F rom a skinny, ginger-haired kid from Walsall who was bullied at school, to The Very Miss Dusty O, ‘the Queen of Soho’ who would rule London’s drag scene in its most dazzling era. The Boy Who Sat By The Window follows an unassuming David Hodge, separated from other children at school and made to sit by the window, on to his remarkable career, with celeb buddies including Kylie Minogue, The Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper and, of course, Boy George.

But behind the glitter, there was a far starker reality. David worked simultaneously at London Lighthouse, the pioneering centre for the care of people living with HIV and AIDS, a place of light, kindness and love. Here, the young David grew up fast and opened his eyes to the true impact of this terrifying pandemic.

After two decades in clubland, as drink and drugs started to take their toll and he feared he was developing his father’s alcoholic patterns, David changed his life yet again…

He is now an acclaimed artist who has had five international exhibitions of his unique brand of pop-art, including one in the Houses of Parliament. Happily married to Marc, these days he leads a quieter if no less creative life. ‘The Queen of Soho’ is dead. The Boy Who Sat By The Window lives on.

In July, Sam Bennett talked to him about AIDS, art, and artisan bread shops. 

I write these questions amidst a Conservative leadership contest and a heatwave – which of these do you prefer? 

Both are pretty grim. I’m a menopausal ginger queer so the sun is my enemy and the current batch of right-wing handbag thieves that constitute our government are little more than corporate criminals and clowns. Don’t get me started on the current government. They all make me feel sick to the stomach. Vile bunch. 

 

I’ve been looking at some of your artwork – what inspired ‘Target Practice’? 

‘Target Practice’ is about hunting and how repulsive it is. I’m virulently opposed to hunting. It’s a leftover from an age we should have left behind and it makes me very angry and equally sad that the toffs are still able to get away with it under the guise of trail hunting. Sadly, that is the society we are forced to endure. Hopefully not forever. 

 

As The Very Miss Dusty O, you gigged in Russia, would you ever exhibit art there? 

No. I wouldn’t visit or work there which is sad as it’s beautiful. Not until Putin is out and they move forward both democratically and socially. Russia is like a tortured soul unable to move forward and away from its past. I loved gigging there but it was also dark and a little frightening. 

 

In The Boy Who Sat By The Window, we learn your schooldays weren’t enjoyable (though you did love your English lit teacher, Mrs Wall) – how would you feel about going back into schools these days to teach? 

It would certainly be a challenge but I’m always up for one of those. It’s the most important job in the world. For me, as for so many obviously queer kids, it was hell on earth. I’m sure it’s moved on a lot since my day but I know there is still a lot to be done. 

 

Are you a full-time artist now, or do you also still have a ‘day job’, so to speak? 

I split my time – art is three days a week and I have a job in my friend’s hair salon which I love and work at part-time. It doesn’t feel like work which is great as I’m with my friends and we have so many laughs. I’m really lucky to have both worlds as part of my existence.  

 

Which other artists are exciting you at the moment? 

There are so many incredible artists out there. There is a guy called Adam Baker whose work makes me gasp. I am so jealous of his talent. I have a feeling he is going to be a huge star soon – I hope so anyway. And a guy called Joey Collins in Manchester does some incredible work with printing. There are so many it’s hard to name names as I would be here all day. 

 

In the book, you describe Dusty as an extension of yourself. What nowadays constitutes an extension of David Hodge? 

I don’t think I need an extension of myself these days. I just try and be authentic and honest and hope that it’s enough. I’m not out to prove anything to anyone other than myself so there’s a distinct lack of gilding the lily going on in my life. 

 

You address the AIDS epidemic in your book. Are you pleased by how that devastating period of LGBTQ+ history is being remembered on television currently? 

God yes! About time too. It was akin to a kind of gay Holocaust and we must never forget it. I don’t use the ‘H’ word lightly either. Russell T Davies did such a beautiful job with It’s a Sin. I hope I have described my own experiences with a similar amount of candour and heart. 

 

What are you reading right now? 

Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark. It’s a historical novel about the Queen’s granny, Mary of Teck. She was a woman and a half; you wouldn’t mess with that one! 

 

Boy George advised you how to go about writing your book – “write your truth. Try not to be spiteful, but don’t be afraid to tell it like it was” – what other advice has he given you recently? 

George is always telling you what to do. That’s how he is. I take what I want to take from that. He warned me the book would rustle a few feathers but, to quote him, “fuck ‘em”. 

 

In the book you talk about Soho “turning beige” – is there any innovation and alternativeness left there? 

I’m sad to say I don’t see much these days. There are hardly any small independent shops or studios, the queer element has been massacred by rent increases and corporate greed – it’s just snooty artisan bread shops and overpriced eateries now. I hardly ever go there. There is nothing for me anymore. Sad. 

 

The Boy Who Sat By The Window recalls the closure of the legendary Madame Jojo’s. Did you attend the venue’s vigil? 

I’m afraid I didn’t. I was in the middle of a breakdown at the time and was not in a fit state to do much at all. I was recently invited to a party at the venue. I declined. Let the little rich girls have their toys. 

You reached a point, as a drag queen, where you wondered about your purpose. To use your own words, today, what is the point of you and what you do? 

I am still working that out. I could bullshit you and tell you how wonderful life is but what point would that make? I am still working things out like us all. Some days I feel I am closer to an answer than others. Creativity is about changing direction and growing as a person but that rarely comes with no pain.  

 

What else are you working on? 

I continue to paint nonstop – whatever is in my head at that minute. I have been asked to do another book by my publishers which I am starting on shortly – an illustrated coffee table children’s story I have come up with. It’s a lot of work but I’m keen to get going on it. I hope to have another exhibition at some point but I sell well without having to hand over half of the cash to greedy gallery owners who do nothing to promote or understand your work. I’d rather flog them on Instagram to be honest.  

 

Finally, at your art show Back To My Roots, Baroness Cohen lent your mother her stole – has Jean Hodge given it back yet? 

Of course not! Her poodle Molly sleeps on it now. Thanks Baroness Cohen. 

 

The Boy Who Sat By The Window (Mardle Books) is out 8 September 

Images © David Hodge / Marc Abe 

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