Ten years ago, Jonathan Wooster – a Kentish lad-turned-dance student, retail drudge and NYC party boy – returned to London as Jonny Woo. The East End hasn’t been the same since. His nights at the George & Dragon and Bistrotheque kickstarted the city’s alternative drag scene, fusing fashion, art, politics, booze, bingo, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll into a gender-fucking, tongue-twisting hot mess of fab wigs, facial hair, radical queerness and beaucoup glitter. In his new show, London’s tranny superstar tells the story of his life…
It might not come as a total shocker to learn that Woo’s childhood fascinations weren’t exactly macho. Footie? No. Army? Please. Wonder Woman? Bingo! But don’t forget the superheroine kicked ass as well as turning heads. There’s power in those heels.
After 9/11, Woo began wrapping his body in coloured strips for installation pieces in shop windows and party outfits, saying: ‘I thought the city had closed inwards on itself.’ It spawned his creative collective, The House of Egypt.
Woo’s non-stop lifestyle in New York and back in Shoreditch nearly killed him: he spent weeks in intensive care in 2006 when his liver, kidneys and lungs packed up. ‘I knew very well why,’ he said, and cleaned up his act, a bit. He got a great show out of it, and a motto: ‘Dialysis – it makes you think.’
As ringmaster at the likes of Lovebox, Pride and Glastonbury, Woo has the élan to give any pontiff a run for his money. Benedict’s 2010 UK visit allowed Woo to present his ‘Scouse Pope’ act to appreciative crowds around London. ‘My name is Benny – Benny the bible-basher…’
Woo has always proved adept at an incredible range of styles and subject matter. Still, he didn’t expect to be described as a ‘Mary-Portas doppelgänger’. Ever-resourceful, he made a whole new turn out of the resemblance.
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