THE BLOG

My Life In Gay Soho

12/09/2014 16:41 BST | Updated 12/11/2014 10:59 GMT

I'm not entirely sure how I ended up, fully suited and booted, swinging around the lap dancing pole on the dance floor of the gay club in the basement of my building.

It was quite some time ago, to be sure, as the pole is long gone, victim to a massive refurbishment to "improve" the club and its facilities. (The only major improvement I'm personally aware of is increased soundproofing, as I wake up less often at 2.45am as the sound system is cranked up to eleven for that essential last twerk of the evening.)

Alcohol definitely played a part in it. And I could claim, like the Maltese Porno Boy from the lap dancing joint opposite, who enviously eyes the punters filing nightly into the gay club, that I was only really lured in by my desire to emulate heroines like Cilla Black and Kylie Minogue, both of whom had been reputedly spotted doing a twirl round the basement club's then famous pole.

But it was mostly my relentless role as a Soho whinger, lobbing in endless complaints to Westminster Council about noise levels that even I, as a dedicated resident, couldn't quite handle, that led to me doing my Showgirls number, surrounded by a chorus line of adoring young men. (I think I did actually hear the words "Hello Daddy" being muttered under the breath of at least one gorgeous young man clad in not much more than his underpants. I'd like to think it was my Brad Pitt looks and ripped physique that led to the comment, but I fear it was more likely due to an assessment of the likely size of my bank account, given the Hugo Boss suit and shoes I was clad in at the time.)

I was on my way back home from a night at the Groucho with my then girlfriend when I was lured in to the club through its - I can't put this any other way - back passage. The lovely people who run the place, finally tiring of the Council's Noise Abatement Officer turning up at 1am to check their decibel levels, saw me passing and insisted that I at least experience the joys of the place myself one time. So in a wonderful Goodfellas-style moment, the girlfriend and I were wafted down the stairs, through the kitchen, and onto the dance floor to enjoy a full-on night of gay (and of course, straight and everything in-between) revelry.

The management were good enough to consult me when the recent refurb happened, even offering to shift one speaker that we worked out was pretty much directly under my bedroom several floors above.

But, however much the club has contributed to my sleepless night, I wouldn't in any case have objected to a license renewal, as all of us Soho residents owe a great deal to the gay community for improving our neighbourhood.

There's a myth that Soho has always been the epicentre of gay life in London. Not true. Apart from one or two pubs, a club or two on the fringes, and at least one hidden away brothel, Soho was a much more heterosexual than homosexual hangout from the 18th to late 20th centuries.

It was only when Westminster Council, under pressure from some high-end residents, decided in the 1980s to aggressively pursue a policy of driving out the sex trade by shutting down unlicensed premises that gay entrepreneurs spotted an opportunity. As writers like Matt Houlbrook and Matt Cook have pointed out, by the mid-80s the (visible) sex industry in Soho consisted of five licensed sex shops, three strip clubs and two soft-porn cinemas, leaving a lot of empty premises ripe for the picking. In 1986, the Swiss Tavern on Old Compton Street became Comptons, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I remember Balans opening across the road from Comptons in the early 90s, and from that point on, the entire area received a lift from the Pink Pound, with new and stylish shops and bars opening almost every month.

So as I sit on my rooftop looking out at the rainbow flag flying proudly over a nearby pub, I raise a glass to all those smart businessmen and women who've made my neighbourhood such a lovely, stylish, inclusive and fun place to live. That's got to be worth the price I pay for that last twerk of the evening a few floors below me.