My good friend Jojo (Misadventures of a Strawberry Blonde) invited me along to something I hadn’t spotted, but which was right up my street – a ‘Queer Perspectives’ tour at the National Portrait Gallery. The quarterly, free tour sees artist Sadie Lee introduce a guest speaker who explores the hidden and fascinating histories, anecdotes and rumours behind some of the Gallery’s pieces. Sadie was fabulous. She was just the right mix of authorotative, funny, and downright cheeky, which I felt set a perfect tone for the evening.
The tour began (and remained as it happened – there was no moving around) by a giant portrait of James I and VI. As she spoke, I felt as if I was a member of a secret club with Sadie as the hilarious chair; and even though I didn’t get a number of the historical royal references, I never felt left out. She playfully caught us out by asking ‘We all know what Guy Fawkes looked like, don’t we?’ (Blank stares and nods from the audience.) ‘He’s got newspaper for legs, gloves for hands, and a mask for a face’.
When it was time for the guest speaker, historian Simon Watney, to take over, I felt that the tone changed completely. Who was he talking about? Should I know this already? He was warm and engaging, but spoke as a scholar, assuming knowledge which made me acutely aware of my cultural shortfallings. Despite my personal anxieties, I felt that even by being present during this conversation, I was absorbing at least some of the stories. Bizarrely the conversation strayed far from the advertised ‘Queer Perspectives’, often meandering into unexpected tangential territory. Nevertheless, it was an informative, if dry, discussion of the life of an historical figure of whom I had limited knowledge.
I know it’s terribly cliched for me to assume that the gays are only intrested in salacious gossip and rumour, but I have to admit that it was only towards the end of the 45 minutes when Sadie stepped back in to imply that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in a neighbouring portrait, had been a ‘gentleman of the chamber room in many ways’, that my interest increased again. Perhaps that says a lot about me, but I felt that the educated audience would have appreciated a few interesting anecdotes among the heavy analysis after a hard day’s work.
Sadie Lee is showcasing some of her personal artwork at the Chocolate Factory, in Wood Green, from 13-13 November.