DJ/promoter/performer/actor Dusty O, officially David Hodge, always manages a welcoming smile even for the guys he’d rather have “guillotined” (that’s me included – loool). His remarkable, innate ability to win people over in an instant and make them feel like, ahem, “really special friends”, guarantees him continued popularity and never-ending work offers within the gay scene. You need to bear in mind though, and I’m writing from personal experience, whatever the circumstances and however mean he may act with you, only dare cross him at your peril. I think perhaps the less said about that, the better, if you get my drift.
Nature blessed the otherwise very down-to-earth Northerner with instinctive sartorial style. No mean feat for a she-male originating from Lichfield! A Times Magazine hack called him “the UK’s most glamourous woman with a penis”. Getting ready usually takes him 2 to 4 hours, as he’d only consider appearing in public painted in flawless, innovative maquillage and clad in impeccably customized head-to-toe Westwood outfits. He claims owning over 700 of them, as well as myriad hats, shoes, wigs, bags and literally bucketfuls of jewellery and accessories. Having said that, he has (since 2014) turned his attention to vintage clothing for the first time in a long while, presumably to take a breather from the somewhat regulated staple VW image. He insists that spending an arm and a leg on himself only goes with the job, has absolutely nothing to do with, erm, vanity and is tax-deductible anyway. Every item in his humongous wardrobe – actually a whole room – is catalogued and insured. “It’s my pension fund”, he quips.
Back in the early ‘80s, when gender-bending still proved something of a novelty amongst the masses, he’d already had a good sniff around Birmingham’s hotspots (Zig Zag, Powerhouse, Ku Club, Kipper and Rum Runner). These first tentative steps gave the rosy-cheeked, bewigged fresher an invaluable dry run for what was in fact just round the corner. He soon met Martin Degville, the local “luminary” who later founded the much-hyped but ultimately short-lived Zig-Zig Sputnik, and George O’Dowd, his then-assistant who hung around ooop North during a brief exile. They both plied their wares at the happening Oasis Market and Dusty naturally launched his own stall there, aided by Twiggy, his equally outlandish sidekick. That way, he quickly managed to save – ”con”, he jokes – enough cash to fund the inevitable move to London.
A first job at Zandra Rhodes ended in acrimony after being accused of nicking Andrew Logan’s jewellery. “The bitch sacked me”, he chuckles, looking rather proud of himself. As if to pay for his sins, Dusty then took a benevolent job at Aids charity, The London Lighthouse. However, he soon had to devote himself to night clubs on a full-time basis when promoter Wayne Shires offered him hosting slots. Ric and Debbie (of the Pushca and offshoot Bambina parties) also hired him, which soon earned him persona grata clout in the capital’s clubland.
The problem was, tons of designer labels needed purchasing and card debt paying off. Thankfully, then-boyfriend Count Franz Von Gemmern Sigmaringen conveniently owned a brothel in Barcelona. Without so much as the batting of an eyelash, Mr Hodge clicked his heels, thought of England, or rather his credit card, and dutifully joined the stables. Alas, the authorities got wind of the shenanigans and soon killed off the golden goose by deporting the pair of them.
Luckily, job opportunities kept knocking in Blighty, the likes of Bang, Popcorn, Limelight, Babe, Wig Out, Camp Attack, Heaven and O Zone, to name but a few. However, the jewel in the crown proved to be the long-running Trannyshack @ Madame JoJo. It was one of the clubs I personally supported right from the start (the Soho Revue Bar period, followed by a shorter stint at Freedom). I loved giving it exposure in the press at every opportunity and took a huge amount of images there, certainly more consistently than any of the photographers who ever set foot in the place. Who knows, I may consider producing a proper Trannyshack coffee table book at some point, when the time is right and if it can be adequately published. I’d be using my best shots and would rope in testimonials from regular and occasional punters, alongside my own story, naturally. I’d certainly have plenty of tales to tell.
At best, the Shack proved to be London’s most fun-packed mid-week blast for a long time and all the regulars hoped it’d be there forever and a day. Unfortunately, it seems that somebody up there had scores to settle – karma? – and the club’s licence was revoked virtually overnight in November 2014 by Westminster Council. This dramatic decision followed a random incident involving heavy-handed bouncers, a baseball bat and flying glass. Nothing particularly unusual to anyone familiar with West End nightlife, you may think. However, at a time when Soho was being indiscriminately “gentrified” by Westminster officials and property developers, any futile excuse to clean it up and rake it in was as good as any. Within a mere few days, the demolition of the historical site was approved before anyone could even raise a finger. The building is still standing there though and all might not be lost after all. In February 2016, Soho Estates announced their intention to rebuild the club as a “bigger and better basement”. It’s still unclear what they mean by that and whether it’d still be at the same venue. Watch this space for further details.
Meanwhile in 2013, Madame Dusty couldn’t wait to jump on the adult panto bandwagon, joining the cast of “Dick” and, in 2014, “The Music Hall Menagerie” and “Sleeping Booty!”, all held in The Leicester Square Theatre’s tiny lounge. In the very same eventful year, he was given the opportunity to make his proper TV début on London Live’s Drag Queens of London, amid a flurry of publicity occasioned by the Evening Standard-owned TV network launching. The reality series benefited from countless complimentary adverts in the newspaper, giving him and a few of the other characters unprecedented coverage in the shape of eye-catching full-page colour close-ups that were gawped at by legions of commuters. If anything, that’s what you call a lucky stroke and the kind of publicity money just can’t buy.
However, back in the real world, bills needed to be paid and Dusters had no choice but to take a behind-the-scene job at a museum. No, it isn’t as a London Dungeon hooded habit-clad warden shouting the odds and scaring the life out of the punters, as some social media troll hilariously commented, but as a duty officer at the Museum of Comedy. Whatever the position entails, let’s hope he can at least have a laugh once in a while.
One question remains though, whatever happened to the dressing up and glittering club promoting career, now that some of his ex-employees have gone on to run their own successful club nights? David said that he wanted to retire his alter ego but does that really mean the end of the road for Dusty O, or has he still got tricks up his sleeve? For the time being, he has grown a beard and I’m told he spends a lot of time painting.
For decades, La O has cut an undeniably matriarchal and acid-tongued figure on London’s gay scene which, suffice it to say, couldn’t have been quite what it is without its very own Iron Lady. Indeed, Dusty, a notoriously staunch Thatcherite, definitely ain’t for turning.
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