Jonny Woo's Gay Boat Party
Speeding up the Thames on Sunday was Admiral Woo and his bi-annual Gay Bingo Boat Party. We asked if Jack wanted to go along with a pair of velcro shorts and second-hand armbands
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A few dozen adults are dressed like a Pierre et Gilles musical clutching frothy pints at the back of a hired-out pleasure cruiser. We’re watching Jonny Woo, made-up to look exactly like Mary Portas, rap “I'm Mary, I’m a little bit scary” over an intense techno beat, fronting a troupe of fighting transvestite backing dancers who wrestle over a dropped earring. Ma Butcher, dressed like Cher in her prime but sporting a pig snout, is attempting to pull John Sizzle's wig off while getting a Tesco carrier bag stuck in her own. Meanwhile Sizzle pushes her unconvincing fake breasts against a male exhibitionist who is wearing little more than backless pants and a motorbike helmet. Welcome to Hoxton-on-sea!
In a fixed time period of five hours, Woo and his gang effectively stage a chaotic play of relentless unabridged art-house gayness. As cruisers drink, dance and take in the city sights - the drag queens skilfully intervene turning the party into a hot wet mess. Due to the unique heterotopia of a moving boat nobody can escape either. Consequently the crowd bonds and despite the vanity and visuals, nobody is hissy or too cool to fool.
Tourists outside the Globe theatre can’t figure out what they’re staring at we steam past, men in bikinis and heels tapping fag ash into the bubbling wake. Some mothers wave and cheer, others shield their spawn’s eyes. St. Martin's graduate Amber Swallows leans perilously over the railings to pose for their photos. People padding along Tate Modern’s pedestrian bridge stop dead in their tracks, faced with our passing human canvas of vile art.
From one bridge a layperson screams at us "You all look like tw**s", to which a surly 6 foot partygoer caked in make-up yells: "We’re poofy pirates and we're coming to get you! Ooh arrrghh!" He shouted something back but it was lost in the wind. He was alone on a bridge wearing grey tracksuit bottoms. We were having fun.
The boat was one of the first to sail beneath Tower Bridge's Olympic Rings. Indeed, the rings came down as we approached it, not that many people noticed as we leglessly line-danced to a Janet Jackson mash-up, cracking the droves of plastic pint beakers underfoot.
When the infamous bingo game itself commences everyone has to sit on the floor. Strong hairy thighs bulging out of tiny shorts fall back against waxed Broadway legs in Aldo wedges as the boat rocks wildly from left to right. Certain numbers trigger performance breaks. When "88" is called out the prow doors burst open and a Shirley Bassey impersonator begins stomping across the deck belting out Diamonds Are Forever. The winner of the bingo is encouraged to strip into his pants to collect his prize, pants which are then pulled down by Woo with true Michael Alig cheek to roars of laughter from the crew. But Woo never intimidates, he knows how to read an audience, sifting the shy from the game.
The final hour is pure dancing. A wide rainbow appears across the Thames as evening sunshine pierces through the rain clouds and Mariah Carey's Loverboy comes on. Rain-soaked muscles push against each other as Temple Pier edges back into view.
Too washed-out to follow the crowd to Horsemeat Disco's after-party my friend and I go for dinner in Soho. I hear myself saying “I wonder what my Dad would think if he knew I went to things like that”, to which my friend replies “Come on, our Dads would love it! That boat trip was incredible”
Safety in numbers. Safety in make-up. Safety in strength. Safety in intelligence. Safety because we're on a boat. Jonny Woo, John Sizzle and Ma Butcher understand what "pride" is.
For some pride is imitating our oppressors, demonstrating that we too can fight in wars like them, we too can marry in churches like them, and that is of course of adamant importance - because without equality we are (unsurprisingly) uneqal. There really are gay plumbers and carpenters out there ready to commit themselves to each other until death and it’s show ponies like us who can shout out for their rights. But for Woo his approach seems to lie in celebrating our difference, indulging in the carnivalesque and challenging not just our own evolving identities but society's entire rulebook. “Drag is more addictive than heroin” Ma Butcher once stated on YouTube. To be a drag queen is to be a heroine, an ambassador of expression.
In a perfect world Woo, Sizzle and Butcher would have their own balcony in the Houses of Commons to serve as a reminder that life is a performance, and a short one at that. None of have more than a walk on part, so let’s just get along and enjoy ourselves. Heeeerrrrrre's MARY: