Ruby Venezuela is the star and director of drag extravaganzas performed nightly at Madame Jo Jos club in Soho. Brian Pearce is Ruby’s alter ego.
‘RUBY has about 15 costume changes a night, but as soon as the last one’s off I’m Brian again. I always go home to bed as Brian – I am not a transvestite, I’m a drag artiste.
‘One night I’d had too much to drink, I was exhausted; I didn’t bother to change and took a cab back home. I woke up in the morning, stumbled into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and there was Ruby, complete with wig, make-up, the lot. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was the most terrible shock. I sloshed on the vegetable oil and wiped it all off as fast as I could. There was make-up everywhere. It was a great relief to see Brian’s rosy round face again, I can tell you – even if he is a little bit balding.
‘Ruby is great fun. She’s saucy, kitsch and completely over the top. However tired I feel when I arrive at the club, as soon as I’m in costume it’s show time. As Brian I enjoy Ruby very much, but I’m not as naughty and jokey as she is, and I’d never dare send people up the way she does. Sometimes people have invited me for dinner and I realise when I get there that it’s purely for entertainment value. They think I’ll be a scream like Ruby, and I do resent that; I don’t mind if they invite me as Ruby, that’s different.
‘It amazes me when people think Ruby is a real woman. Middle-aged women come up to me and say: ‘Do you dress like that in the daytime?’ No woman would make herself up like that – with eyebrows half way up her forehead.
‘The eyebrows are glued on, and it hurts when I take them off. Getting out of costume when the club closes is, in a way, ritualistic. It’s a symbol of changing persona. I always shave in the evening, before I go out to the club; that’s like removing Brian in some way. I don’t feel confused, I feel equally at ease as both Brian and Ruby.
‘I go to bed when most people are getting up. I hate sleeping – I’m very energetic and it’s such a waste of time. The most I sleep is six hours. I get furious when I’m tired. But I do get ideas for the shows and costumes in dreams; I have the most wonderful dreams – all in glorious Technicolor. Walking up the stairway to paradise with angels and harps going . . . that sort of thing. A number where the boys were flowers in pots and I was a bumblebee came to me in a dream, for example; so did one featuring a stripping skeleton.
‘My career as a drag entertainer all began in bed. I had a broken ankle and was laid up with it for weeks in a hotel in Plymouth. I was terribly bored so I made up parodies of well-known songs and camped it up a bit for friends. The hotel manager said: ‘Do that in the bar downstairs, I’ll give you a booking every Thursday.’ ‘I can’t,’ I said, ‘I’m too drunk.’ But I did, on a stool, wearing a long cape with my crutches hidden underneath.
‘I just love being Ruby and entertaining people of all ages and types. We even get the odd granny celebrating a birthday in the club. I don’t go in for swearing. And you don’t have to be blue to be saucy.
‘Even if I won a fortune, I wouldn’t give it up. I get terribly bored on holiday and stay up till the early hours every night just out of habit, but there’s nothing to do. I’d rather people didn’t know how old I am – for Ruby’s sake – but I’ll go on until the last bit of stardust has dropped; become an over-the-top Sophie Tucker type.
‘Sometimes I’m up round the clock, I’m at the club till at least 4 am six nights a week and we often carry on drinking afterwards at another club. At the moment I’m working on a television quiz show and I do as many private parties as I can. I get asked to do the weirdest cabarets for the weirdest people: like 25 international bankers at the Bank of England. They’re the ones that want it extra risque, too.
‘I design and make all my own costumes. My bed doubles as a cutting table when I’m making up the costumes. I stick pins right through the fabric, which can have horrific consequences. You get into bed and then wow . . . a pin where it hurts most. I sleep alone, fortunately. I don’t have a lover, I’m too busy. I can’t deal with all that sort of thing. I moved my auntie in downstairs and I take care of her. She’s such a dear; I’m all she’s got and she’s all I’ve got.
‘I once came on stage dressed as a bed. Every night for six months I did this solo number that was so obscure everyone thought I was absolutely insane. I came on with frilly pillows behind my head and a duvet right down to the ground. It was so wide I had to come on sideways and so authentic it even had a cigarette burn on it. I stood there and sang: ‘I’d rather have you, but instead / I’ve only got crumbs in my bed’. They loved it]’