Leigh Bowery- a name you may not be familiar with but somebody whose influences you will definitely know. One of the original Club Kids, all round legend and inspiration for the Club Kids challenge on Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Leigh Bowery truly was a shining pioneer in the 80’s.
Famed for his outlandish outfits and eccentric artistic performances, he was also an established club promoter created the club ‘Taboo’ which began as an underground party. It opened its doors to the public in 1985 and quickly became the place to be. People hoping to get in could expect to wait in huge queues.
Starting off his life in Australia, born 26th March 1961, he had a normal upbringing. Later moving to the London, UK, in October 1980 at the tender age of 19. It was here that his love for fashion grew, funded by his job in Burger King. This enabled him the money to create his outrageous and beautifully constructed outfits, with inspiration taken from Divine– the star of many John Waters films.
He very quickly made a name for himself on the London club scene and enjoyed creating even more daring looks to shock and amaze everyone in the club. An artist who was captivating and imaginative performer who revelled in shocking his audiences. His most memorable performance involved him singing and dancing on stage in drag then suddenly dropping on to his back and simulating giving birth to a naked young woman. She had in fact spent the beginning of the performance strapped to Leigh’s belly!
His drag style was unconventional. He often used his size to mould his body into different shapes and silhouettes. His main aim was to be noticed, shock and to be remembered. He certainly achieved that.
Later Leigh made a few appearances at the Anthony D’Offay Gallery on London. It was through these performances that Bowrey was introduced to the noted painter Lucian Freud, going on to pose for numerous paintings for Freud which are considered Freud’s best work. The below is a PG example of his work!
Bowery lived a colourful personal life, identifying as gay and a fan of cottaging. That being said, he ended up marrying his long term friend and part time birthee from his performance pieces Nicola Bateman on 13th May 1994. Unfortunately their marriage was short lived, just 7 months after they married, on New Year’s Eve 1994, Leigh died of an AIDS related illness.
This was kept a secret right up till the day he died. His closest friend, Sue Tilley, was the only person he told. She was a constant throughout his life when he moved to the UK and they had many adventures together. Their bond really was so strong considering how different they were. Sue Tilley later went on to write a book about his life.
Leigh Bowery- the life and times of an icon. The book is a great insight into the incredible, colourful life this legend lived. I’ve read it multiple times. If you can get your hands on a copy, I would highly recommend reading it! He inspired many and featured heavily in the Boy George musical Taboo. A whirlwind tour of the New Romantic era and introducing us to some of the famous faces of the 80’s. Keep your eyes peeled on a more in depth piece on this very soon.
Leigh Bowery was a star, there is no doubt about that. His life was tragically cut short before he had time to truly show everyone the incredible genius he possessed. You can only imagine what he would have come up with if he’d been given more years. Having said that, he certainly packed a lot into his short life and it’s testament to that that his legend still lives on today, his achievements far surpass his short life.
So hopefully I’ve wet your whistle to find out more about this incredible person. Read the book, google some of his amazing creations, feel inspired and become obsessed with this walking work of art.
Also check out Leigh Bowery Looks by Fergus Greer. This photo book documents a lot of his stunning looks.
Written by Contributor Nathan Warren