My first physical encounter with the world of leather and…
It was the early ‘90s when our paths first crossed. Lee was already an infamous legend when joined the Trade family. He’d be outside, working the guest list. I was just inside the door, working the till.
Alongside security staff, we were the front line. Sometimes those nights were a battle. Mostly it was a hoot. The messy, mad, rude and beautiful were the scratchy cats we had to herd and the Marys we had to manage.
From 4am-10am every Sunday morning, for many years, we worked together. Lee always impressed with an ability to give tough love to those refused entry and a screaming welcome to the Trade royalty who swished in like wide-eyed superstars.
Trade staff were a queer mafia. Acceptance from this gang was neither instant nor guaranteed. Lee and his crew were Mean Girls you didn’t wanna cross and witches you wanted to bitch with.
Guest list Lee
It was at least six months before Lee really let me in. To win Lee’s trust, you had to boast a dog’s loyalty, razor sharp wits and skin like galvanised steel. EVERYONE wanted to be in Lee’s cartel. As mistress of the Trade guest list, he was the key to a debauched and exclusive club. Regulars queued for hours in the cold, but Lee’s list was a fast track to hard house hedonism.
Lee’s popularity wasn’t simply due to his role as ruler of the Trade door. He was adored ‘cause of the fun you had in his company. He made life a loud, camp, circus of LOLs and spontaneous madness. When you hung out with Lee, that’s what you got. Whether you wanted it or not.
During the ‘90s, Lee spent most of his time in discos. You rarely saw him on the dancefloor. He’d set up shop in some dark corner of the club and would rule that roost like a thing possessed.
He liked a spot where he could watch the crowds go by. He clocked the changing landscape with an unforgiving and dilated eye. Nobody was safe from his brutal quips.
While the muscle boys worked their masc facades, Lee buzzed biggest while bursting their bubbles. A-list celebs or pumped up hunks got equal savaging. He was an equal opportunities court jester. Nobody was safe.
Resistance was futile. When Lee threw down the gauntlet, it was best to just take it and run. On rare occasions that people clapped back, Lee would make them regret it.
Wig and wonder
He was the first to laugh at himself and hated rules and convention. Lee would fashion drag out of ANYTHING. Bin bags, mops, plastic cups, rags, record sleeves or fag packets. Lee could turn any object into a wig or couture. Then he’d model it with terrifying passion.
It might be 9am, in a dark, sweaty after-hours, but Lee would turn the place into a twisted, creative catwalk. Watching drug addled punters trying to make sense of these floorshows was spectacularly funny. Everyone was an unwitting extra in Lee’s demented show.
Trade ended (sort of) and I didn’t see Lee for a while. When we did run into each other, we were right back in the saddle; screaming, bitching, gossiping. Sometimes, the happy mask would slip slightly and he’d share a worry or ask advice.
Lee’s muscles got bigger. His tattoos grew broader, but the prison chic he wore like armour hid a softening centre. Many people get harder as life wears them down. Lee went the other way.
Sister in sadness
We were united by a grim commonality. Lee lost a boyfriend in a harrowing suicide. Not long after, my partner took his life. Both chose quite horrific exit strategies. I knew his boyfriend Richard well. That damn funeral was devastating. He’d known my boyfriend for years. I said to him, ‘Look, I can’t take away the pain, but unlike many, I really DO know how you feel.’
Basically, you never get over it.
Whenever someone famous took their own life, I’d call and check he was okay. Media splashes on suicide can stir it up again. Both of us were living with the consequences of our lover’s actions. We were equally fragile, haunted by ghosts of grief and weighed down with shadows.
Working the door of Trade, he had sympathy for few and shade-a-plenty. Years later, the work Lee did with Kids Company was transformative. It revealed a socially conscious, politically active side to him that was a revelation.
To see his gobby energy channelled into care of queer refugees, single mums and vulnerable teens was mind blowing. I told him as much, as he blinked back tears.
‘You really think that Dolly?’ he whispered.
It choked him up, ’cause that work mattered to him.
He sought answers to big questions, dipped his toe in spiritual waters via David Parker and the Urban Lifeclass. He felt out of place in the hippyish vibes of a rebirthing workshop, but persevered and found peace in breathwork.
Blessed and gutted
The world is poorer without Lee Anderson. Let’s not forget when he took on a street gang he caught stealing a kid’s bicycle. He personified ‘have-a-go’ bravado- the fearless fuck. He gave so much to us. The hysterical laughter he sparked in his wake. Community action. Passion for life. He lit up a room like a nuclear mirrorball.
Lee Anderson- club kid, speed freak, door-whore, muscle man, loud queen, activist, big-hearted bitch, wide boy, drag addict, shouty drunk, champion of the vulnerable, party animal…
I’m blessed you let me in and gutted you’re gone. Thanks for the good times, grrl.