Saturday night at the London Hilton Hotel, the end of September and “Drag’s Biggest night” — or was it? Initially advertised as “the season’s most glittering occasion” the ‘Theatre Arts Ball’ was meant to pick ‘Miss United Kingdom (Drag) 1972’. However, we found this exotic title had been altered to ‘Miss Female Impersonator (International) 1972’ (our condolences to the organisers for the lack of foreign entrants!)
Mr Jean Fredericks, as always, supplied a good evening’s entertainment. Jean must be well known to most of London’s gay crowd as being the organiser of most of London’s drag balls held at the Porchester Hall. Now Mr Fredericks has taken us up a step in the world to the world renowned Hilton ballroom, and has worked very hard with his friends to provide us with what should have been (definitely) a “night of nights”. So what went wrong?
Well, on arriving at the Reception Hall outside the main Ballroom, with three friends, I endeavoured to present my tickets. The reception table was lost in a large group of well dressed and exotically perfumed young ladies(?!). In order to find my table number for dinner, I approached the well known Mr Steve Francis, whom I found to be trying hard to cope with an impossible situation. Small things like lack of tickets and seating arrangements to name but a few. Full marks, Steve, for coping in what should not have been any problem in the first place. The staff and management of the Hilton could have been more co-operative.
Tickets settled, we then swept into the bar for that longed for first drink. Prices of the drinks were reasonable for the said establishment. Full marks again!
Trumpets heralded dinner. And then continued, as we were ushered in, two by two, and announced into the main ballroom. Chaos commenced. Standing, wide-eyed at all around us, we were then left to find our own way among some 500 guests to our own tables, while waiters, dressed in black and looking like vultures, waited to descend on us. The problem was that they didn’t! — or at least until such a time as one had quite forgotten what they were there for. The only thing worth mentioning about the meal was the lamb (or carré d’agneau rôti). Delicious!
Our wine waiter, such a sweet man, was completely lost by being surrounded by such abandoned beauty. Until he was in such a state that the poor fellow ended up addressing all the gentlemen as ‘Madam’ and the ‘ladies'(?!) as ‘Sir’. Still, I am sure that the mind does boggle. Following the meal came the awaited moment, possibly a little too early — as the meals were only just finishing.
Our glamorous hostess, (with the mostest) Mr Jean Fredericks, took the floor to announce that all those who were to take part in the Beauty competition should vacate the hall and collect their entrance numbers. Only about fifty actually did — very disappointing as some beautiful costumes could still be seen sitting around the hall, while the usual collection of entrants could be seen lining up in expectation
The walk on, up, over and off the stage was judged by none other than Mr Lee Sutton, world famous impersonator. Also actress Jean Hampton and Mr Vuron Brewer. From these fifty odd competitors (you can read that how you like) eighteen were chosen for the semi-final stages of the competition.
At this point I would like to mention the efforts of some of the contestants in the hard work they had in producing their elaborate designs.
Princess Tinsel was “glittering” and well photographed by ‘Sunday Mirror’ and other papers. Barry — the cheeky chef with the dream topping – as described in the Sunday Mirror (one edition — lucky Barry — nice photo) paid £200 for a stunning two-tone wig. John, from Ruislip, was seen in two stunning creations which Miss Shirley Bassey would have been proud of — (or green with jealousy, as the resemblance was effective.)
Helping to keep things equal we had two colourful Arab costumes, plus Ali Baba, minus forty thieves — and, fresh from the museum, came Tutankhamun looking his age. My own young lady was none other than ‘Chelsea’ from Los Angeles, known to London as Simon of My Father’s Moustache Restaurant. She was wearing a two piece trouser suit in gold lamé, with hair style, rings and jewellery to match, the general effect being such that even Richard Burton could have been excused for mistaking her for we all know whom. And Dominic — or ‘Natasha’ (she certainly looked the part) was dressed in clothes from the Victorian era, and styled her looks to match.
So let us now turn to the Main Event — the final line-up of the “contest of the year” – judged in a fair and objective manner by representatives of the British Theatre, including Mr Richard Jackson, Miss Vicki Richards, Miss Dulcie Gray and Mr Michael Denison.
Miss Fredericks was pleased to announce as winner Mr Leslie Porter, who now reigns as the first Miss Female Impersonator (International), wearing a simple and elegant black dress. Leslie’s natural ease and poise carried her easily into the much coveted position. For Leslie, the winning prize of £100 in cash, and a further £100 worth of prizes.
The second prize was carried away by two contestants – who shared second place. The first wearing an ultra-feminine pink ensemble with matching ostrich feathers and a ‘Twiggy’ hair-do – quite charming — and the second of the duo wore a vampish outfit of see-through black, strongly contrasting with her blond hair. Striking – if nothing else. However it was suggested that had they teamed up before the contest, they might have carried off the first prize as ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In third place came Mark Cardel, looking as appealing as ever in a rather sophisticated costume in classical black and gold.
Once the contest was over we were all entertained by Mr Lawrence Daury of Paris — or somewhere, who sang “No Regrets”. I wish we could have all said the same. Mr Jean Fredericks entertained in her own cabaret, as usual.
In general people enjoyed the evening, and most people seemed to consider the price of £6.60 a ticket as money well spent. Mr Barry Scott, an international professional female impersonator, was quoted as saying that the evening was well thought out by Mr Fredericks, who, in his opinion, is a great artiste, but that unfortunately due to a lack of organisation, much of the evening was spoiled. Of Leslie Porter, the winner of the competition, he said: “Leslie really deserved to win.”
Summing up the evening, Mr Scott said, “A nice time, but I definitely won’t come again.” On reflection, neither shall I.