:: Article

Sohoitis VIII: Alternative Miss World

I Was A Contestant for The Alternative Miss World (I Even Have The Movie To Prove It!)
By Sophie Parkin.

At the Portobello Film Festival.
‘Are you sure you’re not too drunk to manage the stairs? They’re very steep,’ I said to my friend Rebecca as she scaled the staircase half an hour after me. We were contestants in The Alternative Miss World 1978 in a circus tent on windy Clapham Common. I was the youngest at 17 and meant to be studying for my A levels but I wisely thought being in Andrew Logan’s groundbreaking competition was a better education and a higher qualification for life than any ordinary exam could give me. I was right in all senses, and Rebecca was too drunk for the steps and fell down half of them as can be seen in Richard Gayer’s film The Alternative Miss World, detailing the spectacular event.

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I cannot tell you how glamorous the whole occasion was, backstage in the dressing rooms where fabulous creatures (I would hesitate at describing them all as humans) donned extravagant creations, where men became women and women became animals and Francis Bacon art dealer, James Birch, became a hamburger with fries. Front of stage, the famous and infamous mingled to make a circus of an audience. On Stage, where no amount of trapeze stars or novelty acts could have outshone the extreme star Divine, The Lovely Lulu Martinez exposing her body parts, let alone Andrew Logan himself, half man half woman, whole wizard and Ringmaster for the night cracking his whip, full of delight.

I have known Andrew Logan [see below] since I was a child, though there’s a paradox to that because Andrew has always kept a sense of childlike wonder about the world, and you can see it instantly in his smiling work, that foxes people into wondering the eternal question: IS IT ART?

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And of course it is, but not as each individual piece, the real art is in his life and the events he has created, the sculptures are a by-product and really Andrew should be given an Arts Council grant just to live and be an example of colourful, creative fun to the nation (along with my Mum, Molly Parkin, but then I think they should also be given titles if the Olympic gold medal winners are getting them, for God’s Sake! Lord Andrew of Rose Madder Pinkness?). Examples of joyful living aren’t celebrated enough, they are seen as eccentrics and derided in England, and are more often to be appreciated and found at the end of their lives in other countries: Noel Coward in Jamaica, Quentin Crisp in New York, WH Auden to Brooklyn with Carson McCullers and Paul Bowles oh lordy lordy Edward James in Mexico building follies until his death (if it was in this country, it would be a major sculpture park but we probably didn’t have enough Mescal to keep him going).

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Andrew builds events of outstanding artistic wonder, he inspires young and old alike in the way the pied piper did, to follow and to behave and dress and perform outrageously, from riding donkeys on stage to throwing women in swimming pools. His judges in the competitions are always at the top of their game and game for a laugh, from David Hockney to Celia Birtwell, Fenella Fielding, Ozzie Clarke, jenny Runacre, Divine, Molly Parkin — the list goes on into eternity…

75-derek-jarman.jpgThe great Derek Jarman as Miss Crêpe Suzette [pictured] won the competition in the year I first went. It was 1975, I was 14 and dressed up in that Roxy Music way to look 38 and in awed wonder at the music, colour and surreal miracle of the occasion. Later my stepfather of the time, chose to hit a man because his voice was too posh. Unfortunately the gentleman fell onto the portaloos and the whole lot went over like a stack of dominoes to an immense liquid stink. Much later the studio in Butlers Wharf where it was held, burnt down, which was why the next one was in the tent on Clapham Common where they didn’t have to worry about the loos collapsing and there was enough space to fight and dance, often to be confused in the gallons of champagne happily quaffed.

In my memory of all the Alternative Miss Worlds I have attended through the decades, 1978 remains my personal favourite, maybe it was because I’ve seen the film by Richard Gayer and I was enchanted by myself stumbling incoherently with sea green hair about the stage in a piece of lawn pretending to be a dress. Maybe because I was a part of it and not just a spectator, but I think there was something more, I was the perfect age to have my eyes widened that little bit more open. Backstage, under the dressing tables, fellatio reigned. Onstage, with Divine and My big sister Sarah as glamorous as Marilyn, there was a fair bit of naked breasts. Later, much later, in the darkness of Clapham Common as my heels sunk low into the mud…. Of course you’ll have to see the film if you want to know what on earth I’m going on about! But take my word for it, as Kenny Everett said so artistically, it was all…‘In the Best Possible Taste Darling!’ Well it was for 1978!

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The film will be shown with a panel discussion on Saturday 30 August at the Portobello Film Festival, Westbourne Studios, 242 Acklam Road, London W10 5JJ. 7pm
An Evening Of Alternative Miss World with films from all the shows and
at 8pm a panel with Andrew Logan, Jenny Runacre, Molly Parkin and Sarah, my sister, as well as various Alternative Miss World filmmakers.

For your diaries:
On Sunday 31st August, A scriptwriting discussion with Molly Parkin, Sandy Lieberson (producer of Performance amongst many others) and Robert Chilcot will preceed a showing of the aforementioned Performance with Mick Jagger and James Fox

A Brand Spanking New Alternative Miss World will take place in May 2009 at The Roundhouse London, so get you sewing machines out boys and girls…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sophie Parkin has written seven published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult, otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry edited by Michael Horovitz. Her new book, Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites (Piccadilly Press), a teenage novel set in Tangiers and London, is out now. Sophie Parkin will hold a monthly 3:AM Magazine bash at the Green Carnation in London starting in October.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 26th, 2008.