Today I am talking to all misfits, nonconformists, mavericks, outliers, oddballs and wakadoos…..
Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in? Felt that you were an outsider or a nerd?
If you answer yes to all of those things then welcome to my world - you might just be in my tribe and we are here to celebrate wakadoodle pride!
When all my school pals had pictures of David Sylvain and Gary Kemp on their bedroom walls I was poring over a copy of Tennis monthly trying to work out whose arm was hitting the ball for a free pair of armbands.
When my school mates were in a spin about John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in Grease I was fantasising over getting a perm haircut and a tattoo like Sarah-Jane Owen of the Belle Stars. The Belle Stars were my ultimate idols. They were edgy, cheeky and totally unique. A 7 piece girl band in which 6 played instruments! A total bunch of glorious oddballs.
When I started doing my walking tours I was swept away by the stories of misfits. I mean who really wants to hear a story like this:
Sarah was a wonderfully compliant kid. Getting straight As and going on to get her needlepoint certificate. At the age of 20 she married John and they had two children, one girl and one boy. They lived in Neasden with a wonderful group of neighbours. The End.
*disclaimer* I am sure Sarah is a thoroughly nice girl, John a marvellously respectable man and there is nothing wrong in living in Neasden.
But would you rather:
Moll Cutpurse who was a 17th century flamboyant pickpocket. Well, to be honest we are not sure she was a pickpocket. She associated with thieves and she seemed to be a sort of Fagan character who had lots of worker bees out thieving for her. She also ran a little escort agency for women. So if you were a woman of a certain standing and fancied yourself a nice smart soldier or solicitor Moll or Mary Frith as she was known could set you up. In addition to her not so honest life she was a bit of an exhibitionist. She loved to stomp around Fleet Street with a pipe in hand, a doublet and baggy breeches pretending to be a man. One day a showman by the name of William Banks bet Moll £20 that she wouldn’t ride through Charing Cross to Shoreditch on a horse in her male ensemble.
Moll loved a good dare (as I do, which is why I ended up working for an airline) so she did it! What’s more she even announced herself with a trumpet and chose the famous performing horse Marocco to go on. Although she was a bit spooked when the crowd got a bit rowdy she got her £20.
Such was her reputation in London that two playwrights by the name of Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker wrote a play called the Roaring Girl about her and even made provision for Moll to have a walk on bit at the end. The crowd went absolutely crazy. You have to remember that women were not allowed on the stage back then, so this was very risky and totally illegal. What is theatre if it is not to challenge our perceptions I say?
When I started hearing stories such as this I could not help but smile from ear to ear. Moll was clever and funny and an original entrepreneur. Being a misfit, an outlier, she was definitely honoured amongst thieves. Her bravery in challenging the social norms fills me with total admiration.
In recent years experts who have studied her life are in dispute about whether she really was a thief. Some have said that she was tarred with that brush simply because she didn’t conform and to be honest when you look at what the media does these days to people they deem ‘different’ it’s something I can quite believe.
The Roaring Girl is still a play which is performed 310 years on. There have been plenty called Roaring Girl since Moll. More recently on ITV Anne Lister has been well and truly exposed. Seems like those good old days were not just about debutantes and eligible bachelors!
If you find this fascinating then I can thoroughly recommend the book Roaring Girls by Holly Kyte.
Come on my Fleet Street Tour to see Moll’s stomping ground and her place of burial.
Meanwhile I will leave you with a video of the Belle Stars in their gloriously whacky song Sign of the Times.