, arrogant snowflake millennials. As Kitty says, ‘I don’t mince words’.

As an addict of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I have to say the ‘girls’ who create about thirty runway looks per season according to Ru’s themes come-up with more elegant, edgy and amusing fashion than all the J. W. Andersons, Ashley Williams, Matty Bovans and Mary Katranzous put together. It comes to a pretty pass when Gareth Pugh – the artist formerly known as fashion’s answer to Leigh Bowery – produces a London Fashion Week collection that anoints him as the successor to Cristobal Balenciaga.

I adored Gareth Pugh’s collection because it played with maximum volume while still enhancing the female body. His palette was strong and simple: scarlet, silver foil and cream: gorgeous! When I look at last season’s Drag Race winner Sasha Velour’s runway looks I see the inspiration of Gareth Pugh. I also see echoes of Jeremy Scott at Moschino though the inspired garments are so much sharper than the Scott originals.

It would be fun to criticise one more season of New York, London, Paris and Milan runway shows for the broadsheets if only to bring a fresh eye that has not been indoctrinated by the hype. I left fashion reporting because I hated what I was seeing and thought I was too old to have a valid opinion. Now I think I have something to say again after so many years studying cut and proportion on Savile Row.

During my period of enforced rest I have been going through a stack of DVDs with my television appearances on with a view to digitising my whole written and filmed archive on one website. It made me proud and humble in equal measures to see how hard I worked in fashion and how much I miss the glamour of it all. But that’s all gone now.

Mind you, wasn’t it lovely to see HM The Queen front row at London Fashion Week doling out a prize for innovation. They sat HM next to Anna Wintour – the Queen of American Vogue – though I suspect HM would have had a much more meaningful conversation with Suzy Menkes. The Queen laughed her way through the show that comprised motorcycle crash helmets as the accessory of the moment.

So ‘Whither Fashion?’ Disappearing gloriously up its own fundament with the exception of Gareth Pugh and the talented Simone Rocha who always gives good frock. Then again, her father is John Rocha so what’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. Until next time…

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Liza! Liza! Liza! February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Forgive the loooong radio silence. As I think you know from my infrequent Twitter posts, the past four weeks has not been without incident. I have had four burglaries in Bloomsbury Towers in as many weeks. All the family jewellery went including my Grandmother’s diamond and ruby ring: all in all £20,000 worth and all not insured. The final burglary was a conundrum because it did not follow the pattern.

I was in bed asleep for a start when the sneak thief snuck in and took an old MacBook Air, an iPhone with a shattered screen, my iPad, my iPod, my wallet, my disc drive and my monogrammed spectacles. This was not on a par with the three jewellery robberies leading me to believe that it was a ‘Me Too’. Perhaps I should order one of those badges they were all wearing at the BAFTAs.

I believe the final robber had keys cut and that he was not unfamiliar to me. Karma Karma Karma Chameleon will skewer him good and proper I am sure. Enough about all that now. I feel healthy and happy and ready to rock again being back online with no small thanks to my Parentals and reconciling myself to the fact that things don’t matter: people do.

So what’s new on the Rialto? I am signed off from work for three months and the enforced rest has been wonderful not least the months that the thief did me a service by depriving me of a mobile and Internet access. I went back to the old days with only a landline and the Yellow Pages to get in touch with people. It certainly sorts the wheat from the chaff. I have seen La Farmer, Lee, Pete and Su Thomas all of whom are life-enhancers.

I am now back online and not before time. Liza Minnelli – my spirit animal – has decided at the age of seventy-one to host a sale of her costumes, her Halston collection and memorabilia relating to parents Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli. The auctioneer is not Julien’s Auctions but an outfit called Profiles in History. I would kill to scrabble the money together to go out for the private view in April but will have to settle for the catalogue for the Love, Liza sale.

Liza has already sold her Manhattan condo and is living with her gay best friend in LA. She has also sold the Warhols of she and her mother Judy. But there are still treasures to be had not least her bowler hat, suspenders and sequinned hot pants costume from Cabaret and a cheque written to Judy Garland by MGM before The Wizard of Oz made her a star. Liza is also selling the sport couture pieces designed for her by late gay best friend Halston.

Halston is one of my idols. He was a small-town boy who became the first true American fashion superstar. It was Halston who designed Jackie Kennedy’s famous pillbox hat when he was a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman and he who rightly said ‘you are only as good as the people you dress’. And boy did Haslston dress the best: Kay Graham, Lauren Bacall, Diana Vreeland, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Carol Channing, Betty Ford, Nan Kempner, DeDe Ryan and Eleanor Lambert to name a few of the headliners.

Halston was a God in Manhattan. His apartment was party central and so piss elegant it informed Tom Ford’s design aesthetic for life. Halston and Liza were permanent fixtures at Studio 54. They were allegedly the kings and queens of the basement VIP room always replete with Champagne, Cocaine and cute boys. Their evenings finished in the hardcore gay fetish clubs in the Meat Packing District. What’s not to like?

Of course both Liza and Halston burnt out. He licensed his name too thinly and was eventually evicted from his fabulous studios in the Olympic Tower leaving the designer making costumes for Liza until his untimely death from AIDS. She began a career of comebacks that is still in flux. I hear from Liza’s neighbour that she is putting together a piano and microphone cabaret act to perform intimate ‘in one’ performances rather than selling out the Royal Albert Hall that she used to rock in her prime. I would love to see Liza play Ronnie Scott’s or the 100 Club.

I had a Halston fascia pink kaftan bought in a vintage store on the King’s Road for many years that was stolen from my flat (natch!). I would love to bid on a piece from the Love, Liza auction but being signed-off makes this impossible. What I will do is go to Menorca where I spent much of my youth to recover between May and September when Jewellery for Gentlemen is published.

It will be interesting to take an enforced sabbatical. I am tired. I am forty-six and have lived every second of every year to the maximum. Mistakes, I’ve made a few but then again too few to mention. As for no regrets, anyone who believes that Piaf sentiment  is clearly delusional. I have many regrets but was not in my right mind when I committed the foolishness that constituted them. I have never, however, regretted a drink I sipped, a cigarette I smoked or a man I kissed.

In this respect I can identify with Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Sally does not regret and keeps buggering on waiting for her big break even if it never came. I’ve had lots of breaks and have converted many and dropped the ball a few times. My major regret is the hurt I have caused the people who are closest to me but my only defence is that I was not ‘feeling myself’ at the time.

So here’s to Liza and here’s to life. And here’s to us, who’s like us? Damned Few!

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