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A friend's memories of Sue King

Thu 24 Oct 2013 In: Hall of Fame View at NDHA

The stories are rolling in about a woman who will go down in New Zealand's gay history, Sue King. The talented designer was 'Mother Sue' to many on the Auckland scene in the 1970s, including Wayne, who tells us some of his favourite tales: Sue King (supplied) I moved from the country to Auckland, a very naive youngster when it came to the gay scene. I had never heard of a gay bar or the word camp. I found the Empire Hotel, which in those days... the '60s and '70s… was the place to be. The hotel had a large bar, crammed every weekend with a really colourful bunch of gays. There was an outside area where Tony the DJ played fabulous music, these were the days of disco. The other smaller room was a piano bar, where we all gathered when the pub shut and had a ball. I moved in to the hotel to live, as my two best friends Dave and Pete lived there. As soon as I met Sue she took me under her wing and looked out for me. I use the expression 'under her wing' as Sue had this thing about feathers, and every costume she had was made with feathers sewn into it, and she must have owned dozens of feather boas, which she flung around her neck, before she made her grand entrance. I was completely awed by this lady, as I had never seen such glamour in all my life. Sue would spend the week making a new dress for the weekend. She was a brilliant designer and seamstress, and was forever making clothes for the drag queens who ran the show at Mojos Niteclub. My god, over the years I would hate to think how many stunning creations she turned out. But I digress. It was the costume that Sue made each week that amazed us all. She would wait at the top of the empire staircase, until the bar was full... then, in her best Mae West fashion, she would sweep down the stairs and into the packed bar where she always received a rousing ovation. Sue loved to be the centre of attention, but only in a nice way. She had a great set of boobs which the costume always showed to the fullest. The room was always livelier once Sue arrived, and you could hear her voice above all others. I don’t think she ever had to buy a drink. Not the lady who looked as though she was about to grace the Las Vegas stage. Her favourite saying when she liked something was "stunnarettarollaratarootaroota" which I still laugh at today. Only Sue could have come up with that one. At the end of the evening, Sue would lead us in song, with her best friend Robert playing the piano. A young man, and so talented. We always knew where Sue had been in the hotel at night, as we just followed a trail of feathers. We would always tell Sue she was moulting, and I said the place looked like a farmers' poultry convention had been through the hotel. One night we were all very drunk, and sitting in the lounge upstairs, throwing vicious comments at each other, each trying to outdo the one before. That was how the gays were in those carefree days. Sue was in top form, I said she probably had feathers sewn on down below, to which she replied: "No, but the bastards made it crooked!" And without further ado she hitched up her dress, and proceeded to show us her masterpiece, which was indeed was crooked. What a glorious night that was. It went down in gay folklore as "the night of the twisted fanny." You have to remember, we were living through the carefree pre-AIDS days, and were in it for a good time, which we certainly had. Heaps of money, single or a gay partner, we could afford to tear it up every night. But, when AIDS hit, we were the first ones to become AIDS workers and care for all of our wonderful young mates. Sue was in there, working at all times, what a wonderful lady she was. I got dumped by my first boyfriend, and it was the end of the world, so thought it called for a dramatic gesture, as we were all into drama in those days. I went to Sue's room as she had bottles of tablets, and emptied the contents of one into my mouth, then went to the bedroom to die. The next morning, while I was still out to it, Sue stormed into my room screaming: “You took all my hormone tablets!” Needless to say, each time I saw Sue, she would pinch my nipples and say: “Are they growing yet darl?” Sue had a drawl to her voice which made everything she said funny. We would all troupe up to Marcus Craig’s Diamond Lil show at the weekends, as Marcus always held the two front tables for Sue and her entourage. Aand what a motley troupe we must have looked parading up Queen Street to the niteclub. Those were the days when we wore jeans so tight, that you had to lay on the floor to get them on. They were bell-bottom ones. Some gays put them on wet and let them dry skin tight. Not like today. We were ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. I will never forget a piece of gay history, as we all got ready to go to the first NZ Debutante Ball, held at the Peter Pan Ballroom on Upper Queen St. I have a very faded photo of Sue, a very young Georginia Beyer and eight drag queens, all dressed in ball gowns, standing along the stairway at The Empire. Once again the natives were shocked, as we trouped up Queen St. That bloody street was so aptly named in those days. I was not going to the ball as poor Cinderella had nothing to wear. And I was not going to shave myself, as I had a moustache, and nooo way was I getting into drag. So on the day of the ball, Mother Sue got down some beautiful lurex material, and made me up, in a few hours, a really tight fitting jumpsuit, low cut in front to show off the hairy chest. Then she sprayed my hair with silver glitter. I was rapt. Thank you again dear Sue, you were mother to us all. I decided the jumpsuit needed a final touch, so rolled up socks and placed them very strategically. Never got hit on so many times as that night. Needless to say, Sue kept grabbing me all night. Fun, fun, fun! I loved that lady, as she was one of a kind. When God made the mold for Sue, he broke it afterwards. I have so many stories to tell of her antics, but I must stop somewhere. Sue lost her breasts to cancer years ago, and it was especially sad, as she worked so hard to get them and must have gone through loads of pain. I only hope that now she is crossed over and her body is fully restored, she doesn’t start flashing them around... that my dear Sue, is a no,no. The young ones today don’t know the fun years that we lived, nor how many of Sue’s friends passed from AIDS. But black, white, trans or drag queen, down to the shy little gay boys, Sue was mother to all and life is just that much poorer for the passing of an icon in the gay world. Rock on Sue.      Wayne - 24th October 2013

Credit: Wayne

First published: Thursday, 24th October 2013 - 8:37pm

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