Jodie Harsh looks back: ‘My goal was to be different, to be anything but normal’


Jodie Harsh is a DJ, club promoter, drag queen and recording artist. Born in Canterbury, Kent, in 1985, she moved to London at the age of 18 to study at the London College of Fashion. It was there she first appeared as Jodie Harsh and was quickly swept away by the city’s drag scene. As one of the noughties’ prominent party DJs and promoters, she became a tabloid fixture as the drag queen soundtracking London’s thriving nightlife. Having produced and remixed music for a decade, she is working on her own original songs. Her new single, Hectic, is out now.

This is me on my way to the launch of my episode of MTV Cribs. I decided to turn up to the party in a tiny little car. You’ve got to make an entrance, haven’t you? First impressions count.

I’m wearing my usual get-up and the hairstyle is the same as always. When it comes to appearances, I look up to showbiz icons like Anna Wintour or Andy Warhol, people who stick to the same style for decades. Their work comes first. That being said, there have been intricate, subtle adjustments made to my wig over the years. It’s getting smaller and smaller, which started during the pandemic, possibly as there was less need for drama.

Back when this was taken I had just started recording my own music. After spending so much of my career playing other people’s songs, I was wondering what my own tunes could sound like, and wanted to create something that would make people smile. That’s always been my ambition: whether it was throwing parties, raves or doing drag. I love fun.

I’m super happy with who I am today, and the way I’ve lived my life

Even back at school I felt that way. I did my homework, but I was the class clown, a little shit at times. I never got bullied, as I was protected by my girl gang – a ring of hard female school friends who smoked B&H fags round the back of the bike shed. You wouldn’t mess with them. That’s my advice to queer kids: find a few tough, scary girls. They’re your crew!

I was 15 when I started going to clubs with fake ID. I’d climb out of the bathroom window and sneak on to the train from Canterbury to London wearing a whistle and a crop top under my jacket. I’ll never forget stepping into G-A-Y at the Astoria for the first time. I’d battled with my sexuality for years but walking into that club, filled with 2,000 people like me, dancing and kissing, I felt as if I was home. There was an immediate sense of belonging and community that I hadn’t felt before.

After nights out, I would crawl back into my bedroom and head off to school with no sleep. I was open with my friends about what I was doing, but some of the kids at school were concerned about my clubbing exploits and told the headteacher, who was – unfortunately – friends with my grandmother. I was coming home from school one night when my parents picked me up and took me off to McDonald’s for dinner. This was unheard of in my family, so I knew something odd was going on. After we ate, we went home and sat down in my living room. Mum was crying. She said: “Is it true you’re gay?” Me, being a little shit, but also obviously internally quite distraught, replied: “Yeah, I am. And I am going out to clubs, I don’t care!” I never really got a chance to come out. I was more confronted, in a concerned way.

Me going clubbing, being gay, caused so much turbulence within the house. I still believe the whole drama was probably the catalyst for my parents’ divorce, which happened a few years later. When I started doing drag, I kept it a secret from Dad. We knew he didn’t really “get” the gay thing, so Mum decided: “Let’s not tell him you’re running around town in high heels. It just might send him over the edge.”

He did eventually find out, however. Five years into my career, I was asked to go on [Mary Portas’s TV show] Mary Queen of Shops, where I was tasked to style some grannies in a charity shop. Unbeknown to me, Dad was watching it with his new wife. He turned to her and said: “Is that my son?” His wife knew and said: “Yes.” We haven’t spoken since.

Instead I’ve made sure I’ve had older, male, queer role models to look up to, people like the late Paul O’Grady, who showed me how to navigate life. I am sure a lot of my drive and determination – my desire to put positivity out into the world – probably stems from that experience with my dad. I’m super happy with who I am today, and the way I’ve lived my life, and I am so fortunate compared with so many LGBTQ+ people around the world. I have such a huge, amazing chosen family that now surrounds me, so if there is one person from the first half of my life who doesn’t like the way that I am, then it’s his problem, not mine.

The strange thing about feeling so alien for so much of my teens and childhood was that I ended up flipping the concept on its head. My goal was to be different, to be anything but normal. I would always make a beeline for the weirdest, most glamorous person in the room.

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When I moved to London aged 18, I was thrilled that a bunch of drag queens took me under their wing. I did drag for the first time during my first week in the city at a club night called Fruit Machine in Heaven. Before the show, I went to the MAC cosmetics store on Carnaby Street in a baseball cap and sunglasses, and asked them to do my eyes “in drag” as I didn’t know how to do it. They did “big” makeup, which I know now wasn’t very big at all. I got a wig from a costume shop, shoved toilet paper in my bra and popped on a little dress from Pilot. I was so nervous at first, but as I walked through the club I felt empowered and strong. That night, my friend started getting off with [designer] Kim Jones and I started talking to [designer] Nicola Formichetti. My social life snowballed from there and I made it my mission to go out every single night. Within a month of doing drag, I was at some swanky do with Kate Moss.

My 20s were a blur. I had graduated and exploded on to the scene, DJing and living in Camden, where the whole Camden Caners thing was taking off at the Hawley Arms with Amy [Winehouse] and Kelly [Osbourne] and all the bands. It was an exciting time culturally, loads of brilliant music and extremely talented people getting wasted, but everything was captured by the paparazzi. I’d wake up at 3pm with a killer hangover and have to get the paper to find out what I did last night.

Throughout the years I’ve calmed down, softened. I’m definitely nicer. There was a lot of anger inside when I was falling out of nightclubs at 7am. I was probably working through the stuff with my dad subconsciously. Although I’ve gotten a little older, I’m still striving to give people a good time. And who knows what will happen with the wig. Fast-forward 10 years and it’ll probably be a tiny bob. No volume at all – just turning up the music.

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