Fearless, unstoppable, fame-obsessed, immaculately turned-out, in-ya-face outfits, huge hair and lips, even bigger attitude … Jodie is to her followers the very definition of the bang-on-trend tranny. As cliché as it may sound, you’ve got to give it to her for strutting her stuff on the scene since the early noughties and still managing to turn heads. Or would that simply be the gravity-defying wigs she wears? Only kidding!
She claims bagging a degree in fashion journalism, presumably in an earlier life when she was still known as Mister Jay Alan Clarke from Canterbury. Should that be the case, you may wonder why on earth she didn’t pursue a career in that field?!? More importantly, that’s the time she gave the eyebrows a good plucking, the lallies a thorough waxing and, just like in the song, he became a she … well, not quite.
Time to spring forth, armed with a clear game plan … act like a Hollywood A-lister (on a budget) from the word go; make an ostentatious splash both in clubland and social media; befriend anyone who’s anyone on the scene (Jodie Marsh included) and set about conquering even more territory than Attila the Hun. “Go on my son, ‘ave it,” as Danny Dyer would say!
The way she goes on, she often comes across as an alien amongst the rest of us, ahem, mere mortals. The world is her oyster and she wouldn’t have it any other way, while making everything she organises look perfectly effortless in her own inimitable, astute fashion.
I took her out for dinner one night to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Knightsbridge to see whether I could make light of the rather contrived character she embodies, try and uncover the real (no artifice) Jodie and, who knows, perhaps even click with her. Chance would be a fine thing; she seemed more interested to talk about Lady Gaga!
Away from the clubs and public functions, Queen Bee leads a closely guarded life and few people actually know what she really gets up to in private. The mind boggles! She never let on about herself, expressed an opinion (apart from babbling about Madonna, her role model) or even had any social media interaction except, surely for tactical reasons, with the odd celeb or prominent fashionista. Never mind courtesy, she certainly never even acknowledged by a mere Like click the fact that I regularly took the time to edit (i.e. made her look her best) and tagged her some of the portraits I took of her, as well as posting certain articles I’d written about her. None of it ever appeared on her timeline or website, even though she subsequently admitted to my face that she actually really liked them. I believe Sigmund Freud would’ve had a field day in her company. I’m convinced he would’ve felt inspired enough to add another classic book to his oeuvre, something along the lines of “The Theory of Machiavellianism in a Modernistic Society”.
With Jodie at the helm, club promotion can easily resemble a military mission seemingly devised with clockwork precision. The word impossible simply doesn’t exist in her vocabulary and given her meteoric rise within the nightlife microcosm, you know that she has no intention of looking it up anytime soon. If you didn’t know her, you’d be forgiven to think she was running the gates of heaven, not a flipping club!
Another mind-boggling trait of hers is that, considering her modest home counties background, she paradoxically always displayed a fiercely elitist and sometimes frankly patronising streak – others would say snobbish. She also soon acquired a widespread reputation for latching on to as many celebrities as it is “humanly possible” … or at least acting as if.
Circus, Harsh’s first club venture, launched in April 2006 and it took no time establishing itself as one of Soho’s hotspots where the golden youth of the day flocked and partied hard. She would naturally book celebs weekly to have a go in the DJ box, often under her watchful eye, especially when they acted as though they’d never seen a mixing deck before. They, as well as the gaggle of paparazzi who mobbed them, undoubtedly added extra oomph to the proceedings.
After 2½ years of rather smooth sailing, Jodie was sharp enough to forecast the imminent closure of the club’s stunning rococo-kitsch venue – Soho Revue Bar, later to be refit as The Box. She clicked her heels just before the end of 2008 and moved Circus (which had actually become pretty tired by then) to Shoreditch’s Last Days of Decadence for a while. Relocating East from Camden herself, she confessed at the time being happy living anywhere that has enough space to accommodate her collection of designer outfits, shoes, wigs, handbags and jewellery, which looks humongous enough to provide clothing to an entire third-world country. She then spread her hairnet further afield and more memorable residencies and one-off gigs followed: Paramount (atop Centre Point), Ghost in Farrindon, Concrete @ The Tea Building, The Bloomsbury Ballroom, Circus Endell Street in Covent Garden, Café de Paris and even Pacha in Ibiza.
However, JH eventually laid Circus to rest in 2011 as she rightly felt it’d run its course. She didn’t let that dent her self-confidence one bit and soon bounced back with a new baby named Room Service. The Thursday club night marked her proper comeback in Soho and quickly became popular with muscle Marys and fashionistas. If anything, it proved to be a lucrative career move, not to mention that it spawned occasional/regular offshoots in Paris, NYC, SF, Hollywood, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Amsterdam, Madrid, etc. Founding the music label namesake as well yielded her production and remixes of a bunch of artists the likes of, erm, Melanie C. Seven years later, Room Service eventually popped its clogs in May 2017, only to reappear at Borderline off Charing Cross Road the following month, keeping exactly the same formula but bearing a new name … Mad House. You couldn’t make it up! Prior to that, she’d briefly promoted UltraViolet, her own Wednesday club at Soho’s Shadow Lounge, which didn’t exactly make waves in 2015, before mainly concentrating on occasional one-offs. One of them, Spotlight, which took place at Piccadilly Circus’ Electric Carousel at the end of May 2015, showed promise but remained just that … a one-off. As for The Love Club, which launched at the same venue (henceforth rebranded Rah Rah Room) at the end of October the same year, it survived a mere three nights. Ouch! But she’s never one to hide her light under a bushel and she reappeared in September 2016 with the launch of Dollar Baby, her Friday club at Metropolis, Cambridge Heath’s notorious strip joint. Lucky for some, Savage, the venue’s popular Saturday club in residence (run by the Sink The Pink posse), closed down at the same time. That meant inheriting its regulars right from the beginning. She dragged Lady Gaga there one night while she was in London desperately trying to flog her dead horse, i.e. her “Joanne” album. I’ve had mixed reports about DB and we shall see how long she manages to keep that one going.
To be fair, Jodie is still sought-after by other promoters and plays out at an array of clubs and parties here and abroad. She undeniably brings a distinctive pizazz to her undertakings, which has so far not only acted as a magnet to nighthawks but, beside everything else, has largely explained her staying power. However, the club scene has changed dramatically and never more so than in this decade. The all-important question now is, how much longer can she possibly ride the gravy train?
I must admit I’ve always enjoyed photographing Jodie, whether at her clubs or at numerous other events. The problem is, she never gave me enough time to take anymore than 2 or 3 quick shots before she’d suddenly fob me off with an abrupt “aw’ right?” and trot off somewhere else obviously far more important to her. However, one night at Room Service, she turned ’round and politely said to me that, even though I was quite welcome to come and “enjoy myself” at the club anytime, she’d appreciate it if I didn’t bring cameras anymore. The reason she gave me was that she would rather stick exclusively to her in-house snapper who takes “cartoon-like shots” (the ones with a brick wall background). I can only assume what she meant by that is shots so grossly photoshopped, they make everyone look like window dummies, much in the way elementary photography students who’ve only just discovered the stamp tool would do. No dramas, it’s her club and she runs it the way she wants. Still, given that her exhibitionistic punters go there primarily to strike a pose for the photographers in attendance and also regularly swamp the web with their quite unflattering smart phone snaps, doesn’t that rather defeat the object? That was just another unfortunate faux pas that Matron Harsh made with me. It baffled me a bit considering that more clued-up promoters normally go out of their way to get me into their clubs, safe in the knowledge that my work features in all manner of publications and exhibitions. Also, given that I previously gave her so much support and positive press coverage, you’d think she’d know better than that. It’s common knowledge on the scene that, just like Scary Madge, she doesn’t believe in making apologies and I certainly wouldn’t expect one from her. On that basis, I consequently joined the arm-long list of regulars who no longer set foot in her clubs. It’s her loss after all and it’s precisely the sort of attitude she’ll come to regret when things don’t go so smoothly anymore. As for me, no skin off my nose, I thankfully have bigger (and more appreciative) fish to fry.
Moving on swiftly and, additionally to her regular hectic self-promotion schedule, ahem, I mean club promotion schedule, JH has her mind obviously very much set on branching out to a TV & film career. And why not indeed, but will she ever rack up the panel slot on Drag Race UK that she apparently so longs for? The Jonathan Ross project has been kept under wraps for an age but the word on the street is that, for the time being at least, it looks pretty much dead in the water. Still, it’s not all bad news as she got the opportunity to show her face in “Ab Fab The Movie”. Only try not to blink!
Jodie has had previous TV experience, even if her early flash-in-the-pan dabbles with fashion reporting on Channel 4 and MTV didn’t exactly get her anywhere fast. But she can categorically fight her corner and a 2014 one-off guest spot on London Live’s Drag Queens of London series, as well as her own Drag Queen Problems, a World of Wonder online production, both made her look significantly more digestible. However low-key they may have come across, these clips indicated that her on-screen prospects might bear fruit after all. In the latter, she played a tongue-in-cheek potty mouth-cum-dragony-aunt. It looks very much as though The Harsh One had been advised to leave the ego at the door, loosen up a bit and engage with the people. She unmistakably made an effort to ditch the customary ice maiden façade in favour of a rarely-seen sense of humour, certainly one I never had the privilege to sample in all the years I’ve known her. She managed to work the camera, cracked a smile and, shockingly enough, laughed out loud. Hurrah!
Well, whad’ya know, she might even step off her imaginary pedestal and try and be nice next?
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