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East London 2012: Princess Julia

The writer, DJ and New Romantic icon talks about alternative London

Princess Julia is, simply, London royalty. An icon of the Blitz scene and resident of the equally cult club Kinky Gerlinky, Julia is known in the broader aspect of pop culture for her appearance in the video of electro hit 'Fade to Grey' by her friend Steve Stange's band, Visage.

Still at the sharp end the alternative, Julia DJs, writes and, more than that, just is, nurturing and celebrating the talent that makes this city buzz. Dazed Digital sat down for tea with the Princess for the latest of interviews catalysed by our 'A Secret History of East London' project.

Dazed Digital: Let’s start with the fact that you’re a proper cockney because you were born within earshot of the Bow bells...
Princess Julia:
Well yes I was born in Hackney, somewhere down Hackney Road apparently, in transit, in the ambulance – that’s what I was told. I actually grew up in Stamford Hill and then ended up in the wonderful north east London area of Bounds Green. Which is a sort of no-man’s land in between Wood Green and Palmers Green. Lovely.

DD: And what was that like?
Princess Julia:
It was quite suburban when I was growing up, in a weird way. It was nice. It was... Yeah... The 60s.

DD: When did you start going out?
Princess Julia:
My interest in music and clubs started around '74. And I did used to sneak out to the odd club in Tottenham and the old Mecca disco in those surrounding areas. There was one club I used to go to which was a sort of ska/reggae disco and that's where I learnt to smoke! Then obviously when I left home I was unleashed.

DD: Where did you move to when you left home?
Princess Julia:
I actually moved into my father’s other house, round the corner. We had lodgers, other lodgers, it was a sort of halfway-house. I had a job in Knightsbridge and was doing hairdressing at a salon called Crimpers, and I soon made friends with people in another salon called Smile, which was above the Fiorucci shop in Knightsbridge, right by the station. It was discos, gigs, hairdressing, discos, gigs, hairdressing, now it’s just discos and gigs, not much hairdressing.

DD: What about the Blitz?
Princess Julia:
That was a bit later. I left school in ’76 and there was punk – then a bit of a lull. I'd made friends and those who weren’t in bands or touring went on to be part of the Blitz, the New Romantic scene. Basically Rusty, Eagan, Steve Strange wanted to do a little night, so it was Club for Heroes and Gossips, or Billy’s in Meard Street, Soho. I could do a tour of London where the clubs and things used to be. You know what I mean? The night moved to a club called The Blitz in Holborn and that name just sort of stuck. In reality it only lasted about a year and a half.

DD: And you were part of the Warren Street squat...
Princess Julia:
The Warren Street squat was a sort of catalyst of the time because of the people there – Stephen Jones, Lesley Chilkes, David Holah, you know a myriad of people. They were at Saint Martins, studying. I shared with Stephen Jones and a designer called Lee [Sheldrick], who actually went to Japan to live, and is no longer with us, I’m afraid. Jeffrey Hinton used to come and stay and I forced him to move in when he left college to go and work as an illustrator! Upstairs from us, another section of Warren Street, John Maybury, David Holah, Christine Binney, and Lesley Chilkes got a flat in Godwin Courts – the ‘God-Squad’ as named by the police. And Kim Bowen, Jeremy Healy and Stephen Linnard, they got a flat together.

DD: Living and socialising with other creatives is a template that underscores today's east London.
Princess Julia:
It's all part of the history of squatting. it’s quite interesting because I interviewed Andrew Logan, and you know that film, 'The British Guide to Showing Off'? Well, I don’t know whether you’ve seen it but there’s some really amazing early footage of the early 70s, and they all squatted, I guess by Canary Wharf. Early Alternative Miss Worlds took place in these squats they had over in the east and it was just derelict, you know? So there is this sort of fabulous history of creative people squatting in come sort of capacity. Andrew Logan, he was studying to be an architect at the RCA, took some acid and became a sculptor. Derek Jarman was there too, and they started doing these sort of camp gatherings, Alternative Miss World and that’s how they evolved.

DD: There was the House of Beauty and Culture – John Moore, Judy Blame, Frick & Frack, Richard Torry – in Dalston in the late 80s...
Princess Julia:
 I used to do pirate radio in the 80s, probably about ’86 or so, Girls FM or whatever it was. We used to do shows from lots of the council flats round here, but it was kind of really desolate I’ve got to say. There was a very underground gay scene here in the east end though, the London Apprentice, the 'LA' and that was a big leather-man’s club where the 333 is now. There was nothing on Hoxton Square before the Bluenote opened and later with the Brit Art movement, Gregor Muir started the Lux gallery and Jay Jopling started the White Cube – he always had openings with free beers on the square, which I think is very community-minded. I think it’s very important to be considerate, it is a very residential area, you know, it’s not the west end actually.

Where the Dragon restaurant is that used to be The Spiral Staircase, and I used to go to karaoke there on a Sunday sometimes. Over in Commercial Road – and it’s still there I think – is The White Swan, where they had a very funny tea dance. Benjis too we used to go to in the 80s, and that was at the end of Commercial Road as well. That was considered quite glitzy, that would be an outing! So there you go.

DD: And what about the area now, does it still excite you?
Princess Julia:
I mean, there’s a lot more people in London than there were in the 80s. And I’m quite fascinated at how the demographic of high-life has shifted from the west end, although there is a scene there and a community, but it’s geared up towards visitors. The east end, from the late-90s onwards, has become this decadent outback, of sorts. I guess it’s lost its bleakness. I’ve lived all over London, Kensington Church Street, Notting Hill Gate, Warren Street, Kings Road, all over, and I’ve come back to where I was born. I’ve always felt very comfortable on this side, to be fair. I do think it’s great how a little street like Redchurch Street can been such a thriving art centre at the moment, but it’s down to people like Sean McClusky who's been here for years, doing things. Return to New York in Liverpool Street at the Great Eastern hotel, that was a great night, I saw Blondie there. Then there's Richard Battye deciding to open his own pub and the infamous night Radio Egypt...

DD: Yes, The George & Dragon...
Princess Julia:
When I heard about that, I came running! I was living in Coptic Street, at the back of the British Museum, and I thought 'right, I’m going round there!' Because I knew [The Lovely] Jonjo and Pippa [Brooks] from before. It was kind of amazing, that and I feel really a part of it. It's one of the reasons why there's that community-minded spirit around here now. And today my friends Patrick and Farika have got The Nelson’s Head, another one of my locals. There's a fancy dress dog competition coming up, Lulu Kennedy’s the judge. Things like that are really amusing – who’d want to go anywhere else?!

Actually, if I can back-track a little, I remember in the 70s there were a few gigs in the east end – I went to see Wayne, now Jayne, County at some pub. The PA system broke down, so he just sang country and western songs without a mic. That was probably about ’77, before [Derek Jarman's] Jubilee. I think a lot of that was filmed in the east end as well.