☆ Jodie Harsh ☆
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, I guess you’ve got to give it to her for still managing to turn heads after strutting her stuff on the scene since the early noughties. Or would that simply be something to do with the gravity-defying wigs she wears? Only kidding.
Once known as Mister Jay Alan Clarke from Canterbury, it wasn’t long before the eyebrows got a good plucking, the lallies a thorough waxing and, just like in the song, he became a she … well, not quite. Time had come to spring forth, armed with a clear game plan: act from the word go like a Hollywood A-lister (on a budget); make an ostentatious splash both in clubland and on social media; get acquainted to anyone who’s anyone – starting with Jodie Marsh, hence the name – and set about conquering even more territory than Attila the Hun. “Get in, my son, ‘ave it!,” as Danny Dyer would say. 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 baffling character she embodies, try and uncover the real Jodie – no acting, no artifice – Harsh 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 on social media, hardly ever considered interaction with others or even expressed an opinion, apart from babbling about Madonna, predictably her role model.
With Jodie at the helm, running a club night 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. Another mind-boggling trait of hers is that, considering her modest Kent background, she paradoxically always displayed a fiercely elitist streak. 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. I’m convinced Sigmund Freud would’ve had a field day in her company, feeling inspired enough to add another classic book to his “Theory of” oeuvre.
Circus, Harsh’s first club night 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. On a good night, it really was the best place to party in London. 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 in attendance, 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. Relocating East from Camden herself, she confessed at the time being happy living anywhere spacious enough to accommodate her collection of designer outfits, shoes, wigs, handbags and jewellery, which looks humongous enough to provide clothing to a small 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 Farringdon, Concrete @ The Tea Building, The Bloomsbury Ballroom, Circus Endell Street in Covent Garden, Café de Paris and even Pacha in Ibiza.
However, JH eventually had to lay 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 Soho comeback and fast became a hit with muscle Marys and fashionistas alike. 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 artists the likes of, erm, Melanie C. Seven years after its launch, RS eventually popped its clogs in May 2017. It made a short-lived come-back at Borderline off Charing Cross Road, keeping the same formula but bearing a new name … Mad House. Unfortunately, that fell flat on its face straight after its September 2017 launch. After promoting UltraViolet, her own Wednesday club at Soho’s Shadow Lounge, which didn’t exactly make waves in 2015, La Harsh mainly concentrated 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 end of October the same year at the same venue (henceforth rebranded Rah Rah Room), it could only survive three nights. Ouch!
Would Jodie actually be losing her touch? One thing is certain, she’ll never be one to hide her light under a bushel. She soon reappeared in September 2016 at “Dollar Baby”, a Friday club night @ Metropolis, Cambridge Heath’s notorious strip joint, which was also home to Savage, the Saturday club run by the Sink The Pink posse. She dragged Lady Gaga to DB one night when she passed through London desperately trying to flog her dead horse, i.e. her “Joanne” album. There were very mixed reports about the club but she managed to keep it going for three years before axing it towards the end of 2019. As for her Thursday night venture named “Deadly Nightshade”, held at Jungle, the Piccadilly Circus tourist spot, I honestly know nothing about it other than it launched in March 2019 and died a death virtually there and then. Likewise in June of the same year, she joined forces with Circa at The Embankment for “Lucky You”, a Saturday night throw down and that seemingly vanished in a heartbeat as well.
Thankfully for her, some promoters are still prepared to book her to play out at their clubs and private parties here and abroad and that’s obviously what she wants to do rather than to be tied down to promoting a weekly event. To be fair to her, she undeniably brings a distinctive pizazz to her undertakings, something that has not only acted as a magnet to a certain flock of nighthawks but, beside everything else, has so far at least largely explained her staying power. However, the club scene has changed dramatically and never more so than in the 2010s. The all-important question now is, how much longer can she possibly ride the gravy train?
I must admit never missing an opportunity to photograph Jodie in her heyday, whether at her clubs or other events. It didn’t bother me much that she would only give me time to take 2 or 3 quick shots before she’d fob me off with an abrupt “aw’ right?” and trot off somewhere else obviously far more important to her. I found that quite hilarious at the time, certainly a novelty in my line of work!
Additionally to her constant 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. It’s no secret that she’d rather fancy herself (in her own lunchtime) as a global household name. Alas, she never managed to bag the panel slot on Drag Race UK that she apparently so longed for. But it wasn’t all bad news as she got the opportunity to show her mug (alongside virtually everyone else’s on the scene) in “Ab Fab The Movie”. Only try not to blink!
Jodie did have previous TV experience, even if her early flash-in-the-pan dabbles with fashion reporting 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, made her look significantly more digestible. However low-key they may come across, these clips indicate that her on-screen prospects might bear fruit eventually. In the latter, she plays a tongue-in-cheek potty mouth-cum-dragony-aunt. It very much looks as though Madame Harsh realised she had to leave the ego at the door, loosen up a bit and start engaging with people. She unmistakably makes 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 we’ve known each other. She also hosts the again WoW-produced Ring My Bell and further indulges her unending obsession with celebrities on Hotline, in which she conducts informal interviews. They’re viewable on her YouTube channel, if anyone’s interested. She manages to work the camera and, shockingly enough, laughs out loud as well. Hurrah!
Incidentally, she did get a consolation prize in February 2021 from Drag Race UK when they granted her a brief walk-on turn as a DJ in series 2, episode 3. Again, she came across all giggles and grins! Whad’ya know, she might even step off her imaginary pedestal and try and be nice next?
Scroll down and click if images don’t automatically roll out. Click on any image to enlarge.