Once upon a time, too many years ago, I was a shop boy on Chelsea’s trendy King’s Road. Days on the tills and nights on the tiles were the best probation for a young gay man about town. Back then, I pulled quite a crowd in a small local saloon appropriately called ‘The Queen’s Head’ along the even more appropriately called ‘Tryon Street.’ It was a time when safe havens for happy homosexuals were few and far between and the pub provided a venue for people from all walks of life to meet and natter over a sweet sherry with the promise of more. Out of necessity, the gay scene was a great social leveller. The lord and the navvy would mingle happily without deference or embarrassment. What you were trumped who you were. This is when I served my apprenticeship and why kissing arse has never been my style. These days, the gay scene has been commercialised, internationalised and diversified beyond recognition with big business chasing the pink pound, leading to the decline of the little boozers away from the main drag with their no-frills bonhomie. Such is the case for the Queen’s Head, probably Britain’s oldest gay pub, with a pink lineage stretching back to the buttoned-up Fifties. It no longer draws in the punters from far and wide and relies too heavily on an aging crowd who, like me, are in constant danger of permanently dropping off their bar stools. Takings are down.
The inevitable happened. Developers stepped in with plans to convert the building into luxury flats. Time to make a killing. After all, this is Chelsea, a place with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. Locals were having none of it, gay and straight alike (and those in between). There was a groundswell of opposition supported by a well organsied petition. I signed it for old time’s sake. I’m glad to report that the wise burghers of Kensington and Chelsea (my old employers) saw the writing on the wall and turned the planning application down. The pub has been saved – for now.
I’m not one of those old fairy farts who bleat on about how much better it was back in the day. It wasn’t. Many (if not most) gay people lived in fear of prosecution, exposure, blackmail and violence. I’m glad the scene is out of the closet and on the high street. However, next time I mince down the King’s Road, I’ll definitely be popping into my old trolling ground for a pint or two. Why don’t you join me? If the gay community really does have a culture worthy of the name, the Queen’s Head is surely part of it.
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