Soho Stories: Ten Minutes to Read About Tribal Gatherings
Illustration: Charles Jeffrey
This is a tribute to just 10 tribes of London’s Soho. The historic area, only one square mile, is home to sex shops and wine bars, theatres and Hollywood-movie finishing suites, and attracts all manner of people who are up to all kinds of fascinating things. Coke, cock and The King and I – you’ll find it all in Soho.
SHE-BEAR’S FIRST TIME IN BEAR-DRAGS AT A BALL
Only last year, Dean, the she-bear was in fact a twink: that’s a clean-shaven, stripy-haired, “so much highlighter-wearing fem-bot he looked like fucking C-3PO” gay of 22. And now. Well, Dean is now a bear. Another one. They’re everywhere. Soho is undergoing some kind of daddyfication. But then, all daddies were once twinks and Claire from Steps once had a waistline. Things change. Especially in gay world. Some of the gays today dress like skaters and they’ve no idea how to skate. Sadly, though, “she” looks more she-hawk than Tony Hawk. More Yas Kween than Supreme. And certainly more cottage than Palace… But. To each his own.
SOHO STANS: THE STALKER-FANS
Kylie message-board readers out there may have heard of the Aussie pop star’s former stalker-in-chief Anne. Aka Anne the Fan. Legend has it that Anne the fan would wait outside Kylie’s house at all hours of the day and night for an autograph, or a glance or picture of the singer. It got so bad that once, when Kylie was eating lunch at posh cafe Bluebird, she saw Anne spying on her. What did Kylie do (allegedly)? Throw bread rolls at Anne’s head! Nobody is sure what exactly happened to Anne after that, maybe she’s dead. But fans like Anne are everywhere in Soho and normally found lurking around the back doors of the area’s many theatres, desperate to get an autograph from the headline acts in the current crop of plays.
These fans are true obsessives and fall into that genre known as stalker-fans. Or “stans”. Targets of Soho’s stans include the “much-loved and Tony Award-winning Kelli O’Hara, star of The King and I, ***** 5 STARS, The Sunday Times”. These theatre stans come in many forms, such as “the regional gays”. Normally from bizarre-sounding places up North, such as Doncaster, the regional stans will wait for hours and hours outside theatre doors for one crappy scrawl from a B-list singer-forward-slash-dancer. Spot a Soho theatre stan by their mid-calf denim shorts (with Polish-builder back-pocket flap), Topman jersey-fabric grey trainers (slip-on) and a faded Cats the Musical tee. The hair? Super Noodles – pre-kettle.
The flipperati are a bunch of cool kids who love, and I mean love, Supreme and Palace. And who never stand in line. Queuing is what you pay other people to do and it goes something like this. Wily kid queues outside Supreme or Palace or down the road in Dover Street Market on Wednesday night (they can and do sleep on the street in those canvas fold-up chairs anglers carry with them) to bag the very latest drop of fashion bits. Thursday and Friday, if you don’t know, are the new Saturday in retail “drop” culture – this is when new stuff hits the shops.
Once they’ve been let in, past the queue security, they buy what they think will sell, maybe grabbing a T-shirt for themselves. Once they’ve paid, they head out onto the streets: Old Compton Street, Wardour, etc, and sell their just-bagged booty with a mark-up. That is flipping. Current margins are about 30%, dependent on the product and its hype. Nothing illegal here, this is market economics. Good luck to them.
FLOGGING SOME “FINGER FUN”
Supplying puppy masks and “silicon-free hygienic puppy-tail butt plugs” for puppy- dog-fetish fans and the really fucking weird, are Soho’s porn shops. These last bastions of filth, many swept away to be replaced by same-y coffee shops, have been helping men develop hairy palms for the past 100 years. Selling these truffles to hungry sex pigs are the two dozen or so porn-shop staffers who have seen more instruments of perversion than Messrs Sodom and Gomorrah put together.
These liberated, arch-browed spunk-enablers can satisfy every whim of Soho’s pervs. It takes a special kind of Soho denizen to sell this stuff. And put the DVDs in the wall-mounted TVs that dot every corner of the room. We are told. By somebody who has visited one of these shops. Why not slither in and see for yourself? “Today’s special offer,” says somebody who went in there once, ie this afternoon (not us), is, “the Neon Magic Touch Finger Fun, ‘a stimulating glove that will tease and tingle those erogenous zones during foreplay and give yourself a tingle during your solo fun time, too’.” Apparently this “multi-speed finger vibrator can hit those hotspots”. Well, how could you say no?
SECONDHAND? NO, IT’S VINTAGE!
Reese, Cathy and Thèy* (*please refer to Thèy in the plural at all times) work at one of Soho’s longest-running vintage shops. Each member of staff’s wardrobes are wormholes back to a different era, and each look they wear is “glitchy on purpose”. Today, shop-staffer Cathy works a Banarama-ish hobo skirt from 1984 with a white tucked-in T-shirt “circa Princess Diana on the Thorpe Park log flume”. Meanwhile, Thèy* are more inclined to a hi-vis Cyberdog cut-off tee with self-belt mankini (or woman-kini) and melon velour Juicy Couture track top. Wearing one moonboot and an ice skate co pletes the look. Reese’s black jeans are so tight at the front you can see the vein – it’s like an earthworm. When he’s sitting down his bulge looks “a bit like Pete Burns”, which he always points out down the pub. Reese’s hair is a talking point. Today it’s all about “fire hair”, he says – “You know, like you’ve just been in a fire.” Reese is mad and takes lots of drugs.
A “HAPPILY MARRIED MAN”
Stephen, 64, is a keen golfer and member of the Rotary club. His wife, Fran, is a member, too, and by her own admission “bakes an awesome quiche”. Their two beautiful daughters, now grown-up, have kids of their own. Stephen and Fran couldn’t be happier. Stephen is in Soho today to visit his favourite book store, which specialises in various high-value publications, including one he fancies about rare Mongolian art. After browsing the bookshelves, Stephen will make his way through the backstreets of Soho, where he will call on his friend Thor. Thor is a fisting master and Stephen – happily married for 30 years – a fister’s slave. According to Thor’s website, he will “make a puppet” out of anybody who “dares let him dig his way to hell and back”. Stephen likes it best when he can’t sit down afterwards. Beautiful, beautiful Soho, it’s so giving.
GRADE 8 RECORDER
Interconnected by a rabbit warren of tunnels and escalators, the Soho underneath the roads and pockmarked tarmacadam funnels commuters and tourists through its tubes. These worker drones and out-of-towners can be rich pickings for buskers. Sequestered deep underneath Tottenham Court Road station and Leicester Square are all manner of “entertainers” – an elastic term. But it’s not easy becoming a busker: of the 625 applicants, only 100 made it through the TFL live auditions this year to bag that essential busking licence. But it’s worth it – the best can make about £200 during rush hour at somewhere as busy as King’s Cross. But it requires a mixed playlist for such a transient crowd. Personally I’m a sucker for Mull of Kintyre sung by Sheila with one eye. And I once threw Ed Sheeran a few pence down Goodge Street station because I thought he looked “a bit special”.
On the jizz-stained grimy streets of Soho, past the popcorn-foot pigeons and piles of tramp sick, are a few bleeding-edge boutiques specialising in what London does best: the next >> now. These side-hung freezing-cool rails of fledgling design are like crack to rabid shopping kids desperate for the esoteric looks of the day after tomorrow. Their current uniform? Well, at the time of writing this (it will change sometime this afternoon), a running rail of Martine Rose, JW’s, Bianca Saunders, the incredible Charles Jeffrey, A-Cold-Wall, and so on. No shape, style, colour is too extreme for these hunter-gatherers, as passing tourists stand and stare. Do they eat? Hardly. These things are expensive and the competition to be the most fashionable is intense. “My Martine Rose jeans are baggier than yours.” “I raise you your Triple S Balenciagas by wearing a pink one on my left foot and a black one on the other. So stick that on your Insta Stories with a Soho location tag. Oh-krrrrr!” If you want a friend in fashion, buy a dog. This is war.
“ME? OH, I’M A FILM DIRECTOR”
Jonj’ is best mates with Si, and Si totally fancies Jonj’s sister. Both “top lads” work at [name redacted by editor] just off Dean Street, one of London’s top editing suites fulfilling top-dollar contracts for some of Hollywood’s big-screen films. Describing themselves on Tinder as “hot nerds” (Si’s idea), both rarely see daylight, working 12-hour days behind locked studio doors. As Si has told every girl he’s ever tried to cop off with, “See all that blue fur in Monsters, Inc? I designed that for Pixar.” Then rocks back on his grey New Balance trainers and nips the end willy through his Margaret Howell navy blue chinos like straight boys do when they’re nervous. When he’s had another two pints, he’ll text that girl who he once had sex with to see if she’s “up for booty?” And she’ll text back “leAve me alone U fkn ” and he’ll get the last Tube home.
It’s a high-camp, gossipy and arch public-facing ecosystem, where Soho waiters talk in codes about the clientele, pretty much like trolley dollies do on flights. It’s a mix of old-school Polari passed on by older gays and latter-day acronyms: “Varda the Omi, au bar – DHL!” To you and me that’s, “Look at that man sitting at the bar. It’s Down. His. Leg!” Soho’s waiters can navigate a table as if on casters. Doling out frites, canard and fizz to a regular Saturday-night theatre crowd and a coach-load of pensioners who have just popped down from somewhere near Manchester. “Ooh, I do miss Les Mis!” Tackle a Soho waiter at your peril: these rail-thin starched queers are street fighters – fending off toothless crack whores and pilled-up trannies makes you hard.
Taken from Issue 48 of Ten Men, Issue 49 is on newsstands now…