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Book Review: Kiss And Make Up

Friday 05 June 2015

Kiss and Make Up by Carl Stanley, published 15 June

Boy escapes from the provinces and makes good in the big city. Gay boy discovers night life and emerges from the chrysalis of clubbing into a triumphant butterfly. Both are well-established storylines of success, and both are encountered here in this memoir of a gay boy from the West Midlands making it to the bright lights of London and life as a successful make-up artist for publications such as Vogue and Dazed and Confused, and people ranging from Dame Helen Mirren, Jerry Hall and Paula Abdul to Margaret Thatcher (there’s a photograph of Stanley with the Iron Lady to prove it). 

The journey’s backdrop is Birmingham’s new romantic scene – we read of its legendary venues such as the Holy City Zoo and Barbarellas, and get name-checks of its leading lights such as singer Maggie De Monde (Swans Way, Scarlett Fantastic), and designer Patti Bell (one half of the flamboyant design team Kahn and Bell, purveyors of fashion for all sexes).  It’s sustained by its fair share of sex, drugs and a rock and roll soundtrack from the likes of Siouxsie, Marc Almond and Gina X.  Stanley encounters trouble at home and school over his appearance, but finds a refuge in clubs, where he learns to get chatted-up and discovers that the centre of the action is the Ladies loo.  We glimpse briefly the London scene of the Nineties – places such as The Daisy Chain and Kinky Gerlinky, and faces such as Princess Julia and Tasty Tim – and he gives a vignette of the decade’s Soho gay scene when there was prejudice against transgendered people before the acronym LGB received the addition of the letter T.

But Stanley’s story is also one of family dysfunction on a massive scale.  His mother was brought into the world with the age of forceps – the effects of which would prevent the bonding of mother and daughter – and subjected to a dose of ECT shortly after giving birth to Stanley.  An intelligent, ambitious woman, she was thwarted from pursuing a career just at the time when second wave feminism was starting to make itself felt.  The relationship between mother and son was one of constant sniping, fuelled by misunderstandings.  This situation would only be changed when Stanley started to write this book.  His mother had to assist on the technology front as his computer skills were limited (has anyone studied whether there are any correlations between artistic creativity and IT incompetence?). 

For the first time, mutual understanding started to develop.  And this is where the book is just as much of an inspiration as the story of Stanley’s struggle – indeed, possibly more so.  For it shows the potential and power of discussion in helping to resolve longstanding misunderstandings, rather than becoming entombed by insults.  Anti LGBT attitudes are a case in point. ‘Some People are LGBT.  Get Over It!’ may well be an attractive attitude – especially after undergoing a day of insults for being who you are – but is it enough to deal with the roots of prejudice rather than its symptoms?  The slog of discussion may be more productive than the seduction of slick slogans.

It’s good to learn that Stanley’s mother has been an engineer, teacher, businesswoman and, latterly, local councillor, whilst he now mentors female prisoners at HMP Send where he’s involved with the creative direction of the magazine The Beauty’s on the Inside.  But his book comes to an end in the Nineties.  Surely he has more fascinating stuff to tell that’s happened in the intervening two decades involving fashion houses, the big house (prisoners’ slang for their place of incarceration) and everything in between.  Let’s hope that Stanley will give us the next instalment of what has turned out – against all the odds – as his absolutely fabulous life.     

Published by Ignite Books


RRP: £11.99

Words:  Nicky Charlish