I’ve always been a show off.
Trying to remember how I learned to play dress-up is like trying to recall how I learned to walk and talk. Being an only child and raised by a single mother in UK public housing, I didn’t have a parent of each binary gender to work from, but children don’t care about gender until they’re taught it. From my earliest memories I was decorating myself in the discarded clothing of the adults that surrounded me – my mother’s fur coat (a personal favourite, kept under her bed, a glamorous relic from her pre-parent days) and my grandfather’s trilby (which, when teamed with a magnifying glass and his wax jacket, would transform me into Sherlock Holmes).
Fast forward and I became a university dropout with a retail job at Marks and Spencer. My friend Richie and I had taken to getting drunk with great enthusiasm and did it as often as we could. We were also into dressing up, inspired by the film Party Monster and a vague awareness of the electro/nu-rave scene that was happening in London. One night we decided we were going out in wedding dresses but we couldn’t find them in our size so we settled on the next best thing; notorious serial killers.
Richie chose Rose West, I opted for Myra Hindley. We rustled round the vintage and fancy dress shops and, once happy with our purchases, out we went. The night is now a vague recollection of vodka infused blurs, but the nicknames stuck. He called me Myra, I called him Rose. We would ask each other how the other was doing, and slowly built up fictitious narratives for these women which quickly separated themselves from their real life, infanticidal counterparts. They were sisters. Rose, it transpired, was a stay-at-home frump whilst Myra was the bottle blonde good-time-gal who spent most of her time at the Working Men’s Club (where the real life Gareth also worked as a glass collector and later, barman). Myra, it turned out, was a bit of a singer not unlike the singers I saw myself working at the club every night, and enjoyed the company of men, and leopard print. Looking back, both Myra and Rose were a real patchwork of the women I’d worked alongside and saw drinking in the club.
If we move forward two more years, I’m 21 and at my new university (about to drop out, but I didn’t know this at the time), when I saw an advert for an open mic night at Madam JoJos, a nightclub in Soho with a long history of drag acts and burlesque performers (now sadly closed). I’d suspected that this ‘Myra’ character had legs (that would look excellent in fishnets) and so I booked myself in for a slot and wrote ten minutes of material. I decided to keep the name Myra. I liked the unsavoury connotations. To contrast this, I felt a showbiz surname was in order. I’d been listening to the soundtrack to the Mel Brook’s musical The Producers and had misremembered the character of ‘Rodger DeBris’ as ‘Rodger DuBois’, and so DuBois it was. Many people assume that DuBois came from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire but I’m afraid the etymology of Myra’s surname is nowhere near that literary. It was simply the result of a brain fart. Sorry Myra!