The terrapins were an exotic mistake. ‘Toast’ and ‘Marmalade’ were…
It was the early ‘90s when our paths first crossed. Lee was already an established legend when I started work at Trade. He’d be outside, working the guest list. I was just inside the door, working the till.
Alongside the security staff, we were the front line. Sometimes those nights were a battle. Mostly it was a hoot. The messy, mad, rude and beautiful people were the 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 never failed to impress with an ability to deliver tough love to those refused entry and a screaming welcome to the Trade royalty who swished in down those infamous stairs.
The Trade staff were a queer mafia. Acceptance from this gurning 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 show a dog’s loyalty, be sharp as a razor and have skin like a rhino. EVERYONE wanted to be in Lee’s cartel. As the mistress of the Trade guest list, Lee was the gateway to a debauched and exclusive club. Regulars queued for hours in the cold, but those on Lee’s list could jump straight on the carousel.
Lee’s popularity wasn’t simply due to his role as ruler of the Trade door. He was adored ‘cause of the extreme fun you had in his company. He wanted life to be a big, camp, rollercoaster 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, but you rarely saw him on the dancefloor. He’d set up shop in some dark corner of the club and rule that roost like a thing possessed. He liked a spot where he could watch the crowds go by. He was entertained by the changing landscape and a colourful cast. Nobody was safe from his acidic observations.
While the muscle boys battled with their masculine facades, projecting beauty and butchness, Lee delighted in bursting that bubble. Whether it was an A list celeb or a pumped up Adonis, he’d fearlessly floor them with one lash of his tongue.
Resistance was futile. When Lee threw down the gauntlet, it was best to just take it and run. On the rare occasion that people snapped back, they usually lived to regret it.
Wig and wonder
While many felt the sharp end of Lee’s witty patter, he was the first to laugh at himself. He could fashion drag out of ANYTHING. Bin bags, mops, plastic cups, rags, record sleeves or fag packets. You name it- Lee would make a wig with it, then model it with passion.
It might be 9am, in a dark sweaty after-hours, but Lee would turn a beer soaked sin bin into a creative catwalk. It was hilarious, but watching drug-fucked punters trying to make sense of these floorshows was spectacularly amusing. They were the unwitting extras in his madcap show.
Of course, Trade ended (sort of) and I didn’t see Lee for a while. When we did run into each other, we jumped back in the saddle; screaming, bitching, gossiping. Occasionally, the jolly mask would slip and he’d share a worry or ask advice.
It was ten years before he showed glimpses of that vulnerability. Lee’s muscles got bigger. His tattoos grew broader, but while the outside shrieked prison chic, the centre got softer. Some people get harder as life wears them down. Lee went the other way.
Sister in sadness
We were united by a horrible commonality. Lee lost a boyfriend to a brutal suicide. Not long after, my partner took his life. I knew his Richard well. He’d known my boyfriend for years. I said to him, ‘Look, I can’t take away the pain, but unlike quite a few people, I DO know how you feel.’
Whenever somebody famous took their own life and it made the news, I’d call him, check he was okay. It plugs you in, that stuff, stirs it all up again. We both had to live with the consequences of our lover’s actions.
The work Lee did with Kids Company was transformative. It brought out a socially conscious, politically active side to him that was a revelation. Back when we worked the door of Trade, he had sympathy for few and shade-a-plenty.
To see his gobby energy channelled into the care of LGBT refugees, single mums and vulnerable teens was nothing less than mind blowing. I told him as much and he had to blink back tears.
‘You really think that Dolly?’ he asked. He couldn’t believe how much I admired him. He knew my respect was real and it choked him up because that job mattered to him.
He started seeking 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, soul searching vibes of a rebirthing workshop, but persevered and grew to love it, ‘cause he was eager to learn and this was uncharted territory.
He met my sister Julia at one of the classes and they hit it off in minutes. It took me years to win Lee’s trust, but those two? Like Bonnie & Clyde from the get-go. It made me SO happy to see them thick as thieves and cackling in the corner when they should’ve been looking inwards.
Blessed and gutted
The world is way poorer without Lee Anderson. Let’s not forget when he stood up to a street gang when he saw them nicking a kid’s bicycle. He personified ‘have-a-go’ bravado- the fearless fuck. Damn, he gave so much to us. The endless laughter he could elicit with barely any effort. The way he lit up a room like a ball of energy.
Lee Anderson- club kid, speed freak, door-whore, muscle boy, screaming queen, angry activist, big-hearted bitch, wide boy, drag fan, gobby drunk, champion of the vulnerable, party animal…
I’m blessed you let me in and gutted you’re gone. Thanks for the good times, gurl.