How did you come to live in London?
I grew up in Bradford on a particularly dodgy council estate and went to the local regular school. I was quite studious, I did my A-levels and I was expected to go straight to university but by the time I’d finished, I kind of had enough with studying. I worked briefly in a bank but quickly got fired for being absolutely useless.
I always knew that I wanted to work in fashion. But it was really hard to think how to get into it. I went to my career’s advisor at school and told him – bear in mind he also doubled as our P.E. teacher – and he looked at me blankly and said that I could get a work placement in River Island. I was at a loss. I didn’t want to work in retail.
My sister at the time was doing a hairdressing course at the local college. She was horrified when I joined, but it looked like a lot of fun. After that I approached Vidal Sassoon for an interview with 100 other people in Leeds and somehow I managed to get the job. So I worked there for a bit, but I woke up one day and knew that I was wasting my time in Leeds and that I had to go to London. I arrived with just my suitcase, and a bit of money to cover me in B&Bs for a while. I was so nervous.
What did your parents do? Did they have similar careers?
No… My Mum didn’t work and my Dad worked for an escalator company.
Where did you find inspiration growing up?
I still do. The really normal mass-media things have always really interested me. I remember watching Jerry Hall on Wogan; I was so transfixed by the way she walked, looked and talked. I became obsessed with her. Madonna and Kylie, too, I sort of gravitated towards them without any inclination about how life might turn out.
You first came to national attention when you were running Boombox and other club nights in East London. Do you miss it?
No! I think we did it and we did it really well but I can’t say I ever really enjoyed it. For me it was constant work. The bit of the night that I would enjoy would be when literally everyone had gone. After all the poor bar staff had swept up all the broken glass, we would sit down and have a drink and that would be when I’d fully relax. We were really good friends with the manager, so we’d wait until everyone had finished. The DJ booth was behind the bar in the back and literally when I’d arrive at 7pm they’d say “Right, so who do you want in the back?” and all of the bar staff would start fighting because they wanted to be closest to the DJ and well, it all got messy.
Where were you before Boombox?
I moved to London and had a few shitty jobs and then went and worked for Josh Wood [the colourist]. I finished my training with Josh and then I met James Jeanette who eventually went on to do the door at Boombox. We ended up living together in a flat just off Kingsland Road, it was awful but it was so cheap! £280 a month! And one day we were walking through Shoreditch past Tommy Guns salon and we were like, they’re serving vodka and beer while you get your hair cut. And I remember Duffy was working there at the time and so I asked him if there were any jobs going and he said yeah. I was happy there for quite a while. But because it was just an independent salon, I craved some kind of progression. And that’s when I started doing club nights. We went out every night anyway, so why not do it? Plus, it meant we could choose the music. And once we started it, I was bitten.
You mentioned ‘Fun is a priority, not a privilege’ in an interview once. I suppose you meant everyone should be able to go out and have fun?
Yeah, that’s the thing back then it was pre-social media so you went through your phone list and you would call and text everyone in your phone. I was out every night at other people’s clubs really blatantly going there just to flyer for my own club night. There was a really tight scene then that I don’t think exists now.
And after that, was it Ponystep?
When I finished Boombox… it got to the point which I’ve seen happen to so many other club nights when they become really successful, people try to milk it and the integrity dies. When Boombox was at its peak with Kylie and so on, I decided that it had been brilliant, we were at the top and there was only one way it could go, which was down.
Fabric’s just had its license revoked, what does this mean to London for you?
I think it’s terrible, we’re going to end up in a similar situation to Giuliani-era New York. New York has no soul now, and if we’re not careful that’s going to happen to London. I went to fabric once and absolutely hated it, but I still signed the petition because lots of people did like it and should be allowed to enjoy themselves.
There’s a brilliant article from The Independent in 2007, which talks about the George and Dragon being like the fashion crowd of East London’s Rover Returns – where do you stand on what it’s changed into?
You know, they were priced out and they went on to open a new place – the Queen Adelaide – that has a much later license. And they’ve managed to get out of that Shoreditch triangle that’s started to resemble Leicester Square. And, actually, it’s a bit nicer now. There’s still fun left in East.