PAPERmag sits down with the queen of UK drag (and beloved WOWlebrity), the inimitable Jodie Harsh.
PAPER: How did you first get involved with drag?
JODIE: Totally by accident—I was never the boy trying on his mother’s heels. Some friends of mine were working as drag queens in clubs around London while I was at college and I just thought they were the coolest people I’d ever met. They got into clubs for free, received so much attention and took the hottest guys home. 18-year-old me had to give it a go. It was never my intention to continue drag once I’d tried it—I just forgot to stop. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a week without being up in pumps over the past decade or so. It’s like an addiction as well as a job. I need to do it, need to fuck shit up, and feel that punk rock spirit. Ain’t nothing more punk than a man in a dress.
PAPER: In terms of your hair and makeup, you also embrace a pretty consistent drag look. Is this a conscious decision?
JODIE: Absolutely. I like to be pretty formulaic when it comes to hair and makeup. I worked out what suits my face shape pretty early on and then kept rolling with it. It’s funny how my hairstyle frames my face. If I have hair on both sides or ditch the bangs it looks NOTHING like me. I get read a little on social media a bit from kids who don’t get why I look the same all the time — a semi-shady ‘change your wig girl’ happens at least once a day. I guess their reference point is [RuPaul’s] Drag Race, where challenges are won whilst looking different, by changing it up.
My reference points were always directed towards pop and fashion icons and I worked out that all my favorites had a few visual components that always remained the same: Anna Wintour’s bob and glasses, Karl Lagerfeld’s ponytail and suits, Boy George’s hat, Andy Warhol’s wig and biker jacket. I guess solid branding is something I’ve always subconsciously strived towards because I’m not in a competition—I’m running in my own race. I am one of the biggest RuPaul’s Drag Race fans you’ll find, but it’s not my story. I don’t have to look different all the time. Amy Winehouse once told me someone’s got to be able to draw you in five seconds in order to become iconic, and she was right—you can sketch the outline of her beehive and her thick black eyeliner flicks and it’s instantly her.
PAPER: You are behind the wildly popular club series Room Service, which has since expanded past London and gone global. What does it feel like to have something you created become a global phenomenon?
JODIE: Room Service started off six years ago as this little party in Soho, a part of London that wasn’t that cool any more [because] the gays had started moving east by then. I just thought it was time for a good ol’ fashioned gay knees-up — hotties and house music. I guess it became famous in its own little niche way, and we took it around the world. I decided to shut it down in London recently. I felt it had its day in this city, and I’m not a fan of constant reinvention in the club world — you may as well just start something new. I know when it’s time to move something on; a lot of people in the club scene don’t. It’s traveling around the world still, the brand has kept alive quite well. Business is healthy, really.
PAPER: What does a party run by you look like? Who’s coming? What’s the atmosphere? What’s the music?
JODIE: The perfect party is one massive mix of people. I’m really not into [having] too much of one thing and not enough of the rest. You’ve gotta have all different flavors to get my pussy really poppin’. I like a full fantasy, not a sea of the same. We’ve got the high culture and your friends in low places: the models and the aristos, the gym boys and the queens, the club kids and pop stars. All those ingredients bake the perfect cake and the party is the hot oven.
I think a community spirit is a very important mood to encourage and nourish, [as is] a free space to express oneself and let out your inner freak, in whatever way that is. Parties are a breeding ground for creativity and ideas — it’s always been important to set-up a space to mix and mingle, a place where the fashion and music creatives are hanging out with the cool kids, making connections and being mutually inspired. And the soundtrack is so important — I work with the best DJs in their genres. The music sets the tone and the people tell the story.
PAPER: Clearly nightlife plays a huge role in your everyday life. What does the nightclub (as a space) mean to you — particularly in terms of embracing your queer identity? What was it about these spaces that initially inspired you to start your own club nights?
JODIE: It means everything to me. As a human, I need that space to hear new music and familiar sounds, see old friends and make new ones, feel the tribal aspect of coming together. I want the sexual electricity, the freedom to express through clothing. Sex is a big part of clubbing — we want to desire and be desired and we act that out on the dance floor. And, most importantly right now, as a queer person, clubs offer a space in which to escape the hell we’re going through socially and politically. There’s something very special about a party going off — that energy really keeps me alive, probably quite literally. I can’t imagine ever leaving nightclubs, no matter how old I am. I’d happily die on the dance floor. In fact, I probably will.
PAPER: What are your thoughts on the current state of queer nightlife in London? Across the country, many similar clubs are shutting down left and right. Do you see London as being different or somehow more resilient?
JODIE: So many gay venues have shut in London, almost half of the exclusively queer spaces. Everyone’s always in an uproar and setting up Facebook groups when a club shuts — but were they drinking there and supporting the venue whilst it was open? Of course not. If you want a place to stay open, spend your money there while you still can. For example, six months ago this little drag bar called Molly Moggs shut in Soho, and everyone was up in arms. ‘SAVE MOLLY MOGGS,’ they cried. And you know what? It got saved; it’s reopened. And I haven’t heard of a single person going there on a night out. I walked past it last week [and it was] completely empty.
Nightlife has never been stronger, in my opinion — there’s something amazing to do every night of the week. There are “gay nights” (of all descriptions) in typically straight venues; I haven’t thrown a party in a gay bar for years. There’s something of a ‘fuck you’ in that. We’re taking over your venues. Our communities are strong, we can move them around, we don’t need fixed routes. Even the gay areas of London have moved around zip codes as much as twice in a decade. Have Uber account, will travel.
PAPER: What would be your advice for how to keep these club spaces lively and profitable?
JODIE: Spend money there. Be a patron. Unfortunately this is an economics topic. Support them with a night out, not just a Facebook post when they threaten to close forever, because that’s too late.
Read the entire interview here (and check out more dazzling pics by Danny Baldwin).
Photography – Danny Baldwin
Stylist – Callum Vincent
Makeup – Dani St. James
Hair – Shiori Takahashi