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Tributes pour in for ‘true Soho icon’ Ruby Venezuela

Memorial event set to be held at church after death of Madame Jo Jo's legend

17 August, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Priest says ‘another feather boa has been stripped from our streets’

SOHO is in mourning after the death of legendary drag queen and cabaret star Ruby Venezuela.

A memorial event will be held at St Anne’s church next month for the “Soho icon” and former artistic director of Madame Jo Jo’s.

Real name Brian Pierce, she ran her own club, Ruby’s, for more than a decade in Chinatown where she was joined on stage by the likes of Lily Savage, Adrella, Regina Fong and the club’s famous “Barbettes”. A regular performer and fundraiser at the Soho Society Soho Village Fete, Ruby boasted glitzy friends including Peter Stringfellow and Joan Rivers.

St Anne’s priest, Rev Simon Buckley, said: “Ruby was a terrific performer who loved Soho and cared deeply about this community. She was a true Soho icon and in her passing it feels like another feather boa has been stripped from our streets.”

Friends told the Extra this week how Ruby had moved up to Blackpool to “recover and retire”.

They said it had been a “huge mistake” as she became “isolated and far away from friends and her London support net- work”. A petition set up in support of Ruby said she could not afford to return and that funds were needed to pay for a deposit on a flat.

“She has told us she is very unhappy where she is and misses everyone terribly. There is no one for her to talk to and the area she’s moved to is desolate and dreary,” the petition said.

A portrait of Ruby by Damien Frost

Born in Plymouth, Ruby became a hit on the drag circuit, performing at Madame Jo Jo’s and Club Fantastic. Inter- viewed in the West End Extra eight years ago the then 63-year-old said: “I may not be young, but as soon as the music starts I can’t help but jump around.

“There’s not many of us left. Now drag artists are basically transvestites who mime and can’t sing. But people will always love over-the-top glamour, and it fits in nicely with the burlesque revival.”

Soho singer Lanah P recalled meeting a “huge ball of sequins” in the 1980s and told how Ruby raised funds for Aids hospices or homelessness, performing at the The Soho festival or Phoenix Theatre.

Lanah added: “I’ve always been interested and partial towards the avant-garde or post-modernistic elements of the performer and one of my fave periods of Ruby was when she’d come on stage dressed as a bed. It even had cigarette burns on it – but tidier than Tracey Emin’s – and sing this mad song called I’d Rather Have You, but she’d changed the words to “I’d rather have crumbs in my bed”. Hilarious!

“I always found her great theatrical value and quite a kind-hearted, generous soul, so now rest in peace, dear.”

The editor of Pride Life, Nigel Robinson, told Gay Star News: “I hesitate calling her a drag queen/artiste because she was more than that, more like a bonkers tornado coming in from Kansas, the lovechild of Mrs Shufflewick, Ethel Merman, Mervyn Peake, and Beryl Cook, but above all else her very own character, bringing delight to everyone, young and old.”

Theatre producer and manager Clive Chenery, in an online post, described Mr Pearce as “Soho royalty”, adding: “Ruby sang at my 40th at Steph’s Restaurant. He was truly a one-off and is irreplaceable. He was immortalised by Beryl Cooke who was his next- door neighbour in Plymouth during his childhood. I was fortunate to know, and work with, Ruby on many occasions.”

He recalled driving Ruby driving back to Soho to perform in a show at Madame Jo Jo’s from a production of Cinderella in Guildford Civic Hall in 1988.

“They got a free tank of petrol one night on the A3 when Ruby got out to pay cash… in full drag.”

Mr Pearce is survived by his long-term partner, Arjan.

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