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Soho legend, catwalk model and trans superstar, Ange Pascale died at the end of January. The West End is missing a legend. I’ve lost a fabulous friend and a celestial mentor.
If you’re lucky, a few people will crash into your life with such dramatic impact that your view of the world is never the same. The intrusion might be jarring, their existence may prove challenging, but provocateurs are a blessing. Ange Pasquale was my gift from the gay gods, a fabulous trans angel of chaos and wisdom.
She was one my first friends on the London gay scene. I was an under-age drinker, semi-innocent, still nursing fresh wounds from school. We became sisters before she transitioned, and prior to my adoption of a stage name boasting a question mark. We bonded before we both became who we wanted to be.
Shock and awe
The impact she had on me while presenting as male, was more remarkable than what she taught me, years later, as a trans woman. We met one midweek afternoon in 1987 at Banana Max in Earl’s Court. I had little choice. Ange chose me.
I’d never witnessed such compelling beauty in the flesh. The eyes were helplessly drawn to high cheekbones, a flawless jawline, and an athletic body of such taut structure that it shimmered like an illusion. It was hard not to gawp at the most stunning being in the room.
After the briefest glance in her direction, Ange came screaming across the bar, arms flailing, hands flapping. One was confronted with a majestic face and an epic, shameless mouth. A flock of rabid seagulls on meth would have been easier to manage.
The overall effect was ‘effeminacy’ as a weapon and raison d’être. Ange presented a level of ‘gay’ beyond my comprehension. I’d spent my 17 years on this planet, hiding all aspects of myself that could be seen as ‘girly’. There was shame, AIDS and disgust attached to being gay, different or unmanly. Ange was all of this. With bells on.
By the late ‘80s, Ange had already enjoyed a career as a fashion model. In a monochrome Bruce Weber shoot for Calvin Klein, Ange was an Adonis. In real life, that façade of muscle and Greek god realness was juggling with a riot of drama and gender dysphoria.
The assault on the senses when Ange descended on my teen self was akin to a nuclear explosion. She delivered theatre, and a Wildean wit that could punch a rib cage and lacerate the liver.
She loved to work the nerves of leather clad clones and moustachioed muscle men. Woe betide any bloke who showed an interest in the beauty on the surface, but wasn’t keen on the complex content.
Mostly, they recoiled in horror. Men who cruised Ange, expecting a handsome youth, would shrink and run when confronted by her loud and lurid queerness. Their effeminophobia made me question my fear and loathing of any man that wasn’t ‘straight acting’.
Ange took me under her brassy wing, regaling me with tales from the catwalks of New York and salons in Milan. She bitched about Calvin Klein and yawned about Mugler and Gaultier.
Madame and mentor
It was a crash course in sexual politics, gender dynamics and gossip. I was a teenager from the suburbs. Ange was an oracle. She delivered glittering mania and outrageous life lessons. Those toxic men, gay and straight, who were upset by her existence? Well, they were just blokes. Nada to learn from them. And everything to learn from Ange.
A queen once asked Ange why their life was such a mess and this was her response:
‘Your life is a reflection of what it is you deeply believe about yourself. Step back and look at your life. It’s a reflection, in a perfect but invisible mirror of the beliefs that you hold at the deepest level.
‘Your mirror turns out to be your friends, your relatives, your family, your work, your talents, your possessions, your capabilities, your opportunities — everything in your life.’
Ange didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, but what you needed. She was a Philosopher Queen AND a bawdy bitch.
Cheering the changes
When I returned from university in 1993, I found work at Kudos in Charing Cross. A café-bar with plate glass windows where you could actually see the gays inside, was a revelation at the time. We drink cappuccino! Vada the pink pound! Sell us mortgage insurance and furnishings in muted tones!
The day shift at Kudos was dull and devoid of tips. The pace of trade played tricks with concepts of time that Dali would have applauded. Except, on the days when Ange decided to drop by.
Five years since we’d first met, Ange had now evolved into one of the most arresting women I’d ever seen. Or anyone had ever seen. The supermodel visage was now surrounded by a mane of glossy hair to match Cindy Crawford, and the filthiest mouth in London.
She would swoop into the bar at lunch time and then perform a scandalous, random five hour soliloquy, while I served customers and sliced lemons.
Best show in town
She got me into trouble with customers, management and colleagues. They wanted my focus on catering and customer service. Ange was having none of it. She was a one woman show with graphic tales of surgery, sex work and debauchery. Nothing was off limits. She revelled in oversharing. One day, she mused loudly with regards to genital surgery.
‘It’s my ENORMOUS dick that brings in the handbag, dear,’ she declared.
‘THAT and my tits,’ she added, giving them a jiggle, as I blushed behind the counter.
‘That’s what the First Division footballers pay for, dear. How else you think I afford a penthouse in Covent Garden?’
She asked this question, not of me, but to the entire room, which crackled with awkward silence. She was too much. And I loved her.
Star of Soho
I worked in Soho for the next 15 years, so we saw each other regularly, as neighbours and friends. While working as Editor at The Hospital Club in 2009, my daily routine was a mince to Bar Italia and then chat with Clayton Littlewood. He could be found in the Compton Street shop Dirty White Boy, which he managed with his boyfriend Jorge.
Ange was often swinging around the vicinity, or perched at a nearby al fresco table. This lunchtime whirl of queer banter and edgy familiarity was a soothing tonic to a mind muddled by Microsoft calendars and outstanding invoices.
Clayton wrote and published his book The Dirty White Boy Diaries while managing the stresses of running a retail outlet in Soho. His book observes the daily dramas of a cast of local characters who include literary stars, sex workers, junkies, and of course, Ange.
West End legend
The Hospital Club serialised his diaries and provided rehearsal space to the production team when the book was developed into a theatre production. The stage adaption was a one-man show, starring David Benson who played all the book’s characters, including Ange.
It was beyond post-modern to find myself watching a show where a gay man was playing woman who’d I’d first met as a man, when I was boy. Ange loved the show and the glam infamy which came with it.
Ange became a Gnostic Seer and regularly gave readings at the College of Psychic Studies. She would often comment on my aura or how my chakras seemed out of alignment. The fact she was a celebrated medium in some circles didn’t surprise me. Ange was magical.
She was also highly political and could quote Nietzsche, Simone De Beauvoir and Madonna in one breath. She raged against Brexit:
‘Well, all I can honestly say is that with all the obfuscations, half-truths and fear-mongering being perpetrated on the British voting public, this has made a complete mockery of the so-called British democratic process.
‘What has clearly been demonstrated is how to completely erode what little confidence in politics many people had. Anyone with half a brain cell can clearly see the complete antipathy and disregard the establishment feel towards the voting public. Why are we all funding a political system that is not fit for purpose?’
She was a member of the Soho Society and campaigned against gentrification. Like me, she remembered when the district was a hive of independent businesses, legal and otherwise.
While she was vocal about the rights of sex workers, she also fought for better legal representation and health services for those who’d experienced abuse at the hands of clients.
‘Those who have sadly been victimized by sexual violence in their lives, will understand the detrimental personal erosion to one’s sense of self it inflicts. We are all recovering from something in our lives.’
There was a lot to Ange. She never failed to make me laugh, but there was always a lesson in the LOLs. She often caught me off guard with spiritual asides and literary flourishes. She liked flexing her intelligence as much as flaunting her raunch.
Her friend Jody London told me, ‘She was a Force Majeur in the whole West End. She always took time to chat and educate and although she had a very public overt armour. I was privileged to know the vulnerable, kind, sensitive and loving side which was the real Ange.’
We had a long history, peppered with peaks and troughs. We watched each other grow, stumble and evolve. I was very lucky to be adopted into the House of Ange. She might be gone from this physical world, but her spirit, authenticity and impact will live in my DNA and soul forever.
Rest in Power, dear.