The actor and cabaret performer, aka Maisie Trollette, popped his gay bar cherry at the since-closed Coleherne, and cherishes the times he spent working with the late EastEnders actress Wendy Richard.
When and where were you born?
I was born in St Ives in Cornwall on 16 August 1933. And then my family moved up to Suffolk to a little place called Bungay, and I lived there until I came out the closet many, many years later when I was 26.
And how did you come out?
I met up with a lovely girl – I was engaged to her sister – and she sort of just sussed it out. She said, “You’re more interested in John and Bruce than your are my sister.” But I mean if you think about going back all that time, it was still under the cover, wasn’t it? You had to be so incredibly discreet.
Did you come out to your parents?
To be honest with you, without any exaggeration, I went all through my life – my relationships, my time with my Don before he died – with my mum, dad, my brother and also my sister-in-law, and there was never any mention of my sexuality. Nothing. There was nothing ever discussed until a while ago. The only thing that brought it to the front was when Lord Montagu got prosecuted. And people started having a conversation about it.
And where do you live now?
I live in Brighton at the top of St James’s Avenue. And I’ve been here since my 50s.
What was the first gay venue you visited?
The Coleherne in Earl’s Court. And The Castle pub in Lewisham, which went on to become Two8six, but has of course unfortunately since closed.
Do you have a favourite club/bar/venue in Brighton and why?
I love the Theatre Royal, I’ve done lots of things there and they look after me. They hosted my 80th birthday, which was lovely.
Were you ever in a venue that was raided by police?
Yes. I was at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in the 80s. I did a Channel 4 programme the other week [Britain’s Gay Great Buildings], didn’t you see it? I was on stage and all of a sudden there was all this noise – police and everything. We were in the middle of the
AIDS crisis back then and the police came in wearing rubber gloves, which was outrageous. I was in full drag at the time and one policeman said to the landlord about me, “Get your mother upstairs, she doesn’t want to see this!”
What was the last theatre show you saw, where, and what did you think of it?
42nd Street because one of my proteges who was working on the show invited me to see it. But I’m slowing down because in a fortnight’s time I’ll be 84 and not many people are charging around at that age, are they dear?
Having a bet at William Hill. I love a little flutter.
Best gift you’ve ever received and why?
Meeting my Don. When I moved up to Scotland I was doing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and having Don in my life was the best gift I could ever have.
What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?
Working with the late Wendy Richard, who was in Are You Being Served? and EastEnders. She gave me a huge great big doorstop in the shape of a frog, which I’ve still got. We did amazing things, pantomimes together and all sorts. I still speak to her husband.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
To be grateful for good things when they happen and for the good people who come into your life.
Where in the world would you like to visit before you die and why?
This is going to sound absolutely big-headed and piss-elegant but when Don and I had the hotel we went everywhere. So I don’t think there is anywhere that I’d wish to go to. The only place I can think of is maybe Peru because of all its ruins, which would be fun to explore, but that’s far too far for me to travel at this age now. I’ve been everywhere, darling. I’ve been a very lucky man.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
Well I’ve had a brilliant time. I’m amazed to still be here and still be working at this age. I was out last night and Dave Lynn called me up on stage, I’ve got an alternative pantomime coming up and all these shows over the weekend for Brighton Pride coming up. So it’s lovely to still have the appreciation from the audience. But I suppose, if I had to choose something, I’d like to know the winner of the 2.40 at Newbury tomorrow.