So she comes in the George and Dragon every Sunday when she's in town, she’s wearing man drag… a flat cap, dead normal trousers, some sort of non-descript jacket. You wouldn’t look twice at her if you passed her in the street.
Lavinia Co-op, she’s getting on a bit, she makes no bones about that, infact she’s pretty proud about her history, and she’s got a dignity about herself whatever drag she’s in. According to Lavinia in the 70’s ‘Hippies were freaks, straight and gay; androgyny was new bordering on AC/DC, UNISEX, Bi. The 70's contradicted all ideas of fashion, so what you wore wasn’t always considered drag.’
She says hello and we exchange pleasantries and she makes her way through the pub and down to the basement to get ready for the evening ahead. She’s got a job down Boombox, basically she gets herself all done-up in her always surprising way, trotters round the pub receiving approving glances, taking photo calls and then exits looking genius! In her day ‘gayness’ hadn’t been invented as such…
‘No one was going to liberate the queers, so Gay Libby camped up, she's a friend, a front was named after her the GLF [Gay Liberation Front]. Meetings, dances in Town Halls. Suddenly we were out of the closet, lots of us.’
It’s not much of a walk over to her next appointment but she likes to be escorted, just incase, you know. Usually Richardette does it. ‘I got mugged nearly raped, beaten, but I'm alive, watching my drink. Someone said to me ‘talk to someone you don't know’. Met an old woman started chatting… tea. She reckoned there are four ways to stay young… Have a laugh, find humor/achieve success, be happy and have a dream.’
I gotta’ describe Lavinia’s drag to you, it’s just so splendid the way she puts it all together. Some of it might be considered rubbish, like some old bed-cover, an old neglected toy, some bits and bobs from the £1 store down Dalston. She sometimes wears a wig or perhaps a hat or like some sort of turban she’s created out of wrapping paper. She’s got heels as well although her ‘look’ goes equally well in flats. Quite often it looks like it’s all gonna’ fall to pieces, it’s like magic the way it doesn’t.
‘Lets paint our face, clown, realness, fantasy, abstract, character, ugly,rough, cartoon, old/odd clothes, 2D, silly, wrong, it’s onlycloth. P.V.C. beyond style but with it, breaking out, stretching, not confined by a rigid multi billion fashion industry or mediocre uniform conform norm.’ He’s quite a woman, that Lavinia… ‘I hanker on to the old cheery talkative, bit friendly, bit hard cockney.’
She mixes with the international jet set, she’s down town cruising the bars. I saw her talking to a group of people, hanging on to their every word. I could see her mouthing the words ‘Oh, really!’ every now and again and she meant it, she caught me looking and laughed.
Back to the description of Lav’s drag, the eek, screech, er, I mean the face. The make-up’s extraordinary… it’s very carefully done. I heard a story from Tasty Tim who told me when she was in Bloolips (I’ll tell you about that in a min) they said to her, ‘Oi, you can’t go on looking like that, you’re too beautiful’. So she went off and painted a dot on the end of her nose. She still wears the dot on occasion. The face she paints, yeah, sometimes it’s a bit clownish, not too much though an’ it’s artfully done. Other times she goes for full on glamour. Oh, and it’s always looking matt.
So our Lavinia she found herself her true vocation early on… ‘O.K. Jimmy Camecia and the Hot Peaches hit Europe by the mid 70's. Shows with lesbians an gays doing their thing, blues, rock. We could be out on stage too. Bette Bourne led we followed. The BLOOLIPS radical drag tap-dancing toe queens was born. Evolving into drag the role was you, not acting gay, mincing, etc. Just Gay You in whatever you wore.’
Lavinia continues… ‘John Taylor devised the first show ‘The Ugly Duckling’ and wrote many more. Playing Ugly, I was thrown outta Normality Farm, met Punk Rocklings, Goosey Nafarena and Queen Cockorelle; drag queens, cottage queens, leathermen, liberal politico's, and Diva Dan as spring ‘you are not a duckling you're a swan'.
She also remembers, ‘My big solo, swan lake, everyone turns up. We’re all swans, let’s disco! That’s democracy for you. The highs of turning people on to a possibility, gay musical comedy theater. Touring Europe way before Pricilla in an old V.W. Festivals… Expo 86, N. America, N.Y.C. Punters laughing, crying at extravaganzas of tinsel, glitter, pins and glue- gun brains. Even Hollywood turned up and my mum. Six queens networking cottages, bars and of course theatres… So many people.’
Nowadays she’s got her own show, it’s called ‘Installations In Stilettos’. She’s performed it down The Bistroteque. It’s like a series of sketches, she takes on a few different roles, ‘Yes we got bits a vast collection of characters, turns, acts and solo’s’. And to get you really confused she takes on a male role… ‘The stage manager does a great job, you can't do anything on your own. After you've played a ‘she male’ what else is there to play... a man!’
On the way home, after being in drag all night Lavinia likes to get changed. Off comes the slap, the wig, hat, the heels. She goes from one transformation to another, she don’t change personality though. She still comes out with the cracks and good old-fashioned pearls of wisdom.
‘I wanna fit in too, I've been beaten, hurt by a look, or had a gun at me, but really I got imagination, no I’m not afraid, I want to go out and party, yes safely. I love what I wear, day wear too.’
(P.S. ‘The costumes are by Chance and the hair is by Riah.’)
Princess Julia for Adham 2008