Leigh Bowery
Leigh couldn’t wait to immerse himself in club culture the moment he touched ground in London. He’d relocated from his native New South Wales, Australia, where he grew up. Playing down the Aussie drawl, the wide-eyed, slightly gauche but perfectly eloquent and well-mannered fresher found himself spoilt for choice as he patronized the hotspots of the day, the likes of Cha Cha, Pyramid and The Jungle. The Blitz had long gone up in smoke, but the capital was seriously rocking again.
Wanting his slice of the cake, Leigh left his job flipping burgers at Burger King and co-founded Taboo at Maximus, a gaudy Leicester Square disco which otherwise catered for spotty students and hapless tourists. This was 1985 and the club didn’t prove to be the instant success it’s generally made out to be, as it faced serious competition from Wednesday night’s Pyramid at Heaven. However, it was only a matter of weeks before it took off. Suddenly, the antipodean nighthawk ruled the roost, swishing around in scary self-designed outfits and behaving as uncontrollably as a hyperactive child at Woolworth‘s Pick n’ Mix counter. Thursday nights had never been so exciting and the club became the toast of the town. Alas, acting on a tip-off, the old Bill came down one night and closed the place down. Just like The Blitz, Taboo lasted a mere 18 months, leaving an equally indelible mark on London‘s club history.
From then on, Bowery truly worked his agenda in a whirlwind of TV/club PAs and photo/video shoots. He also notably joined Michael Clark’s troupe at Sadler’s Wells, performed as Raw Sewage, later on as Minty, and modelled for Lucian Freud.
Leigh and I met at Cha Cha, the intimate dive located at the back of Heaven, where he showed his face for the first time. I genuinely grew quite fond of him as he could be totally charming when he chose to be. Out of drag, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Benny Hill, even down to the naughty glint in his eyes, which made me laugh. As we both lived east, I’d occasionally pop over to his Stepney tower block. I interviewed and shot him there for Metropolitan Magazine, DJ Magazine and even The Evening Standard. We flew to Paris together on a few occasions as I DJ-ed and also organized bookings for him at Le Palace, being friends with the promoters. It would easily take a book to catalogue his shenanigans there. I would also regularly catch up with him in New York for Wigstock, an event I covered for a few years running.
I think I understood pretty thoroughly the character he often hid behind a façade. He had more energy than the national grid and liked calling himself twisted. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment in his company.
Given the constant self-promotion that Bowery indulged, his exploit beyond the club scene proved to be comparatively limited. That’s presumably because he didn’t have the ability or interest to design clothes for others (in fact he didn’t like anyone wearing his garments but himself), host TV shows, act, sing or dance convincingly enough, even though he got commissioned and paid to do all those things. The general public were in turn intrigued, amused, shocked and horrified by his antics, but they didn’t exactly buy.
Leigh’s real talent lay in the way he could transmute into a gobsmacking art form and the platform that suited it best was clubland. Who knows what else he could’ve achieved, had he lived longer?
Since his untimely death at the end of 1994, someone has yet to get anywhere near the vacant disco throne that he left behind.

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