In June 2016, I threw myself into an immersive theatre…
Lana Vanzetta was rushed to hospital on July 27 after falling from a window in Margate. Tragically, she later died from her injuries. She leaves behind a son and a huge circle of devastated friends and colleagues.
Lana Vanzetta was a woman who burned bright, lived some of her life in the fast lane and was committed to changing the world for the better. A unique, uncompromising and hilarious character, she affected many people’s lives and will be missed the world over. I’m lucky to have had her as a friend.
The loudness of Lana
Lana had a big heart, sharp wit and a curious, open mind. Those qualities ensured I always had an absolute ball in her company. Whether we were chatting over cheese and wine at a fundraising event, or hanging out and partying for days after a weekend of clubbing, there was never a dull moment with Lana.
It’s true, there were some who found Lana rather too intense, gobby and unpredictable, but it was those aspects of her personality that made her such a powerful advocate for others. Loud, brave, honest people are the characters who change the world. Lana may have come to play, but she also came to shake shit up and fight injustice with volume and fury.
In the days when GAY.com was an influential LGBT website, Lana used to rock up to the offices on a Friday lunchtime, where she would join the staff in getting merry for the weekend.
You could say she facilitated the party. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without her. The sight of her pushbike and wicker basket was akin to the first firework at a carnival. Every week, for the year that I worked there, Lana would explode into that Regent Street office in a blaze of colour and hilarious noise.
Rebel with a cause
Lana didn’t always earn her way by conventional means. In that wild timeline circa 2010, she was anti-establishment, revolutionary, off the grid and often, off her head. That’s why I loved her.
While living a largely punk existence, she was always on the lookout for the vulnerable in society and focussed her energies on art, creativity and community.
She set up a charity called Whitekat, which focussed on sexual health outreach work with teenagers (mainly black and ethnic minorities), working with various NHS trusts.
Young at heart
Whitekat hosted exhibitions and events to raise funds for young people to do arts and photography. I spoke to her friend Stuart Hornett regarding his support of her initiative.
‘When Lana asked me to become a trustee of Whitekat, I confess to mixed feelings about it. On one level, she could be as mad as a box of frogs but, on another, she had an inspirational spirit that was hard to resist.
‘Working with Lana ended up being a humbling experience. I saw many sides to the Lana I knew socially. For a start, she had great tenacity and drive and a real “can do” attitude that allowed her ideas to translate into reality. She also had an incredible way of communicating with teenagers and young people, without being patronising. Above all, beneath that brash exterior, she had a warm, kind heart and genuine desire to help people, which she certainly achieved and should be remembered for.’
Vanzetta on video
I also spoke to her friend and film editor Paul Hammacott about his collaboration with Lana:
‘In 2012 she asked if I would edit her video art installation ‘It’s No Measure of Health to be Well Adjusted to a Profoundly Sick Society.’
‘We set up editing kit in her front room and I spent the best part of six intense weeks watching over 100 hours of Lana cocooned in her flat in varying states, confessing to the camera about her life, dreams, desires and addictions. Together we created five short self-portrait films and in April 2013 she exhibited at the Hoxton Arches. I felt honoured to be part of that art project, and that she trusted me to tell those stories.
‘Lana was fearless, as those films will testify if you manage to see them. I never got copies and fear they’ve been lost forever. She was a force of nature, always spoke her mind and she had a big heart. I’ll always remember Lana that way and I’ll miss her.’
Making it in Margate
After many crazy years in London, Lana wisely fled the fray and retired to Margate for a quieter life where she could focus on artistic expression and a variety of charity projects.
After a long hunt, Lana found a space she could make her own. Known as the Old Burton’s building, she project-managed a major renovation. It opened it in 2015 as a gallery and creative space.
Space in your face
Lana’s ‘Margate House’ opened with a bang and hosted experimental theatre, exhibitions, concerts and performance art. She partnered with Theatre Royal to hold pre-show talks, and Margate House became an integral venue for the Margate Festival and provided a platform for the feminist festival ‘POW!’
Christina Clark-McQuaid, POW! Founder, remembers Lana fondly:
‘Lana was a member of our very first POW! management team and all our meetings were held in her space in what we called the Old Burtons (Margate House). She was such an amazing character – funny, whacky and deeply committed to the cause of helping women and girls through creativity. I feel so sad that her life has ended in this way.’
Love for Lana
Lana was also a regular volunteer at the Gordon Road Area Street Scheme (GRASS Cliftonville). In a statement GRASS shared a heartfelt tribute:
‘Lana has been a huge supporter and friend of us here at GRASS Cliftonville. At each of our events she volunteered and took the most amazing photographs and really brought our community events to life with her talent.
‘Lana was actively involved in the GRASS children’s Christmas party and always said that capturing the smiles and excitement on the kids’ faces made her day. We will miss you Lana our thoughts go out to her family and friends.’
Shock and awe
It’s hard not to be profoundly upset by the nature of Lana’s death. It doesn’t make sense. How can somebody with so much life be suddenly gone?
Not only was she busy, seemingly happy and buzzing with ideas, she was loved by many and undoubtedly changed Margate forever.
She was a diamond in the Kent crown, a rollicking seaside shanty and a London legend. Rest in Power, Lana Vanzetta.