Ian Elmslie was one half of successful cabaret duo Katrina and the Boy and he’s now turned his talents to writing. A Marvellous Party is a memoir packed with fascinating stories, big name stars and a glimpse of the pre-millennium gay scene. Dave Cross had a catch up with Ian to find out more and Daniel Warner reviews the book.
Hi Ian, what kind of book is A Marvellous Party?
It’s an open love letter to the gay community. A tribute to personal heroes and a tip of the gratitude hat to queer icons who threw down a trail of breadcrumbs to guide me. In this year of remembrance and celebration I wanted to share my journey and capture some pivotal moments in our history, to tell some ticklish tales of brief, but close encounters with stars of stage and screen that pointed the way to my own personal freedom. I hope the stories will amuse, resonate, inform and preserve the names and contribution of gay legends, some famous, some fabulously infamous.
Why did you decide to write this memoir now?
I attended Paul O’Grady’s book launch party and he said to me “There’s f*ck all of us left,” talking about survivors of the 90s gay cabaret circuit. I would have paid good money to read the memoirs of Regina Fong, Adrella, Phil Starr, Lee Paris, and all the other stars who took their final bow too soon. There’s a generation largely unaware of say Quentin Crisp and Section 28 and while my book is far from a definitive history, if someone laughs and learns something, then I am more than happy.
Most of us remember you as part of cabaret act Katrina and the Boy, how would you describe the act now looking back?
Katrina and The Boy were an unusual act at the time. In a world dominated by drag queens and strippers, Katrina was a real woman and I kept my clothes on! We worked hard at keeping the act fresh and original. We mixed up standard sing-alongs with off-the-wall quirkiness and did our damnedest to be both relevant and entertaining.
In the book you talk about many famous people you met, do you have favourites?
Each of the stars in the book is a favourite and important for different reasons. Donny Osmond taught me about love, while Tom Robinson taught me to be angry. Armistead Maupin taught me about the logical family and I am so grateful for the impact they all had on my life. If I was forced into choosing one, I would have to say David Bowie. To look directly into the eyes that had stared at me from record sleeves and my bedroom wall was a truly extraordinary experience. He gave me and a whole generation the permission to be whoever and whatever we wanted to be.
Apart from writing this book, what are you up to now?
I spent the first fifteen years of the millennium as a drama teacher in a fairly tough secondary school, which, after working the gay circuit for a decade was a piece of cake. I hope to do some readings from the book in suitable venues around the country and I am particularly delighted to have been invited to read and speak to an LGBT youth group in Greenwich, run by one of my former students. The greatest reward in my life has been to see a young person step out of the closet and bask in the sunshine of freedom.
A Marvellous Party reviewed by Daniel Warner
Ian Elmslie has entitled his memoirs A Marvellous Party and we are all invited. Like all good parties there needs to be a number of entertaining guests, some enlightening and hilarious stories, a few dances under the glittering disco ball, some tears, laughs, champagne and some stand out moments that we will always remember.
Ian has achieved this with his very personal collection of memories. He takes us on a journey from school boy crushes on Donny Osmond and coming to terms with his sexuality, to finding the heroes that all of us need. There’s lost love and longing, finding his way through the 80s and 90s when gay men were once again fighting for the right to be accepted and then using his own voice and knowledge to teach others.
This month sees the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality and Ian’s memoirs are timely. This is the story of a life that includes important moments in LGBT history and also that of our icons and infamous drag queens. Think of David Bowie, George Michael, Victoria Wood, Cilla Black, Lily Savage and Regina Fong to name a few, they are all here within the pages of this memoir. It’s a wonderful book full of observations and meetings with public faces in private places, but it’s also the story of a shy boy’s journey from the suburbs who found himself on the cabaret stages of pubs
and television studios. Once again Mr Elmslie, it’s your turn to be in the spotlight. A Marvellous Party is just what it says it is, and this one will leave you with a marvellous hangover too.