The first Alternative Miss World was in my studio, in a converted jigsaw factory on Downham Road in Hackney. It was 1972. Chaos ensued.
I remember the anticipation. We had David Hockney judging, Jill from Ugly Agency and Robert Medley. They were all crammed in a single corner. My brother Peter did the music and was brilliant at it: he was playing Barry White, using 70s nostalgia actually in the 70s. It sounded very modern. As he said: “Using that emotive music out of context really works.”
he was playing Barry White, using 70s nostalgia actually in the 70s
I remember the American model Gaby Longhi came out in her mother’s green Chanel strapless gown, and came second. And there was a crazy Australian who got drunk and collapsed. Patrick Steed, who co-wrote Sebastiane with Derek Jarman, was Miss Yorkshire, and won.
I had been living above my sister-in-law’s hat shop, and wrote to every council in London asking if they had a studio I could move into. Hackney wrote back and offered me the space for £30 a month, which none of us could afford. Marc Balet, who went on to become art director at Andy Warhol’s Interview, lived there for a while. The second Alternative Miss World, in 1973, was in the same place. The next one, in 1975, which Derek Jarman won as Miss Crepe Suzette, was in my new studio in Butler’s Wharf on the Thames.
Peter Logan and Derek Jarman had been looking at derelict loft spaces in warehouses along the Thames. They were the original loft dwellers. I remember a particularly wonderful party in one of the spaces they had near the South Bank, where one of the guests was Tennessee Williams. Then they moved to Bankside, which was much bigger. That was subsequently demolished. Then they moved to Butler’s Wharf, and I moved into a space there too.
The theme in 1975 was “Wild”, and it was a precursor of punk. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were there, and I remember Gaby [Longhi] attending in ripped up clothes with lots of safety pins. It was very aggressive. There was a mini swimming pool. David Hockney was judging again, as were Celia Birtwell, Fenella Fielding and Gerlinde Costiff, who went on (with Michael Costiff) to create the nightclub Kinky Gerlinky, which was also about transformation, but more focused on drag. Alternative Miss World isn’t purely about transformation by nightclub people. I like getting people involved who would never dream of doing anything like that – like my brother Quentin.
I had parties every week at the Butler’s Wharf studio. Today there are thousands of artists in London, but back then there didn’t seem to be many. There were the older artists, like Howard Hodgkin and Allen Jones, and then there was the younger generation: me and Duggie Fields were hanging out with Luciana Martinez de la Rosa, Little Nell and the Rocky Horror people. We also used to hang out with David Hockney a lot. I remember the first time I met him, when he had come back from California. He was in a bright blue suit, with bright blonde hair, surrounded by his entourage of boys.
While I was at Butler’s Wharf Malcolm McLaren told me he had a band, The Sex Pistols, who would be bigger than the Beatles, so I invited them to play. The space was 2,500 square feet big, with a corrugated iron roof, so the sound reverberated like crazy. We all ran into my gold-lined portacabin to get away from the noise.
I also remember Malcolm coming to the studio with Russ Meyer
I also remember Malcolm coming to the studio with Russ Meyer, who was going to make a movie with him. The studio was a possible set. The film never happened. It was going to be about the death of Bambi – Who Killed Bambi? – and Roger Ebert had written the screenplay. I remember Russ at my studio, looking around through his thumbs and forefingers joined into the shape of a camera frame. He remarked how big our cat’s arsehole was. He was fabulous. We missed out.
Butler’s Wharf burned down in 1979, and I moved to the Glasshouse in the Sky, in Broadgate. When Broadgate was developed, we found a space in Bermondsey and built The Glasshouse. We’ve been here for 25 years, but now we’re moving out. I have been trying to sell it for two years. And I’m staging an Alternative Miss World this year – at Shakespeare’s Globe – partly to mark the occasion. I am moving on, but I do feel it’s sad that the Glasshouse is going. So much has happened here, and it’s been a special part of so many people’s lives. It’s been an inspiration.
Alternative Miss World is never about nostalgia or looking back. I have never been taken on by the establishment so have never had “a moment”. People ask where they can see my work. I have never been offered a show by Tate or the Hayward. It’s the same with Alternative Miss World – so it’s never gone out of fashion. Also, crucially, we have only done it occasionally. Panti [Panti Bliss – Irish drag queen and activist] organised Alternative Miss Ireland, but they held it every year, and it couldn’t sustain itself any longer, so it stopped.
Our events have never been about money – that would kill it. And rehearsals kill things. I never draw things before I start work, and it’s the same with Alternative Miss World – the event emerges spontaneously. There have been so many great moments over the years of Alternative Miss World. We held the 1978 one in a big tent on Clapham Common – that was the first time that we opened it out to the public and sold tickets. I remember the staircase on Clapham Common was so incredible steep, Divine had to help the contestants down them. Then there was the show at Olympia in 1981, with a funfair. London fashion was happening: Judy Blame wore a fantastic outfit with lots of bandages and looked like a mummy. Stephen Jones was there too. Duggie Fields says that the Paris catwalks still take inspiration from that era in London.
The 1986 event was held at the Brixton Academy, after the original plan to stage it in Chislehurst Caves was cancelled a few days before the event. The local newspaper in Chiselhurst protested, claiming it would “bring AIDS” to Chiselhurst. The theme in 1986 was “Earth”, and it was the first time we saw Leigh Bowery. He had just arrived from Australia. He was friends with Michael and Gerlinde, and I saw him a lot at their place. He’d turn up with Trojan, painted blue, and then nip off to take more drugs.
we were walking down a medieval street. He was in a wonderful outfit, being followed by all these spellbound children
Leigh was very ambitious. Burnel Penhaul, who won the “Air” event at the Business Design Centre in Islington as Miss Gale Force Wind, in 1991, was as brilliant as Leigh, but he could only transform himself. Leigh moved into performance, theatre, dance and the arts. Burnel came from a small coastal village in Norfolk and started to create costumes when he moved to London. He was magical. I remember we went to the Untamed Fashion Assembly in Riga, and we were walking down a medieval street. He was in a wonderful outfit, being followed by all these spellbound children. Leigh never had that – he was more “adult”. Burnel died at the age of 34 in 2002. I have created sculptures of him to celebrate his genius.
I’m a world citizen but I am very British. Crowning and ritual are both very British. With Alternative Miss World, I create the event and see what happens. There is never any conscious attempt to “do anything”. We tried to take the event to Japan and America, but it didn’t work out. And it was going to go to India, but the real Miss World event had just happened, and someone had set fire to themselves in protest. I thought us going wouldn’t be a good idea.
I studied architecture and my thesis was on the future of leisure. My point was that we may all get to the point where people are working one hour a week, or even not at all. Leisure is paramount. People need to know what to do with their leisure – create things, do things, not beat up old ladies out of boredom.
The culture has changed totally since we started putting on Alternative Miss World – there was no club culture in 1972. There was no leisure culture at all. It was work and the pub. London is continually accelerating, but I maintain the same direct path through it. C
The 13th Alternative Miss World takes place at Shakespeare’s Globe on 18th October 2014
We highly recommend the movie The British Guide to Showing Off, a definitive documentary about Logan and the event. It’s fascinating, fantastically produced and Brian Eno’s cat is a thing of wonder
Portrait of Andrew Logan by Tallulah Tallulah