Tell us about your book A Marvellous Party.
The book was initially a ticklish collection of tales about brief but close encounters with celebrities. But as the project developed, I realised that I was writing about my heroes, the journey they had encouraged me to take, and why meeting them was so significant. The final piece in the puzzle was the acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of partial decriminalisation, and I heard a duty call to note particular milestones in our history during that time.
Is it all autobiographical or are there the experiences of others mixed into your memoirs.
The experiences and observations are mine, but I have learned from the truly heartwarming responses from readers that we were all going through the same moments at the same time but in our own worlds. We all have memories of our first crush , our school days, coming out, falling in and out of love, and of finding our role in the universe. Although the book is shot through my eyes, I hope that the stories will resonate and remind us just how far we've come, as people and as a community.
What are your favourite stories from the collection here?
That's like asking me to pick my favourite child! I guess the centrepiece of the book, which is the account of that incredible decade working on the gay cabaret circuit, without which most of the encounters with my heroes would not have happened. But sometimes it is the smallest moments that affect me the most. Reading the remembrance of returning home after meeting Donny Osmond and being wrapped up in the arms of the love of my life polishes me off every time. Meeting David Bowie and Quentin Crisp, sharing digs with Paul O'Grady, playing the piano for Jimmy Somerville, going to the theatre with Armistead Maupin, sharing my classroom with Sir Ian Mckellen...what a party of a life!
Many will remember you from the 90s as part of the cabaret act Katrina & the Boy. What are your favourite memories from your time performing on the gay scene back then.
As a fellow performer told me on reading the book, "You've written what the rest of us were too drunk or drug fucked to remember". I love that! I remember it all, from our first gig at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to our farewell at the Queen's Arms in Brighton. The ego-boosting thrill of performing at innumerable Pride festivals, the terrifying thrill of playing a new number, the sheer bloody magic of it all. But most of all I remember the people that I met, on both sides of the spotlight, the camaraderie between the acts and the audience, and the honour of being part of our community at both a celebratory and incredibly challenging time.
I hear Katrina & the Boy often talked about today, with such affection. What is it do you think, about the act that people remember so warmly.
I acknowledge, with the benefit of hindsight, that we were a unique and unusual act at that time. A straight woman being funny and a gay man not wearing a dress! I like to believe that we tapped into a certain shared nostalgia with our material, combined with comedy that was topical and relevant. We worked very hard on keeping the act entertaining for the audience and interesting for ourselves, constantly searching for the next new number. We also both loved working on the gay scene, no matter how exhausting it could be at times. We never once went onstage without wanting to do the best show we possibly could, and we were rewarded by the best audience in the world.
Your book is described as a ‘cornucopia of ticklish memoirs, celebrating fifty glorious years of legalised love’. What do you feel we have gained as a community, and what do you feel we might have lost in that time?
We gave gained visibility and acceptance, of that there can be no doubt. Saturday night TV would collapse without us! There are now out gay pop stars, actors, politicians, sportspeople, and most people now have at least one gay friend, acquaintance, work colleague or relative. My concern is a loss of kindness to each other. Maybe I am looking through pink-tinted sunglasses at the past, and romanticising my youth. It all seemed so much simpler. Getting a date now is like filling in an online job application! One wrong answer and you're sat at home with a bottle of Pinot watching "Strictly". But hey...we're gay. We'll always be fabulous.
You’ve spent a considerable chunk of time as a teacher. It’s a profession that takes a beating both from inside and out, but what are you most proud of as a teacher.
Without a doubt I am most proud of the fact that my students looked forward to coming to my lessons, and left feeling a little bit better about themselves. Drama is an essential subject in the school curriculum, and I am so angry that it is being downgraded and undervalued. It teaches teamwork, thinking and reasoning, developing empathy and confidence, creativity, the very stuff of life. I am also proud to have instigated Pride week at my school, celebrating LGBT history and encouraging a deeper understanding and appreciation of our community. The biggest reward, however, is the ongoing relationship with former students. I go to a lot of weddings and meet a lot of children these days! One lad even calls me his Gaddy! It does not get better than that.
Tim Minchin said that for a period of time, everyone should be a teacher. What do you think he meant?
Teaching is a sacred profession. There is no greater reward in life than seeing a young person achieve more than they believed possible. To be a facilitator of such a moment is such a privilege. Teenagers have always received a rotten press, often deemed to be lazy, rude and destructive. I had fifteen of the happiest years of my life working alongside some of the most fascinating people it has ever been my pleasure to meet. If they learned a fraction from me of what I learned from them, then I haven't done too badly.
If you could revisit any one year during the past fifty, which one would it be and why?
Having spent two years revisiting and writing about my past, I am happy to say that 2017 has been my favourite year. It has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. I have visited more of the world in the last 365 days than ever before. I have seen life-affirming plays, films and concerts. I have shared beautiful moments with friends, some lifelong pals, some brand new. With the publication of my book, I have achieved something that I never dreamed possible. I place my head on the pillow at night, knowing that I have tried to be the best version of myself, and that tomorrow will be even better. It really is a marvellous party!