This weekend The Duchess, aka guv’nor Paul, and his team at the George and Dragon are celebrating 20 years of serving the gay scene in Greenwich. Two decades as an independent gay venue is a real achievement and on Friday (31 Aug) they are welcoming back the queen of hi-energy, and part of the Stock Aitken & Waterman PWL pop factory of the 80s, pop legend Hazell Dean, whose hits include Searchin’, Whatever I Do and Who’s Leaving Who. Dave Cross had a catch up with both Hazell and The Duchess to find out more.
Hi Hazell, are you looking forward to performing on Friday at the George and Dragon anniversary party?
Absolutely, I love it. It’s one of my favourite places to play, the audience are always great and everyone is so friendly. I don’t get to do many gay venues anymore so it’s a real treat.
How do you get on with Paul, The Duchess?
Ahh, he’s my favourite, but we probably shouldn’t tell him that. He’s so funny and always looks after me; he’ll walk me to the car, or send a security man to make sure I’m all right.
You said you don’t do that many gay venues anymore, but when you were performing at clubs like Heaven at the start of the modern gay scene, with tracks like Evergreen and Searchin’, what do you remember
of that time?
I remember really clearly the first time I performed at Heaven. I had a gig earlier on the Saturday night with a band that finished at midnight and then I went to Heaven. It was brilliant. As soon as the track started they all went mad as it was already a big track there with DJ Ian Levine. I loved it, and that night – my first performance in a gay club – was really the start of everything, and here I still am today.
The single Searchin’ was your first top 10 hit, but it was massive in the clubs first…
Yes, it originally came out in 1983 and then was re-released in 1984 and became a big hit. It even made the top 10 of the dance chart in America.
And how did that lead to you working with Stock Aitken & Waterman?
I had met Pete Waterman before, but one day when Searchin’ was in the charts he happened to be at the record label office and he told me he was working with these two amazing new producers, Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, and that I should come and work with them and I needed a follow up.
And that was Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)?
Yes it was. I went to the studio and they were working on the Divine track You Think You’re A Man, and I knew these guys were something special. They played me the song and I loved the verses, but not the chorus. They went away and rewrote the song and it became their first top 10 hit.
Stock Aitken & Waterman produced your third big hit Who’s Leaving Who as well, didn’t they?
Yes, I hadn’t worked with them for a while and Pete called me up, out of the blue really, and said we should do something. We did a track called Always Doesn’t Mean Forever, which was a big dance hit, and then we did Who’s Leaving Who, which got to number four. Plus more tracks including Turn It Into Love and Maybe, which were both hits.
Do you know what you’re going to do on Friday at the George and Dragon?
I’ll definitely do Searchin’, Whatever I Do and Who’s Leaving Who, and probably Turn It Into Love, plus these days I’m doing a lot of these big 80s shows and festivals, so I’ve added in a couple of other 80s classics that I know the crowd will love. I might even have an ABBA track, you’ll have to come to find out. I’m always working on the music for the shows too, adding new musical elements like a new kick drum to keep it always sounding fresh.
Hazell is at the George and Dragon in Greenwich this Friday (31 Aug).
Hi Duchess, congratulations on your 20th anniversary, how are you feeling about that?
Hello and greetings from Greenwich. Thank you. Yes, it’s hard to believe it’s been 20 glorious years at the George and Dragon – time really does fly by. Of course everyone here at Chateau Duch is delighted to reach this milestone.
What do you remember of when you opened in 1998?
What do I remember about ’98? Things were a lot different back then – gay people really appreciated a ‘safe space’ as equality, although it was improving, was still a way off. The internet wasn’t around, no gentlemen’s apps, people actually talked, cruised and dated in bars. It must sound like the Dark Ages to anyone under 30 but it was exciting and edgy for us back then.
Keeping a gay venue running for 20 years as an independent business is a real achievement, what is the secret of the ongoing success of the George and Dragon?
It’s always a lot harder for an independent bar, much harder work and longer hours, no brewery or company with a bottomless bank account, and the last five years have been a testament to that, because so many others have gone. The George and Dragon goes from strength to strength, and over the last 20 years we have had to move with the times, providing what I can only perceive as what people want. Expectations change, so it’s a case of keep up or shut!
You are celebrating on Friday with a show from Hazell, when did you first meet her?
Yes, on Friday we are celebrating 20 years with a very special guest Hazell Dean, the queen of hi-NRG, on stage. Hazell never disappoints the crowd at the George and Dragon; they simply adore her. She may not thank me for saying it, but she was a huge part of my youth. I grew up listening to all her hits and I feel like I have known her all my life. It’s a real privilege to sit and have a cuppa with Hazell and her family around my breakfast bar in the chateau! Hazell’s success I think is mainly because her hits are ageless; they cross generations, are as popular now as the 80s, as a live performer she brings 100% and to watch her is magical. A true pro in the business.
You have great acts performing 52 weeks a year, what do you look for in a cabaret act for the George and Dragon?
Yes, cabaret is a major part of the business here, it’s where the younger generation can learn about their heritage. Proper drag, that is, not this Americanised rubbish! Anyone can look good (well, most) but can they hold a room for an hour or longer? I think these days I look for ‘adequate’ acts that can do just that, hold a room and entertain. Occasionally we stumble across an ‘above adequate’ but it’s better not to tell them, we don’t need inflated egos…
How important are your regulars to you?
I’m pleased you asked about the punters; without them there would be no business. They are so important to all of us here at the George and Dragon; we live to serve, it’s the reason we get out of bed of a morning. I am so grateful to have the support of the gay community in southeast London for 20 years. In the words of Cilla, “You’re my world.”
What do you have planned for the next 20 years at the George and Dragon?
Well I think it’s safe to say the George and Dragon is a well established venue, like the Rock of Gibraltar in southeast London, so I am planning to be here for at least another 20 years, God willing, providing everything the community wants and needs. Not giving too much away, but there’s lots in the pipeline and exciting times ahead.