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The UK's Alternative Miss World Pageant Prefers Bitchy Quips Over Bikinis

We chatted to artist Andrew Logan about his infamous drag pageant.

by Amelia Abraham
30 September 2014, 5:00am

Andrew pictured at home with his Alternative Miss World 2014 throne (Photo by the author)

If John Waters is the godfather of American camp, Andrew Logan is his technicolour British counterpart. A sculptor, painter and performance artist, Logan is also the founder of "Alternative Miss World", a kind of club kid answer to the Miss World they stopped televising in the UK when everyone realised it's a bit weird to rank women on how well they can wear a bikini. It's a pageant that favours creativity over conformity and launched the careers of a bunch of iconic figures, from Derek Jarman to Leigh Bowery.

Logan came up with the idea in 1972, and since then has held 12 Alternative Miss World competitions. After a five-year hiatus, the event is back and will be held at Shakespeare's Globe, perfectly symbolising the way in which - over the years - Logan has turned his unique brand of high camp eccentricity into a British institution. 

Andrew lives and works in his studio, the Glasshouse, a huge, glass-roofed building in Bermondsey with a rubber plant tree growing upwards through the floors. The whole building is full of his work, including that mirrored sculpture of what's probably Liza Minnelli's head in the picture below. He recently invited me there to talk about the competition. 

VICE: Hi Andrew. How did the idea of Alternative Miss World come to you? 
It was natural, really. I've always loved giving parties, so it started with friends and just dressing up. Nothing is deliberate. I'd just been to Crufts dog show, so I was rather inspired by that, and you've got to remember that Miss World was huge in the 70s - every household in the country watched it religiously.

How has the competition evolved over time?
When it started there was no difference between the audience, the contestants or the judges - everyone was just mucking in together. That's still very much the ethos. People are always trying to get me to get important "VIPs" now. In the 70s, there weren't celebrities like that, but now we're really in the cult of celebrities. I'm not that interested. I never have been. I'm much more interested in the relationship between the people watching and the people taking part - the mix.

2009 Alternative Miss World winner Fancy Chance (Photo by Robyn Beeche)

Who are your judges this year?
I'm very happy with my judges. They're all people I've known. Zandra Rhodes; Molly Parkin; Anthony Eno; Daniel Lismore; Miss Fancy Chance from the last one; Rebecca Hoffberger, who runs a fantastic museum called the Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore; Rajef Set is coming from new Delhi; and Angela Flowers. She was my gallerist for a while, but I've known Angela since I was a errand boy at the ICA in 1967. The cabaret artist Bish is going to be doing something, and Grayson Perry's co-hosting. He was the 1985 Alternative Miss World at the Brixton Academy, so in a way he's kind of a product of the event.

As co-hosts, will there be some competition between you and Grayson?
No, no. I'm not a competitor. I'm very, kind of... I wouldn't say constrained, but you've got to tread carefully - you don't want it to be too intrusive on the main event. However, I know Grayson's already got three outfits, and he said one of them was so neon that no one's going to be able to look at the stage because it will be so bright. I don't know if he's trying to upstage the contestants.

And what about the contestants, how do you find them?
Well, they find me. Some people have done it before. My sister Janet has done every single one. Never won. She came third last time. She's brilliant. And my brother Quentin is also in it. Then other people I wouldn't know, people who've applied and know about it.

Really, you're limited. You can't have 500 people enter, because how on earth are you going to get through the evening? When we had it in the grand hall at Kensington Olympia in 1981, it finished at 3AM because our people had to walk so far to come back down the catwalk - it was 250 feet long.

Even this one, if you allow each contestant three minutes and there are three sections, you're talking three hours just gone, and that's without cabaret. So it has to be really sharp. In the very first ones, people just ran up and down and people didn't have day wear, swimwear and evening wear, they only had one outfit and it didn't make any difference.

How many contestants do you have?
We have about 17 or 18.

Divine pictured with Andrew Logan, 1978 (Photo by JD Matthews)    

Divine hosted one year, right?
Divine was a co-host in 1978. We met in 1977 at the Jubilee when I had a studio at Butler's Wharf. My friend Zandra Rhodes brought him to a big summer party I was holding and he ended up being a co-host in 1978. Quite a remarkable, wonderful person - really warm.

Have you seen the documentary, the Jeffrey Schwarz film about him?
Yes. It's interesting, because it's only his American side. On his English side, he was a great Anglophile. I think there should be a sequel of his English side, because that's when he became a pop star and did all the clubs and his career changed. 

Yeah. How was Leigh Bowery involved?
Well, Leigh started his career in the 1985 Alternative Miss World, the same year as Grayson. I think it was the first time he'd ever appeared on stage, and there was no going back after that. This event has spawned a lot of creative things. Gosh. Well, Derek Jarman, 1975. Derek had been rather obscure before then, but after that his life moved into the public eye.

Alternative Miss World seems to foretell things. In 75 it was very punk; there were lots of safety pins and a lot of rips - things that didn't really happen in fashion properly until a year later. In 1981, Michael Haynes won as Miss Aldershot; a year later, the Falklands War happened. He came on with the Irish guards, a band and a choir of 500. He was amazing. He was determined to win.

(Left) Leigh Bowery and Jill, 1986; (Right) Grayson Perry covered in mud, 1986 (Photos by Robyn Beeche).

In terms of the costumes and presentation of the show, how does that connect with your work as a sculptor?
I see the whole thing as a big sculpture that involves hundreds of people. It is a sculpture. Some people call it performance art, but I don't care what it's called. I always do a theme, and this year is neon numbers. It came to me in the middle of the night; I woke up and thought, 'Oh, numbers.' And then looking at The Globe I thought, 'Well, what's the antithesis of the Globe's oak and bleached wood? Neon.' So everyone has to come in neon. Guests as well. Get neon! It's so cheap. You can get it everywhere. It'll be like a construction worker symposium.

Andrew pictured with Luciana Martinez, 1981 (Photo by Robin Beeche)

Final question. Is it true you held the first Sex Pistols gig?
Yes, in my Butlers Wharf stage. I had the Sex Pistols the first time they every played. It was in my studio on February the 14th. You've got to remember that, back then, London was a very small artistic community with very few artists and very few designers. I knew Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood very well. Malcolm knew about the Butlers Wharf, so he phoned me up one day and said, "Look, I've got these boys, they're gonna be bigger than the Beatles." I said, "Oh lovely." He said, "I wonder if they could play?" And I said, "Fine, sure!"

So they came and played and it was very funny because it was in this huge, 2,500 square-foot old warehouse. It had a corrugated iron roof and I built this portacabin that I bought for nothing and lined it in gold and called it "the gold room". They started to play and the reverberation was unbelievable, so we all ran into this gold room. I think there were only about three people standing at the front. Very noisy.

@MillyAbraham

Alternative Miss World is being held at Shakespeare's Globe on Saturday the 18th of October.

The 12 previous Alternative Miss World contests were the subject of acclaimed feature-length documentary 'The British Guide to Showing Off', directed by Jes Benstock, available on DVD and as video-on-demand, exclusively on www.wearecolony.com

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