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Leigh Bowery’s BFF “Sue Tilley” waxes over 80’s London and a pension

Submitted by on Thursday, 14 February 2008No Comment

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Sue Tilley loves her two bedroom council flat in Camden, North London. She is best known for her friendship with iconic performer Leigh Bowery andLucien Freud’s intimate drawings of the pair, but were the 80’s all fun and games and what made her write a book about her friend’s life?

What was 80’s Britain like for a clubkid? Did you spend all your times in discos and squats?
The 80s were great! In the very early 80s I lived in a housing association in Kentish Town which was like a squat..people came and went, dossed down for the night, or stayed a few weeks. We had scaffold up once and suddenly these Manchester people who we had met once climbed in a 1st floor window..but it seemed normal to us and they stayed a few days. We had a party most weekends and the whole road came out to look at the spectacle of our strange party guests. A couple were caught shagging on the bonnet of a neighbor’s car and a tranny got of with the regular guy next door. A couple of weeks later the whole road was closed off as the nieghbor had gone mad and the police were trying to section him..not sure if it was ‘cos he had shagged a tranny!
We’d go to clubs in the week but usually went to house parties at the weekends. We would take four cans of Fosters each, and a tenner for cab fare home-a very cheap night out. I think I went out every Saturday for about 3 years and when finally one Saturday I couldn’t find anywhere to go I cried as I felt a social failure.
As it reached the mid 80s, we stopped going to house parties and went to clubs at the weekends too. Everyone knew everyone as not nearly so many people went out as they do now. The West End was pretty deserted at night..not like now when it is just as busy at midnight as at lunchtime.People had no money and had to make all their own clothes or buy them from charity shops or markets. If I heard that someone had anythig designer I could hardly believe it. I remember being so impressed when Stephen Lynard had some Clinique powder- it was Rimmel, no 17 all the way for most of us. But this made everyone much more creative as they couldn’t afford to buy what they wanted. It was lucky that Bodymap were very generous and gave away a lot of their garments- it was the only designer stuff that a lot of us had! You couldn’t buy all the products that you can now so hair was bouffed up with very cheap gel and hairspray.

How did you meet Leigh?
I met Leigh at Cha Chas which was round the back of Heaven. He was a friend of a friend (Steven Luscombe from Blancmange). I then met him later the same week at Lasers in Turnpike Lane, I was snogging my friend Rics. We used to pretend that we were brother and sister. Of course Leigh was fascinated by this and even though I quickly told him the truth , a connection was made and we quickly became great friends chatting on the phone several times a day.

Leigh often gets called a “performance artist” is this a tag you think he’d approve of?
I think that Leigh would love any title with the word artist in it. It was a great problem to him that most of the things he did were with other people..Michael Clark, Lucian freud. He was desperate to be recognised for something that he had done himself. That is why he was working so hard on his musical career just before he died.

Do you find it strange that Leigh’s work is plastered on students walls even today?
No, I don’t find it all strange that people still have pics of Leigh up. He is a great inspiration to everyone to live your life how you like and not to be afraid of being different. He really was a great role model and when you were with him he gave you so much attention and was so funny. I wish that the people who love him now could have met him. Lots of people dress up like Leigh; but without his personality, drive and enthusiasm, they can never make it work so well.

What made you write a book about his adventures?
Being as I am a very lazy person, it would never have crossed my mind to write a book. When Leigh died, the Guardian asked me to write his obituary..at first I was flummoxed and thought I should say no, as I had never written anything. But then I thought ‘Leigh would really have wanted me to do this as he was always telling me to test myself’. So I did it and it was very well recieved.Then a man at Hodder and Stoughtion who used to be a new romantic thought it would be great to publish a book about Leigh, so someone suggested me. I had pretty much a free hand and just wrote what I felt and rememebered. It was great fun chatting to all Leigh’s friends about their memories. In the end I finished it in 3 months and got the very first copy on my 40th birthday!

Rumor has it, you’re a big fan of boy bands. Who’s your favorite boy band of all time? But more importantly, your favorite band member?
I love boy bands…I have always been a huge pop fan..the early 80s was my favourite music era- great British bands with members you recognised and knew all their business..Frankie, Spandau, Depeche, Culture Club , Wham etc. etc.My favourite boy band of all time is Take That..they are a great mix of lads who all have their own personalities. Their story is so fantastic! If you read it you wouldn’t believe it, the way that their careers and that of Robbie’s go up and down. My favourite member is Jason Orange because he is so unlike a boy band memeber- he’s healthy, he’s quite intellectual and he’s very very handsome, but slight flawed with his pocky skin.

Even though you’ve been painted by Freud, wrote a book which is about to be made into a film, went to New York to watch someone play you in a musical, and had many articles in the national press, you’ve still kept your job at the jobcenter? Why?
Everyone thinks it’s weird that I still work in the jobby, but it’s OK. I can pretty much organise my own time and constantly set myself little projects. I also work in the middle of the West End, 20 minutes from home which is great. Although I love doing arty things I always worry about not having any money- I get a regular wage fron the jobcentre (and a pension). We have lots of holiday, so I can fit in all my other little projects. Of course if someone had offered me a great artistic job, I would have taken it , but they never did… and as I’m so lazy I never bothered to look for myself.

Whenever I meet you, we eat cake. Is there a knack to making a good cake?
Cake!…I’m very fond of it! I made a great carrot cake at the weekend..I think the knack is to use the best ingredients..I hate cheap food..I think it was working at Lucian’s cos he always gave you the best quality food very simply cooked.

You seem to have done it all. Is their anything in life you have yet to achieve? Skydiving? Getting married?
Well, I’ve never tried it!

I know you like a bit of gossip, anything we should be aware of?
Gossip..me..I don’t think so (Blush)

Scottee

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