Gay Times May 09 - Issue 368
Best In Show
It’s been co-hosted by Divine and won by Derek Jarman. It’s paid witness to the President of the Royal Academy dressed as a punky newt and even been won by a robot. As we prepare to welcome the next Alternative Miss World competition to Camden’s Roundhouse, Fred Mann celebrates our Queer National Treasure, Andrew Logan.
More from Gay Times May 09 - Issue 368
Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World Competition has been running sporadically since 1972 and is part-beauty show parody, part-surreal art project… part-Crufts. Contestants jostle to create the most outrageous outfits. Its hysterical glamour has influenced everything from John Galliano’s catwalk shows to Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Andrew Logan, sculptor, jeweller, mentor and party personality, first came into the public eye in 1970, when he created a living room for the exhibition Ten Sitting Rooms at London’s ICA.
However, his first job was window cleaning. While up a ladder a friend shouted at him, somewhat randomly, “What are you going to do with your life? Why not architecture?” So Logan went to Oxford. “I did it as I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he explains.
At Oxford, Logan took an acid trip and found a new confidence and focus. “It was just one simple trip, we sat there at sunset, drawing around the sun and we had some fluorescent paint. At one stage, I threw an orange at the wall and it carried on going, and that was it, a moment of change for me, suddenly anything seemed possible.”
Logan had found his creative voice and path in life. It was at the ICA Ten Sitting Rooms show that he first met Molly Parkin, the artist and fashion supremo. She recalls, “I first met Andrew at the exhibition. I was with my boyfriend Patrick Hughes who also made a living room for the show. However, Logan’s room was the best, just amazing. It had a slice of meadow, a cow sofa, fake grass and clouds.”
Parkin quickly identified Logan as a like-minded soul: “We have had 40 years of friendship. I featured him in The Sunday Times when I was Fashion Editor as he was a kindred spirit, a renegade, an artist.” Like Parkin, Logan also had his own style: “He was fashionable, he had a very individual way of dressing himself” and Parkin remembers them going out “dressed any old way, like pulling a look out of your granny’s wardrobe.”
Another firm friend is painter and fashion icon Duggie Fields who remembers Logan as “striking, flamboyant, colourful, full of enthusiasm and joie de vivre.” Like Parkin, Fields was also intrigued by Logan’s sculpture and credits him with “inventing an early form of recycling. At jumble sales Andrew would come back with sacks of stuff to make art.”
Logan’s studio was, and still is, a riot of inventiveness, and while “mirror and glass is (his) keynote”, Logan has made amazing works out of nearly everything. “I held a dinner and dance in Hackney, found a dance floor and made lights out of empty fruit tins. I had lots of polythene which was good for draping. I hung it in layers and made an amazing spectacle. I love draping.” Logan’s jumble sale finds were piled everywhere and he “loved playing, making shapes out of found objects and joining them with fibreglass. It’s always been about play.”
Logan had well and truly arrived on the London scene and quickly became a key member of a fantastic circle of artists, centred around London’s Kings Road. As well as befriending artists David Hockney and Patrick Proctor whom he met at his brother, Peter Logan’s studio parties, he also met the stars of fashion, designer Zandra Rhodes and Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki.
Logan’s work for Biba was amazing. “I met Barbara through Molly Parkin, and I began to organise Biba’s parties. We did a pink party – cakes, drinks table cloths, sarnies, everything was pink.” Hulanicki then asked Logan to make sculptures for her new venture, the Biba department store on Kensington High Street, and he created an amazing, now legendary installation, by covering the famous roof terrace with immense flowers around a pool. “I was up on that roof for six months, as the flowers I made were so large, 12 or 15 foot high irises and roses!”
Sadly Biba’s backers pulled out and the building was stripped of its creative identity. Logan felt that this was his first brush with a “sick society” and recalls when “Janet Street Porter told us that the developers already had plans for the site, we were kicked out and they demolished all the pieces of my sculpture. My faith in human society went down.”
By this time, Logan was already well on his “path through life” and in addition to making amazing sculptures and jewellery, he is now admired for the fantastic parties he throws. “I’ve been called the Andy Warhol of London,” he says. But the most famous of these parties has to be The Alternative Miss World competition, which has grown from a small studio party to the international phenomenon that takes over London’s Roundhouse.
In 1972, the first event, based on Crufts Dog Show, was held in a converted jigsaw factory in Hackney. Guests were asked to come in costumes they had created and each was judged on poise and personality and originality. Logan’s host/hostess costume came from a jumble sale in Brize Norton. The outfit was half man, half woman, and established the AMW tradition of Andrew as half host, half hostess. David Hockney and Robert Medley were judges and the event is recorded in the David Hockney film A Bigger Splash.
Molly Parkin (who was once pushed into an onstage swimming pool) remembers, “Fran Fullenwider, she was three feet tall and three feet wide, falling right through the catwalk.” Another guest was Richard O’Brien who arrived with Rocky Horror star Little Nell right after they came of stage at The Royal Court Theatre. O’Brien, struck by the people there, had walked into what he called: “A special place that is a place of good natured inclusion, whoever you were or whatever you might have been wearing, nothing sleazy happened, nothing sexual or predatory,” a sentiment echoed by many people who have come into contact with Andrew Logan.
The overriding ethos of Alternative Miss World is all about inclusion and love. Despite its cult gay and transgender following, for Logan and his life partner Michael Davis, it has never been a gay event: “How can it be when it includes everybody, and has on occasion been won by both a robot (Artist Bruce Lacey’s Rosa Bosom) and an old lady of about 80?”
Since 1972, the ever-growing event has moved venue and changed theme each time it has taken place. It has also become a thing of legend, in part due to the extraordinary things that have taken place and the host of stars and magical performers who have entered, co-hosted or been judges. Filmmaker Derek Jarman entered and won in 1973 in a see-through dress as Miss Crepe Suzette, and other past contestants include filmmaker John Maybury (“with his amazing body covered in green slime!”), Norman Rosenthal dressed as a blue newt and the legendary Leigh Bowery. Past judges have included Zandra Rhodes, Julian Clary, Divine and actress Rula Lenska.
One of the most creative figures to emerge from the event’s history was the late Burnel Penhaul, crowned winner in 1991. By day a handsome and shy man, he was famed on the gay scene as Transformer, for his amazing creations and performances. Logan met Burnel in 1991, and always tried to get him into ballet or theatre, but “he never wanted to do it. He was the opposite of Leigh Bowery. He had the same genius, but was never a careerist.” Logan has created three evocative portrait heads of Burnel.
Rula Lenska met Andrew Logan in 1978 at his fourth Alternative Miss World, co-hosted by Divine. Lenska was taken there by Andy Mackay of Roxy Music. At the end of the event, Miss Linda Carriage (Stevie Hughes) fell off the catwalk at her crowning whilst riding a live donkey.
This meeting led Lenska to co-host the event in 1991 and she recalls: “from the first moment of meeting Andrew and seeing his work I was bowled over by his vision and his personality.” Lenska and Logan remain firm friends and she is a huge fan of his sculpture. “Andrew’s work is not only glorious artistically, but also spiritually and I think his followers also include this in their costume designs.... also, of course, a sense of humour.”
Fashion designer and textile expert Zandra Rhodes, Logan’s dear neighbour and confidant, has been involved with The Alternative Miss World since 1973 and “always discusses Andrew's concept with him as he is very definite about what aspect of the universe he is promoting.” She then develops the women's side of Logan’s host/hostess outfit to match each theme. This year she is also a judge.
Artist and headdress maker Piers Atkinson first met Logan in 1991, while interviewing him for his university thesis on cross-dressing. He came to London and joined Logan’s studio for work experience. On his first day he was handed a mop and asked to clean up after one of Logan’s infamous birthday parties. “It was a terrible mess, but it was the most glamorous mess I had ever seen. Everything was covered in sequins and glitter.”
At Atkinson’s first Miss World (Fire) he remembers Logan, resplendent as host/hostess “wearing a golden Wellington boot on one foot and a ruby slipper on the other” and states: “It’s all about Andrew’s amazing group of friends who are all in it for pure pleasure and love. Andrew is a discerning man, who hates celebrity, pastiche and schmoozing, and that’s the way the event has grown out from the underground.”
This year, as a contestant, Atkinson won’t say a great deal about his look, preferring to unveil it on May 2nd. He’s keeping it “elemental”, but will reveal that it will be “a very glam, costume glamour look, like a dangerous weather formation.”
Judges this year include Molly Parkin, Ken Russell and Zandra Rhodes and Logan’s co-host is Ruby Wax. Richard O’Brien will bring on the scores in a black tutu. There will be live performances by The Irrepressibles, Bishi and dance troupe The Elementettes, and this is before you have even see the contestants in daywear! Celebrated film maker Jes Benstock is also in production with The British Guide to Showing Off, the story behind the Alternative Miss World from 1972 to the present which will be shot live on the night.
“You have to be careful as a narcissistic exhibitionist not to make a total fool of yourself,” warns Richard O’Brien, but the over-riding feeling is the joy you experience in taking part. This unique event can also include you as quite often the audience’s costumes out do what happens on stage.
This year, the theme is ‘The Elements’, so expect lightening, rain, storms and dangerous weather formations dressed to impress!
Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World takes place on May 2nd at Camden’s Roundhouse. For tickets, visit www.roundhouse.org.uk.
Words: Fred Mann
Portrait of Andrew Logan: Jonny Dredge