Category Archives: Journalism

Specializing in investigative journalism, well-being stories, Middle Eastern politics and stories of creative interest.

Ruby Venezuela (of Madame Jo-Jos): I Went on Stage Dressed as a Bed

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]’

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Fay Presto Magician: the Drug I’m Hooked on is Applause

Susan de Muth in bed with Fay Presto: From glitzy parties back to my little flat, just like magic

Wednesday, 10 August 1994
Fay Presto is a magician. She lives in London.

NIGHT is the best time for magic. We all leave our problems behind and I can transport people to another place where that playing card I just tore up really has stuck itself back together again. It’s much harder to make that illusion hold in the cold light of day when the hideousness of life returns.

Apart from the innate human propensity to expect magic things to happen at night, the right kind of artificial light also helps a trick along. Proper lighting is essential – as it is in real life. How often have you been to the ladies’ on a big night out feeling just fine until you caught sight of yourself in the mirror, horribly illuminated in neon, and lost all your confidence?

Since I had a gender-swap operation several years ago I have fought for the right to be a real person, but nobody will let me forget my past. I’m a good magician, for God’s sake, but there’s always this curiosity, this prejudice that deprives me of opportunities – especially of gaining the social acceptability that comes with television appearances. The pain this has caused me has kept me awake in the past . . . but I’ve dealt with it now. And I no longer dream.

I work about three nights a week, mostly at private functions. I have a residency at Langan’s restaurant and do a lot of film premieres – they don’t know what to do with themselves at those glitzy parties. I peak around midnight and am on a high afterwards – I don’t drink so I go for beans on toast in a cafe to wind down. Now that I’ve got a mobile phone I can call up showbusiness friends who are also working late and arrange to meet.

Even if I’m staying in, my bedtime is still 4am. I’m very active at night: I recently completed a novel, which I started as therapy, bashing away at the word processor until I was so exhausted I’d just crash out. I never have trouble sleeping now unless the dawn chorus starts. I hate birds. I recently bought a New Age CD of waves breaking, thinking how nice it would be to drop off soothed by that sound – but it’s full of bloody seagulls]

It can be quite a culture shock coming home to my council flat after the glitzy events I go to. I used to have a portable ivory tower in the form of my old limo but it’s broken now. I also had a chauffeur, Vic, who was a motorcycle messenger with me back in the old days. Vic always rescued me when people were unkind. He works for someone else now. These days I drive myself home in my lovely Triumph Herald, which I can usually fix if it breaks down.

I’m not afraid to be out on my own at night. I walk tall and square. By the time I’m on my way home all the muggers are usually fast asleep anyway.

I was unlucky once, though – I was in the lift going up to my flat when a bloke stuck a knife in my ribs and asked for my purse. Using sleight of hand I hid my purse behind my back and emptied the contents of my handbag on the floor saying he could look for himself, I had no money. When he bent over I hit him on the head. I’ve always been courageous.

I’ve tried to make my bedroom as nice as possible – after all it is 50 per cent of my living space. I have a huge mirror, a proper silvered one that is kind, and a four-poster bed where William Stanley, my teddy bear, is waiting to cuddle me – though he usually ends up on the floor. I work abroad a lot and always take William Stanley with me to make a strange hotel room more friendly.

I never go to bed with a face on and I cleanse and moisturise every night. I don’t think it’s a bad face for 46, do you? Once in bed I run a few people through my mind. It’s a kind of prayer.

There are costumes all over the place in my bedroom and I keep my magic paraphernalia there. It does make me think about tricks when I’m going off to sleep and I suppose that would bother me if I saw it as work, but I don’t – it’s my life. The drug I’m hooked on is applause and you can’t buy a fix – you can only earn it. A spontaneous standing ovation is even better than great sex.

I’m quite used to sleeping alone. There is no love of my life – who could cope with it? I’m not interested in settling down. Mr Right would have to be a pretty special person.

(Photograph omitted)

Terry Pratchett: ‘I Once Got Someone Else’s Dream’

In bed with Susan de Muth: At night I separate fax from fantasy: Terry Pratchett

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 10 November 1993
I NEVER dream about my own work, nor does the fantasy world of my books overlap with my dreaming. I have to be very careful to be in control of my imagination rather than live in it – otherwise I’d be a candidate for the white canvas jacket with the optional long sleeves.

I once got somebody else’s dream. I was in some kind of weird machine that was producing a revolutionary new form of energy and a little man was patiently explaining everything to me in meticulous detail. I didn’t understand a word and I thought, ‘This is the big revelation after months of research and I’ve got it by mistake instead of some poor bugger at Cambridge’.

I work until the day seems to reach a natural conclusion – sometimes not before 2am. After dark, time becomes my own again. Nobody’s going to phone me or send me faxes and that gives me a second lease of life. At night I refine what I’ve written during the day with some background noise from the radio – usually classical music. I always stop at a very exciting moment so that I’ve got a treat to look forward to when I start again in the morning.

Night is also an extremely good time for making energetic plans for tomorrow – because you don’t actually have to do it. If you start thinking ‘I’m going to cut the lawn’ at three o’clock in the afternoon a little voice will always say to you ‘well why don’t you do it now?’

Before I go to bed I have to double check that everything I’ve written is saved on the word processor. That’s the modern neurotic for you. I once lost a whole novel late at night when I kept pressing ‘yes’ to questions like ‘do you really want to do something as bloody stupid as format your entire hard disk?’

I fall asleep the minute my head touches the pillow. I’ve got the sandman in a forthcoming book – only this one doesn’t sprinkle sand around, he hits people with the whole bag] That’s how sleep is for me. In winter I tend to be bear-like and hibernate: I don’t go out and I sleep much more. Those Tupperware skies weigh heavily on me. Lyn and I ease ourselves kindly into each new day and the slow process from horizontal to vertical can take up to half an hour, with many cups of tea and lying down for another five minutes. I used to bustle down to fetch the post but there’s so much of it these days that Lyn insists on filleting it first.

Since my books have become best sellers I’ve been away on tour a lot. Conjugal rites at such times consist of handing over a suitcase of dirty washing and picking up a new one on my very occasional free days. At other times though, Lyn sees more of me than most wives see their husbands – I’m always popping down for a cup of coffee and a chat.

I start work the minute I manage to get up – I like to make a dent on the day by getting an hour or so in before breakfast. Morning is a clear time; I often wake up with problems I’d had squiggling around in my head the night before somehow sorted out. The brain does a lot of work while you sleep, filing and tidying things up. I don’t believe that dreams are generally anything more than random images thrown out as it goes about this business, but once every six weeks or so I get a real humdinger. These unnervingly convincing experiences often involve popping up in other people’s relationships and affect me way into the next day.

The other night I had a dream that took place in Victorian dress. A young lady was miffed with the character I was playing because he’d promised to marry her and hadn’t. I felt vaguely ashamed all the next morning . . . then by about 10 o’clock I had to say to myself, ‘What are you doing? Why are you thinking like this. This is 1993]’ I fight like hell against supernatural explanations but it’s undeniably quite strange.

The most meaningful nocturnal experience I’ve ever had was when I was a boy. I was sitting on a fence, looking up at the stars and I suddenly thought ‘actually, technically, in terms of the universe, I’m just as much looking down at the stars as up’. I nearly fell off the fence and I suppose that’s when I realised that there is always more than one way of looking at ‘reality’.

Terry Pratchett is a best-selling fantasy writer. He lives in a cottage in Somerset with his wife, Lyn, and daughter, Rhianna.

Terry Pratchett’s latest book, ‘Men At Arms’, is published by Victor Gollancz, ( pounds 14.99).

(Photograph omitted)

Mariella Frostrup

I went to Mariella’s new flat to conduct this interview. She was having it painted in different shades of blue (as I recall) and so invited me to lunch at a fashionable restaurant in Notting Hill. She was witty, intelligent and such great company we carried on drinking white wine and chatting well after the tape had finished recording the interview…

Sex is important to me, but only when I’m sure I’m in love: In bed with Mariella Frostrup

SUSAN DE MUTH
Wednesday, 9 March 1994
Mariella Frostrup is a broadcaster and journalist. She presents ‘The Little Picture Show’, a late-night film magazine programme, on Carlton Television.

I’m not really a night person. The Little Picture Show has a late night feel but it’s actually filmed between 9am and 6pm in a blacked-out studio. It goes on air at midnight . . . by which time I like to be tucked up in bed]

I do socialise at night, mostly having dinner or going to the theatre with friends, but take up few of the glamorous invitations I receive. I get asked to parties for people I don’t even know, which is very strange. I did go to the Planet Hollywood party for Sylvester Stallone last year, though. I thought it would be fascinating from an anthropological point of view.

At first I was shocked that I’d got this sexy image – and I suppose that’s why I’m often invited. Now it irritates me; I feel this wave of disappointment if I don’t turn up wearing some incredibly slinky number. Men expect me to be all sultry and cooing whereas I can be quite abrasive. It’s all rather ridiculous.

My favourite nights are when I can be in bed by 10.30 with a cup of cocoa and some good books. My bedroom is an oasis of calm and I rarely allow anyone else into it. I love the thought that I can go in there and enjoy my solitude.

I had an unsettled childhood and moved house quite often myself but there are always certain things that belong in the bedroom and give me a sense of continuity. I have three pictures of my very best friends, a jewellery box that belonged to my grandmother and a drawing of a reclining nude by my mother which makes me feel calm.

I sometimes catch up on videos for the show in bed. I also like to listen to music – really old-fashioned records. You’ll probably laugh at me but a big favourite is Leonard Cohen – but only when I’m very happy. My dad – who died when I was 16 – used to like Leonard Cohen and when I’m happy I’m able to sit and think about him a little bit.

I have occasionally dreamt of my father but fortunately I don’t dream much. I don’t think I’ve ever had a happy dream in my life. I have a recurring nightmare that I’m being chased by a rapist. It’s a terrible fear I’ve had since I was 12 and a girl down the road was raped on her way home from school.

I’m not involved in a relationship at the moment and it’s a long time since I lived with a man. I was perfectly happy to share then but I don’t know if I could now. I have my little routines and resent people interfering with them – even if I’m in love. When I wake up in the morning I want to be rid of them – I set my radio alarm clock at exactly one minute to the hour and like to listen to the news in peace for 30 minutes before I get up.

I’ve been out with lots of men who were so nice that I really wished I would want to spend the rest of my life with them. But there was always something missing in terms of engaging my heart. When I can see that’s the case I move on. I’m very good at making those kinds of decisions and acting on them.

I was married when I was 18 (and divorced at 21). My dad had died and Richard was my first serious boyfriend. I just got my little paws in him and dragged him into the register office. He’s forgiven me now and we’re still good friends. I think if your parents are divorced, as mine were, you take marriage less seriously.

Sex, on the other hand, is extremely important to me. It’s the only thing you do with another person that you don’t do with your friends. I have a rule that I always stick to – I only have sex with someone when I’m sure I’m in love.

If I’m sleeping with a man I insist on nakedness. I hate men who get into bed in their underpants – I mean, why? They know they’re going to take them off. Totally unsexy. When I’m alone, however, I confess that I’m usually to be found in a pair of comfortable pyjamas.

(Photograph omitted)

Paula Yates

This was the first interview I did for the series, and I had asked Paula to do it because I was, basically, nicking her format (she was doing In Bed With interviews on the Big Breakfast). Actually, it was Emma Freud who first had the idea, she did live ‘in bed with’ interviews at an arts club night in Soho I used to go to in the early 1990s.

On my way in to the Big Breakfast studios, I met Chris Evans who was very tall with a bright orange face (make-up). ‘You should be interviewing me,’ he said as he strode past, obviously convinced of his own stardom even in those early days.

Paula was incredibly sweet and welcoming. We conducted the interview on the big breakfast bed which was enormous and covered in velvet.

Afterwards she showed me a skirt she had had made. It had plastic pockets in each of which was a picture of her kids. She was obviously crazy about those girls and very proud.

In bed with . . .Like sleeping in a railway station: Susan De Muth talks to Paula Yates: In the first of a new series, the Big Breakfast presenter explains how she sleeps with all the family and gets up at 3am to hop from one bed to another

SUSAN DE MUTH
Monday, 19 July 1993
Paula Yates is a presenter of Channel 4’s ‘The Big Breakfast’, on which she interviews people in bed. She is also an author and the mother of Fifi Trixibelle, 10, Peaches, 4, and Pixi, 2 . She is married to Bob Geldof.

‘I WOKE UP, stark naked, in the middle of the main road, at 3am. Bizarrely, my mother happened to be on her way home at that moment and found me with all these cars going past. I was 10 years old.

‘I used to sleepwalk a lot when I was a child. I hated bedtime. I was always afraid that my mother would leave while I was asleep. I found the night incredibly frightening when I was little: you’re totally alone, it’s totally silent, there’s a bloody owl hooting on the mountainside and you don’t know if you’re going to wake up parentless.

‘Bob and I have a 9ft bed so that the children can sleep with us whenever they want to. I get up at 3am on weekdays so that I can write for three hours before I go to the Big Breakfast studios. Bob doesn’t come to bed until 2am and there are little girls coming and going all the time. It’s like Grand Central Station, a frenetic hive of activity with people rising and plummeting and moving into other beds. It is disturbing . . . especially when Peaches turns up, because she snores really badly. I don’t think I ever get really good quality, deep sleep.

‘Bob thinks it’s ‘complete bollocks’ as he puts it, letting the kids sleep with us, but I’m a great believer in the ‘continuum concept’ of raising children and holding them all the time. It’s probably also selfish because I like them kissing me and being on me all night. We extended the bed so Bob could have a bit of space . . . He’d been spending nights hanging on to the edge with a prehensile lip and it had to end. I don’t think he feels excluded from my affections. But we are the lark and the owl.

‘I love writing when everybody’s asleep. It’s deathly silent and the most fantastic time. My mind is totally clear. I have an office in our house where I write. It has a big log fire and huge windows overlooking the street. I’ve just finished one book about the countryside and now I’m working on another. I do bound out of bed at 3am and feel happy to get up but I’d be crying and crying if I had to do it in the evening when I’m always whacked. I usually go to bed with the girls at 7.30pm but if Bob is home I pretend I’m an erotic dream and stay up till 9pm – but I’m not telling you about our conjugal rites. I always read a book till I fall asleep.

‘At the moment I’m on volume four of the History of the Church of England. I’ve been reading it for ages and it’s really gripping. There are lots of things about parish vicars, which is very useful as they’re basic characters in country living.

‘As soon as I arrive at The Big Breakfast it’s back to bed with my interviewees. I suppose I interact well horizontally. I never get worked up about an interview. When you’ve got one or two celebrities in your bed every single morning you’re only concerned with the next question and keeping on top of everything . . . as it were. There’s no scope for tremors.

‘We take the Big Breakfast bed with us when we travel to do interviews. I went to Madrid this week to do Arnold Schwarzenegger and they’d given me a massive holdall with all the bedding in it. It burst open in customs and all these sort of prostitute’s bed covers came out and something really bizarre which was actually part of the headboard but looked exactly like a whip. I was so embarrassed. All these bewildered little Spanish customs men just stood there staring. They probably thought I was part of some travelling circus.

‘Since I’ve been a grown up I have only happy memories of bedtime, which is nice, because when I was a child I hated everything. My father died recently and it was very painful for me. I dream about him all the time now, though I never did before his death. I meet him in my dreams and we’re in places we’ve been together . . .

‘But the best bedtime stories of all are the births of my children. When the last one, Pixi, was about to be born, Fifi and Peaches were both there with Bob at the hospital; they were old enough for it to be thrilling for them, too. And I was breathless with the excitement of it, it was like waiting for Santa Claus when you’re a child. She came into the world at midnight and it was all so magical and so perfect.’

(Photograph omitted)

Imran Khan

When I went to conduct this interview, Imran Khan was beseiged by (middle-aged, female) fans in the hotel lobby so he suggested we adjourn to his bedroom. Sitting perched on a single bed with the extremely attractive Imran Khan reclining full length was disconcerting to say the least. At the time he was dating Gemima Khan – a fact he charmingly avoided disclosing despite my blunt questioning on the subject!

I still dream my mother is alive: Susan de Muth in bed with Imran Khan

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 17 November 1993
IMRAN KHAN, 40, retired from international cricket last year, having captained Pakistan for the best part of 10 years. Since then he has been raising funds for a cancer hospital in Lahore and published a book about his travels in North Pakistan. He has homes in Lahore and London.

I sometimes wake up not knowing where I am. I have been leading a nomadic existence for years – first as a cricketer, now as a fund-raiser – and I’m looking forward to the time when I’ll be able to settle down and sleep in the same bed for a long while.

Of course my nights are very different depending on where I am. Yet I am at ease, whether in the West or Pakistan. I am rooted in my own identity, my culture and family. I have never had any intention of breaking away from that.

Last year I travelled a lot in the remote Pathan tribal areas of Northern Pakistan researching my book. One evening I was watching the Powindahs, a nomadic tribe, finally at rest having set up their tents after a hard day. A wonderful harmony suddenly settled on them – adults, kids, camels, sheep and dogs, all relaxed and content in the beautiful light of the setting sun. I remembered times when I’d had that same feeling after a hard day on the cricket field, tired but at peace because all had gone well, and I saw that some experiences are universal.

Every male Pathan carries a gun and I had to sleep in fortresses accompanied by an armed guard. The authorities thought I was at risk, that the tribesmen might use me to embarrass the government. In fact I never felt myself to be in any danger. My ancestors were Pathans and I got to know the tribesmen. I spent fascinating nights by log fires, talking to the elders. Every morning we rose with the sun and I discovered the beauty of nature at dawn.

It was very different to my life in Lahore where I like to stay in bed as long as possible in the morning with my tea and newspapers. I still live in my family house and always mix with the same friends – we meet more or less every night and have a meal at someone’s house. In Pakistan I am usually in exclusively male company: the only women you mix with are your family.

The worst nights of my life were in Lahore when my mother was dying of cancer. Though it was nine years ago, I still can’t forget those two months when she was in such severe agony she couldn’t sleep. One of the family would stay up with with her all night, and when she died we were all physically and mentally exhausted.

I still dream of her, and it’s strange because she always looks so well and happy, never in pain. We talk about ordinary things and then I realise that she’s dead and I wake up with this deep sadness. She was everything to me: a friend, a guide when I was a child, my roots. English people don’t understand how important family is to us.

Nor do they understand faith. When my mother died I realised how vulnerable I was and looked for strength in spirituality. English people seem to find this rather backward and strange, but I have found a lot of peace.

I rarely have any trouble sleeping now, though when I was playing international cricket I was often kept awake by anxiety about injuries. Any little twinge could herald a strain that would prevent me from bowling and I was quite a hypochondriac] I don’t get the exercise I used to, so I am no longer tired enough to immediately fall asleep. I enjoy reading – often until 2am. At the moment I am going through the Koran, slowly and reflectively.

I spend about two months a year in London. I like it because of the contrast with Lahore. I can go out to dinner every night with different people from all over the world, which I find very interesting. Of course I meet a lot of women and enjoy their company, but there’s no one special at the moment. The playboy image was invented by the press simply because I am single.

I would like to marry and have a family if only I could find the right person. An arranged marriage may have more chance of success. My own objectives have only recently become clear – to build this hospital in memory of my mother and go on to other social projects in Pakistan. Any possible wife would have to share these objectives. The thing I fear most is the possibility of failure. I would never consider divorce as an option and would do my very best. That’s the problem . . . it’s just so much of a risk.

‘Warrior Race’ is published by Chatto & Windus, pounds 20.

Donations to the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal can be made to National Westminster Bank. Sort Code 56-00-27.

Account No. 00492205.

(Photograph omitted)

Diamanda Galas

I went to Diamanda Galas’s hotel room with photographer Peter MacDiarmid to whom she took an instant fancy. I felt like a journalist gooseberry while she checked him out New York style with fast-pitched banter.

She grabbed his camera and started taking pictures of him, laughing with this really disconcerting high pitched banshee shriek.

What made her laugh the most was when she started talking about OJ Simpson and I asked (not having heard the name correctly) if this was her boyfriend!

Diamanda had a little bag on a string around her neck. I asked her what was in it. She fixed me with her glittering eye and said, ‘My tooth, honey.’

Killing men softly with her song: New York revenge rocker Diamanda Galas is adamant: male rap stars should be killed for sport. Susan de Muth finds out why

By SUSAN DE MUTH

Thursday, 27 October 1994
Her records have been taken to priests for exorcism, the Catholic Church has described her as ‘a curse’, and her latest offering, The Sporting Life, is an album of ‘homicidal love songs’. Diamanda Galas is not destined for the hit parade.

Trained as a bel canto opera singer, Galas has a three-and- a-half octave range and a voice that critics have described as ‘one of the finest of her generation’. What keeps Galas firmly underground is not her voice, however, but what she does with it.

She is lounging on a white sofa as we enter her hotel room in London, her black stilettos piercing the cushions. Galas appraises us laconically through half-closed eyes: ‘I generally can’t stand straight men,’ she says, sizing up Peter, the photographer, none the less, ‘but I do make a few exceptions. I think God is a callous bitch not making me a lesbian. I’m deeply disappointed by my sexual interest in men.’

The Sporting Life is largely a sadistic fantasy of what Galas would like to do with men. Effortlessly rising above collaborator John Paul Jones’s Led Zeppelin bass guitar, Galas sings of castration, male rape, torture and murder. It’s high- energy psychosis with lashings of her own trademark bloodcurdling screams. Why?

A fearsome tirade against male rap stars, especially ‘that asshole Snoop Doggy Dog’, follows. ‘Women are sick of these no-dick motherfuckers prancing around singing about their ‘bitches’ and the bad things they do to them. I’m just giving it back.’

In one song, Snoop turns up as the victim of a gang of women who go ‘wilding’: ‘I don’t like him, let’s cut him, then fuck him, then kill him.’

Revenge rock? ‘Yes,’ cackles Galas, her black eyes glittering. ‘It fills my heart with freedom and joy.’

Her attitude to men stems partly from a period spent as a prostitute in Seventies California. ‘I had a serious drug habit, plus I needed money to get my music career off the ground,’ she explains. ‘I had to look at men in a strange, cold way doing that job.’ It was an unusual occupation for a graduate from a well-to-do Greek immigrant family. ‘But I liked it,’ she grins. ‘Not turning tricks – that was boring – but the whole thing of owning the street. I had these transvestite hooker friends, and if anyone messed with me, those ‘broads’ got out their knives and suddenly turned out to be built like football players – it was beautiful.’

Disgusted by weak men – ‘they should be taken out and killed for sport by me and my girlfriends’ – Galas looks for a certain resilience in her lovers. ‘I tend to go for the military, or the prison population. I guess I just like rough trade. I couldn’t be around anything too bland.’

Galas’s best friend is the man she calls her ‘gay husband’, Carl Valentino.

‘He can turn words into sulphuric acid,’ she says joyfully. ‘He walks into a party and says, ‘I’m a hateful homosexual and I have Aids and you can kiss my fucking ass.’ ‘ What endears him to Galas is that he provides the ‘spiritual closeness’ she lost when her brother, Philip, died of Aids in 1989. As she talks of empathy and loss, her face and voice soften and her gesticulations slow down. It is then that I notice her knuckles are tattooed with ‘We Are All HIV+’.

An abiding concern, Aids is the issue that brought her into conflict with the church. Her opera Plague Mass points the finger at a hypocritical clergy who interpret ‘the epidemic’ as divine retribution. First performed in a New York cathedral by Galas, naked to the waist and covered in blood, the work was condemned by the Catholic Church as ‘blasphemy’. The ‘cursed Galas’ is unrepentant: ‘My only religion is loyalty.’

Nor does she accept ‘token gestures from the politically correct’. She plays piano in Aids hospices and at an increasing number of friends’ funerals. ‘I really see what’s going on,’ she frowns, ‘and it could easily have been me.

I’ve been an intravenous drug-user, but I’m still here. I’m asking what’s it like to be told there’s a death sentence over you, to ask a friend to help you die when the time comes. What does wearing a red ribbon have to do with those kind of questions? It just makes them feel good. People who wear red ribbons should be forcibly injected with HIV-positive blood.’

With her last composition, Vena Cava, Galas succeeded in conveying the horror of Aids- associated dementia so convincingly that some members of her audiences experienced panic attacks and ran for the exit. The unpalatable mixture of electronic noise, psycho- babble and disjointed schizophrenic voices comes, she says, straight from her own experience. ‘I’ve been through extremes of severe depression. I haven’t slept without medication since 1980 . . . I don’t write science fiction.’

When she’s not trawling the ‘darker recesses of the mind’ Galas’s idea of entertainment is working with friends on the establishment of a rape revenge squad called the Black Leather Beavers: ‘We’d go in there, castrate the guy and torch his house.’ But she has less and less time for such fun: ‘As I get older (she’s 42), I’m increasingly aware of my own mortality, and the need to write music becomes more urgent – it’s my only legacy.’

She cites an eclectic handful of singers whom she admires, including the Egyptian Oum Kalsoum, the opera singer Maria Callas and Spanish flamenco singer Camaron. ‘I aim for an audience who really understand this energy.

Not Kylie Minogue fans.’

Nor does she hear the faintest ticking of her biological clock. ‘I could never breed. It’s such a subservient thing to do – especially in the Nineties. But I don’t mean to insult anyone who has had that misfortune.’

She has always preferred to live alone.

She has no fear of a lonely old age, although she says: ‘I do picture it sometimes. Worst case is I could be an old woman in a flowery gown, standing on the 28th floor of the YMCA staring down at the population with my instant coffee, saying, ‘Oh well, it’s just another day’. I couldn’t handle that . .

. I’d rather be starring in my own opera . . . Medea or Caligula would be nice.’

(Photograph omitted)