HIV & Health

56 Dean St’s Leigh Chislett: Me, myself and I

Leigh Chislett, the manager of 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic loves jazz music, wants to visit India and adores the poet Maya Angelou.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Coventry in the West Midlands. I then moved to a small village just outside Stratford upon Avon. But as far back as I
can remember I wanted to move to London.

And where do you live now?

I have lived in Clapham for the past 13 years; my flat looks out over the Common. I live by myself. I like my own space.

What do you love about London?

I moved here in 1985 and I knew I was home. I love the history, the architecture, the diversity, the music, theatre. If you ever get fed up of London, walk across Waterloo or Golden Jubilee Bridge at night and just look around you.

What was the first gay venue you visited?

When I first came to London I went to the piano bar, which was part of Madame Jojo’s in Soho. It was full of gay men, drag queens, rent boys and trans people. When I left I walked back through those red velvet curtains and thought it was the most wonderful place I had been.

Favourite club/bar/venue in London?

There is a venue just off Piccadilly Circus called The Crazy Coqs – it’s a intimate art deco cabaret and music venue. It reminds me of those jazz clubs you see in old 1930s films and seeing a great singer in a jazz club is heaven to me. I also have some wonderful memories of nights at Ronnie Scott’s, which I have been going to since 1984.

What was the last theatre show you saw, where, and what did you think of it?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I was worried as it’s over three hours long, but it was stunning. The cast is like a masterclass in acting. Imelda Staunton is just breathtaking. I was on the edge of my seat and could not wait to get back from the interval.

What is your guilty pleasure and why?

Well I am only slightly guilty because the humour is a bit dated and corny, but I love the late comedian Frankie Howerd. I saw him perform live and have never laughed so much. He still makes me laugh now.

Biggest extravagance?

I have collected LPs for over 30 years. I can spend hours in a secondhand record shop and search them out in any city around the world I visit. I must have one of the largest collection of female jazz lounge and soul singers – about 3,000 and counting – and all in a one bedroomed flat.

Best gift you’ve ever received and why?

A ticket to see the poet Maya Angelou in the 80s. It was completely life inspiring. I received it in a letter from a friend who was dying who told me how much I meant to him and never again to put myself down.

What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?

The time a patient came in to the clinic some years ago; he had a Kaposi’s sarcoma legion in his mouth and was very ill. New HIV medications had just come out so he took them, and the next time I saw him the legion had melted away and he was well again. More recently, seeing new HIV diagnosis in gay men drop by 40% this year was also a high point.

If you could go back in time which year would you choose?

I would like to back to the 1950s to see Billie Holiday sing live in New York.

What’s the best party you’ve ever been to and what made it so good?

It was at a friend’s house and it was one of those moments where we sat in his small garden on a hot balmy night and laughter filled the air. Everything just felt good in the world.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Most things I have learned from my own direct experience but two things I’ve heard really stuck with me. The first was from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And the other is from Tony Benn: “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, and dare to make it known.”

Who is your LGBT hero?

Vito Russo and all those amazing activists in the early days of the AIDS crisis. They saved thousands of lives.

Who are the most entertaining people you follow on Twitter?

I am not big on social media but I adore Bette Midler and love her tweets.

Where in the world would you like to visit before you die?

I would really love to visit India.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

That all those negative things I was told about being gay were a lie.

Leigh Chislett is Clinic Manager at 56 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 6AE. Website: dean.st/56deanstreet

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