“At the age of two, I was very good at selling. At the age of three, I had bags. You can imagine what I was like by the time I was six? A strong woman.”
2019 will forever be remembered as the year of Charity Shop Sue. Over the past year, the Bulwell-born shopkeeper has been catapulted into superstardom, becoming a household name along the likes of The Beatles, Madonna and the Dalai Lama.
Sue originally made a name for herself with viral Instagram videos that were recognised by Alan Carr, Olly Alexander and the aforementioned Queen of Pop. Her profile boosted with the release of her self-titled documentary, which follows the LGBTQ ally and renowned fashion icon from behind-the-scenes of her beloved charity shop, Sec*hand Chances.
The revolutionary series focuses on Sue’s ambitious attempts to raise the profile of the store with her dedicated yet half-witted volunteers Vera, Viki and Kersch. The show has received universal critical acclaim – with particular praise for Sue’s entrepreneurial drive, excellent customer service skills and for raising awareness of the charity shop industry.
“We’ve got people dressing up as us, we’ve got drag queens impersonating Sue, and I tell you what that’s my favourite, darling,” she tells us at our London office, flanked by an army of guards. “It really is. You can’t be more bloody honoured, you know?”
In celebration of Sue’s unprecedented success, we caught up with the star to discuss how she’s handling her rise to fame and how the Frock Destroyers’ debut pop anthem Break Up Bye Bye has impacted her business. Sue also hits out at Victoria Beckham and Mary Portas for piggybacking off her unique aesthetic – read below for the exclusive.
How have you found the reception to your series so far?
Out there? I love it. I was very nervous. I was being sick for days before that first part came out because I didn’t know what it was going to be like. But I couldn’t believe the outpouring of love. I tell you what, sometimes I cry. I read the comments, and I have a little bit of a cry, but then I’m like, ‘Excuse me, you’re a boss lady. Forget the tears, no. Roll your bloody sleeves up, and get on with it.’ Even if it’s happy tears, I don’t like to do that, I’m the manager, the gals can’t see me breaking like that. But we get together, we watch them, and when we see what the fans are doing. We’ve got people dressing up as us, we’ve got drag queens impersonating Sue, and I tell you what that’s my favourite, darling. It really is. You can’t be more bloody honoured, you know?
And what’s it like when you watch it back? Did you see things on the show that you didn’t know was going to happen?
What do you mean, like the way I was perceived?
Watching what your co-workers were doing, or them watching what you were doing?
Well we’ve had a few arguments. To be honest, I’ve put a few people in, that you don’t see actually. There were a couple of volunteers who weren’t featured in that. They were really sniggering behind my back darling, and I do not like that. They were saying that I was being this and that, called me a few names under the sun, which I picked up because I got in touch with the guys afterwards, and then gave me a little rundown, I think they were trying to get on my good side. And I just got rid of these volunteers, I said ‘You don’t talk to me like that, I’m manager.’ To be honest, I didn’t really understand what Gloria had. Had you heard of poophoria before?
Poophoria? No, please enlighten me…
It’s where, I know darling, I don’t want to say it, it’s a little bit awkward. Are you open-minded? When you have a poo, you have an orgasm at the same time. I know it sounds dirty, but can you imagine that going to the toilet twice a day, your eyes rolling to the back of the head? You’d be in heaven, wouldn’t you, darling? I didn’t know much about that. Obviously, I knew she had a bit of a… but I didn’t know it was about that. That was surprising. You learn something new every day, don’t ya? I think we all enjoy it. I don’t like talking about toilet stuff. We all enjoy it, but if you put that extra bonus in there, we wouldn’t bloody get off the toilet, ey?
Right. I love that. You have a big LGBTQ fanbase – have you noticed?
Yes, of course I have. And obviously we did G-A-Y, didn’t we? And that to me was something, as I love Baga Chipz. I love Baga Chipz, she’s my gal.
She’s slaying right now, isn’t she?
Oh, she’s slaying. And I love The Vivienne as well, and I love Divina De Campo, because for me I’m drawn more to the older queens, I love that sense of humour. I’m probably going to be a bit biased because of my age, but I love Baga. When we went to G-A-Y and to see all of that… And Baga is a strong girl, and I think that’s why we really connected. Honestly it was a good bloody piss-up. It was thrilling, to see all those guys on those poles, and some of them were naked!
I’ve been there a few times, and they throw it all out there…
It was everywhere. Look right, I haven’t dated for a quite a while, I’m not going to lie. And to see that being wafted left right and centre on the stage, I couldn’t get out of bed for a couple of days after that, darling. And I’m not going to tell you what I was doing! Don’t be embarrassed, we all do it, come on!
So how are you handling all of this fame?
I know, darling. How do I manage it? To be honest, managing my shop, it’s very hard-going. You have to be on it all the time, managing these sometimes dysfunctional girls. Does it compare to that? It’s very full-on. I’m used to being a manager, I’m used to pressure. So this doesn’t really bother me, but I’m not going to lie, I love it darling. I absolutely love it.
What about Vera, Kirsh and Vicky?
Oh right, well. Vicky, she’s my girl, so I tell you what, she has been doing more work. She knows I’m trying to get them all on the map as well. She knows my heart’s in the right place, so she’s been coming round and doing my dinner for me at night. But I tell you why, and it’s because she knows I’m going to bring her to London. And I think that’s why she’s doing it. She’s quite snakey, she can be a bit snakey, but she’s alright, she’s managing it, trying to be a little sucky-upping. Vera, as normal, she’s being a dragon. I’m not going to lie, I can’t get rid of here because she’s mates with Janet, that’s the head manager. Obviously, I’m manager, but Janet’s the area manager. So, she’s just being a dragon, she doesn’t really like some of the stuff that I was saying in it. You know, I was obviously rolling my eyes a lot at Vera. And Kirsch, she’s my gal. She’s my gal, she’ll go along with anything I say. They’re loving it.
Are you happy with the way they’ve depicted you on camera?
How long have you got? One of the things that really comes to my mind, I don’t know if you’ve watched all the parts don’t worry if you haven’t, I’m not testing you. I went to the funeral when one of the volunteers died, Mabel. And I was distraught. I said to them, ‘Please don’t put that on camera,’ because when I got back in the shop, it looked like I had been flirting with Mabel’s husband, the widower. He was trying to get me to put on Mabel’s clothes, sweetheart, she’d only just passed. I didn’t think it was very tasteful. I’d said no, but I thought it’d cheer him up, and I’ll just pop them on. I don’t look like anything like Mabel, she’s about twenty years older than me. And it cheered him up, and he had a bit of a laugh. But I said to him, ‘It’s distasteful, it’s not right on Mabel, don’t put it in.’ There were little things like that I didn’t like. However, it’s put charity on the map, it’s got the gals a chance to maybe have a new life, and now I’m up here in London, the big city, where dreams can happen.
Well that wasn’t your fault. Grief hits people in different ways, and if that’s the way he was dealing with it…
All I thought in my mind was, ‘Make Bernie happy.’ I didn’t think I was going to be made to look like I was dancing on Mabel’s grave, which is kind of what they did, which is quite snakeish.
Where did this passion for charity shops come from?
Well that’s the first time anybody’s asked me that, it’s quite interesting. I don’t know if you know my background, but I did fashion in Milan and Paris a long time ago. They didn’t see my vision darling. I thought, ‘I’ve got an experienced background in textiles and fashion, maybe I should work in the charity sector.’ People used to call me the Victoria Beckham of Bulwell. Can you believe it? Because you know that bandana she wears in that video with Dane Bowers?
Out of Your Mind?
I don’t want to say she robbed my idea but I had a few images of that in my portfolio. Two weeks later she was wearing that in the music video. I didn’t mind it, because she’s my icon and I don’t mind if she wants to pinch some of my ideas. I would like to see a little bit of credit in that video, or even Dane could just give me a shout-out, ‘Thank you Sue, thank you for making these iconic outfits.’ You know? It was iconic.
What is your best tip for finding a bargain?
Right, you won’t believe this but going in the bargain basket, people always miss it, or they’ll skim the top of it. But just because it’s a bargain basket, you’ve got stuff in knocked down a peg, you can still find stuff. It might just not fit in the shop. So get your hands down there, now I’m not going to lie some of the stuff down there has stains on it, you can’t wash everything that comes into that basket. Just get your hands dirty, just go and get some nail wash to get the dirt out afterwards. But if you can a get bargain for 50p, you know what I mean? Get your hands in, get dirty, get into the bargain baskets!
I have to say, I was appalled with that woman for trying to bring that jacket back.
Do you know what? Seriously doll, my blood was boiling. I could just tell it was trouble. Seriously darling, I don’t like people seeing me as aggressive. Just give it to somebody, give it to someone for Christmas, don’t bring it back sweetheart. And she was drinking the coffee! My blood was boiling, darling, I’m not going to lie. That’s the thing with being a manager, you have to the highs with the lows, right, that’s what you got to do, you’ve got to have the customer service. If I’m honest with you, I wanted to kick her out of the shop!
I think that was the angriest we’ve seen you. I think you did a terrific job, you were very composed.
Yes, thank you, thank you! I did try, but I had an absolutely terrible migraine after that. I don’t like confrontation. I really do try to be a mild-mannered lady, but she did rile me up.
Has your business been affected by eBay and the rise of other online second-hand shops?
To be honest, charity shops are having a little bit of a rise! We were one of the first to do really beautiful window displays. Now I’ve noticed that everyone is doing it. Mary Portas is now doing it. I don’t mind Mary Portas, she’s one of my icons but after I started styling our windows like that in Bulwell, Mary Portas was doing it. Yeah, that was… However, she has been part of the rise of charity shops. I don’t think eBay has taken away from it because let’s be honest, 9/10 you get stuff there’s marks all over it. You don’t know where they’ve come from darling. I got something the other day and there was a great big white stain, and it wasn’t yoghurt. I tried picking it off but…
Did you give it a sniff?
I did give it a sniff and yeah, it weren’t yoghurt. Smelt a little bit like cottage cheese. At least in charity shops we give ’em a bit of a steam and a clean!
First Victoria Beckham, now Mary Portas?
I know. Again, both my icons right? So I don’t want to take too much away from what they’re doing. I don’t want to say that I was at the forefront of their ideas… Yeah I do love Mary Portas, she’s put charity on the map, high-end charity shops. But I do have to say, I think I was the one who did it first. Anyway, what we’re doing is putting some of our volunteers into sewing course because we get baby clothes that don’t sell. We’re going to get them in the back, chop ’em up and I’m going to show them my skills to make new frocks out of them. You know what I mean? How can we make them into something new? I don’t not want anyone to go without, I want everyone to get a second chance. If that means I have to put my gals into sewing courses, I will do it. I will share my skills. That’s what I’m like!
What don’t we see on the camera?
We had this girl called Crystal, who’s got a bit of a thing against me. Now what she does is, she’ll put a good item on top of the bag so we’d get excited, like a Ralph Lauren or something like that. A lot the time she’s put used nappies, sometimes sanitary towels in there, darling. I know I shouldn’t say all this but…
No please continue, expose Crystal.
It’s terrible darling. I’ve had girls coming out of there, putting their hands in and getting dead excited because they’ve seen designer goods. Luckily they didn’t put this in the show. I said to Vicky the other day, ‘You going boxing girl?’ She looked like she had a boxing glove on but it was a shitty nappy. That’s what can happen, seriously.
I feel like we need to see this in the show…
No darling, nah. Because even though Crystal does that and puts dirty stuff in bags, she’s got a heart. She’s had a bad life. Let’s support. Let’s not bring these people down.
What kind of other incidents have you had at your store?
I’ve got people that come in, they’ve got shopping to do, there’s no baby changing facilities so they get their kids on the floor and start changing their kids nappies. Now you imagine right, because I’ve got the plug-ins as I like a nice smell, I like to create an atmosphere when people come in. So if you have a nice scented smell, it up-sales by 10%, did you know that? Little tip out there for people out there in retail. Slap a plug-in or get some of those aroma sticks in. Imagine me having to fight off that? I have to then go out and buy more, now that’s coming out of the charity till. Ask me if you want to use a toilet. There’s a lot of toilet stuff going on in this isn’t there? That’s the world of charity though darling.
How do you keep your calm throughout all this Sue?
I don’t! I don’t keep my calm. There has been times when I’ve had 20 fags in an hour. I’m that stressed. It’s changing stuff on hangers, sell stuff, trying to clean the bloody shit and get the volunteers fed because they don’t always come with food. I’ve had loads of chest infections from all the fags I’ve smoked. Sometimes I will have a drink on the job. I’ll tell the girls that I’m just popping out to get a sandwich and I’ll just pop to the Moon and Stars and down a few doubles, do you know what I mean? That makes me feel better.
What’s your drink of choice?
I love a double voddy, but I do like a Snakebite. I love it. I love a good Snakebite. I live on my own and sometimes I do find things tight, so when I go out on the lash I’ll have a couple pints of Snakebites to get me going. Whatever gets you going in a small amount of time on small funds.
What’s your best tip for giving excellent customer service?
Right, okay. Excellent customer service… If you are in a bad mood and you’re the manager or a worker, you’ve got to think of it like a performance. Say you’ve had a cold, or some really big family tragedy has happened yeah, you can’t think of that when you’re going in. The customers don’t want a sad bloody face. Get your slap on. That’s it. Shelf that. Customers don’t want to know your drama. Good customer service? Give them a handshake when they come in the shop. Yeah you might be busy, yeah you might have 30 people in there, but go up and introduce yourself. They love familiarity. I always go up to people darling, even little kids. You know what? Let’s not be ageist. I go up, say hello to the parents, ‘Sue, manager.’ Guess what? They’ll come in next week, ‘Hi Sue, what you got in?’ Also what I will say is a tip for retail: music. What music can you put on that will make people happy? I know certain songs that will up-sales by 20%. A little bit of Hazel Dean, she will up the sales. Also, the new Frock Destroyers tune. Since that’s been out, we’ve had that in the shop… oh you would not believe it. 40% increase in sales. You have to think about the music because guess what? The customers are going around and dancing. We’ve had some kids do the bloody moves in there and everything. I said, ‘Hold up, this is a little bit saucy for the shop.’ Know what I mean? Some of the old people don’t like it and say, ‘Wait, is it a dance-off in ‘ere?’ I let them do what they want. I’ve had Hazel Dean and Frock Destroyers on repeat, also I’m Too Sexy. When they’re trying things on in the changing room, it ups their confidence. They come in feeling a bit low, and you have to look for that. You’re going to get a sale out of them. I’m not saying to pray on their sensitivity, but get ’em. They’re gonna buy. Slam I’m Too Sexy on, and they come out feeling like a million dollars.
The power of Frock Destroyers and Right Said Fred!
Yeah darling, it’s amazing. Little tips there, little tips. Ey, I wonder how long it’s going to take Mary Portas to get Frock Destroyers on in their shops?
As soon as this goes live…
It’s mad, absolutely mad. I’ll be contacting her. I want some money.
Right, so shall we get shady?
Well, it depends what it’s about darling. I’m not about downing people that don’t need downing, but I will if they need it.
How do you rate the customer service skills of your co-workers? Obviously, you’re a 10.
Well, yes. Yes darling. Vicky… Right, when she came into the shop she was a three. With my managing skills and with the help I’ve give her, she’s at a six. Kirsh is my gal. I’d say an eight, she’s alright with deliveries. Vera, unfortunately, she’s gone down darling. Her attitude has been absolutely terrible, sorry Vera because you are my gal, but at the same time you’re only at about a two. I know she don’t get paid, but so what? Do some work. Know what I mean? The others are growing.
You’re very fashionable – who are your style icons, other than Victoria Beckham?
Again, I love Hazel Dean. Bananarama, oh my god. I love them and I love that style, even now, very very fashion-forward girls. Do you know what? RuPaul! Glam. Very glam. She’s always on a 20, and that’s how I like to come out in my shop everyday. You need to be like that. I also like Madonna, but maybe more in the 80s. I’m going to see Madonna in February, did you know? That’s it I think.
You’ve mentioned RuPaul and Drag Race quite a lot…
Yeah yeah, because I love it. I love it. Me and the girls love it. We watch it together every Thursday. Do you know what darling? I think it’s gotten better and better and better every week. It really has done the UK scene proud. My girls have been crying, crying with laughter and crying with emotion. It’s been amazing.
Would you, if given the opportunity, go on that panel?
What? You know I would darling. I’d love it if I could have my girls in the back as well. I’d love if it Vicky and… Vera would be doing my head in. They’d love it, we’re all mega mega fans.
You’re a big personality, so surely there will come a day when Sue is impersonated on Snatch Game…
Don’t! I bloody hope so darling. Do you know what? It would be an amazing moment in time.
What tips would you give a drag queen on how to impersonate you?
Oh darling, I can’t give any tips on that because what I’ve been seeing has been pure gold. I’ll tell you one tip, it’s the little vintage things. You can really tell when someone has got some second-hand, really authentic vintage items on. There was someone that had gotten my little bag, my belt and the high-waisted jeans. To be honest, every time I see it I’m like, ‘Where have they got that from? I could buy it.’ No, it’s hard to give tips. I love when I see people and can tell they’ve gone and got a truly second-hand vintage item. I’m blown away by it.
How about personality-wise?
Loud. Make it loud, be assertive. Get the accent in there. I’m proud I’m from Bulwell and I’m proud that I’m from Midlands. But yeah, definitely loud, assertive. I’m a big boss lady. Be boss lady. Don’t shy away, get out there and be yourself! That’s what I’m about and that’s what I love. Also, having a lot of tenacity. Be tenacious. Don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about you, and I can see that when people are doing impersonations and they’re walking and talking. I can tell that they don’t give a shit. That’s my kind of gal.
Do you realise how many drag queens will see this and take this on board?
Don’t. Don’t, honestly.
If you weren’t running a charity shop, what would you be doing?
Charity is where my heart is at. It’s hard to think about what I’d do. But to be honest, I wouldn’t be mind being a stylist to Victoria Beckham. I know some people would think that’s punching above my weight, but c’mon! I’ve got experience in Paris, I’ve got experience in Milan. Like I said, where was that outfit from? I’m sure it was from my design. I know she’s great and she does a lot of her own styling… Let me get in, Victoria. If you’re reading this, Victoria let me style you. I know you’re big now, but do you want to be bigger? Give us a call. I’d like to do a little work for Madonna. She looks amazing so it’d be hard to trump that. I don’t think people realise how amazing and unusual my fashion eye is.
If you had your own fashion brand, what would you call it?
That’s a good one, actually. Let me have a think about that… I think I’d called it Suki… Suku Tuki. Obviously it’s Sue Tuke, I like it, and it’s catchy. Suku Tuki. ‘Do you wanna go out and buy some Suku Tuki?’ Yeah? There you go, darling. I can see it in neon. Oh my god. You know like the Dirty Dancing logo? Like that.
What are three things you could never live without?
Volunteers. Cigarettes. Red lipstick. That’s the three things, truly, honestly. When I get stressed, I need to smoke. When I get stressed, I need volunteers. When I get stressed, I slap on more lippy.
What has been the most life-changing thing that’s ever happened to you?
I would say my dad training me up on the market. My dad Budge was a market trader and he used to get me up early, and I’m not kidding, he started me young. Nowadays, you would say that there was something wrong with that. They’d probably call social services, wouldn’t they? I started when I was about two. I was a very forward child darling, and I know you’re laughing but I was a very forward child. At the age of two, I was very good at selling. At the age of three, I had bags. You can imagine what I was like by the time I was six? A strong woman. That was one of the biggest, pivotal moments in my life because if my dad had not shown me how to sell in that way, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now; selling and giving good to the world. It’s been a tiring life, but this feels like the beginning.
You can’t fault your work ethic.
Thank you darling, thank you.
When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
I loved being at G.A.Y because I love Baga, but also being at Pride. Performing at Pride in my hometown in Nottingham… coming out on that stage, that was one of the first big things that we did. Obviously, we went back this year and it was big, it was magical. It was definitely one of my biggest adrenaline rushes. That’s probably my top.
The power of the LGBTQ eh?
Exactly. Also, getting my little baby dog. I’m so close to my baby Chihuahua.
Where is she now? Why isn’t she sat with us right now?
Do you want to see a picture of her? I’ll show you a picture of her [see below].
A biopic of your life is inevitable – who would play you in a movie?
Hazel Dean. I know it sounds mad but I love Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. We’re not far off each other’s age range, and I think that she would be the woman to play me.
Maybe she can finally get that Oscar?
Exactly darling, exactly. A lot of people knock her for her acting but I love her, she’s my girl. Look what she does in the music biz? Amazing. So yeah, Madonna would be good.
What legacy do you want people to remember you by?
Feeding the needy. Yes I like fashion, yes I love coming up here to London, but there are people out there that are hungry. Let’s get them fed.
What’s next for Sue Tuke?
Don’t know really darling. Maybe opening up some more charity shops and doing some more appearances in London because it gets people shopping more, and that definitely spurs me on. Also doing some more online stuff and spreading the word. That’s all I can do. You live by the sword and you die by the sword. My sword is charity.
Charity Shop Sue airs every Tuesday on YouTube at 10am. Watch the most recent episode below.