The drag queen who started Sunderland’s longest-running gay night is hanging up his feather boa and stilettos to start a new life in the sun.
With his skyscraper heels, bouffant wigs and razor sharp tongue, Miss Trixie has become a familiar sight at Ttonic in Vine Place where, aside from four days holiday a year, he’s held camp court every Tuesday night for the past 14 years.
But the man behind the make-up, Timothy Beckett, is packing up his flamboyant alter ego and putting her in storage as he takes early retirement to move to Lanzarote.
Over the years Timothy has helped to spark a shift in attitude towards the gay community, leading the city’s annual Pride Festival for the past six years and working with city authorities to help support diversity, such as with the appointment of a gay liaison police officer.
“It feels almost like a funeral, and I’m happy and sad about that,” said the entertainer who’ll be swapping his jeans and denim jacket for one of Trixie’s feathered frocks for the last time tonight.
Recalling his first event in Ttonic, a gay night which paved the way for a weekly gay night in the city, the 50-year-old said: “I’d left home in Hartlepool for London at 17 where I thought the streets would be paved with gold. That wasn’t the case, but I never thought I’d return to the North East. Growing up in Hartlepool, being openly gay, I’d been met with a lot of hatred.
“But an agent booked me to appear at a charity night at Ttonic for the Terence Higgins Trust (a charity which supports people who’ve been diagnosed as HIV positive). It surprised me that a city with a university didn’t have a gay bar and I asked the owners if I could host a gay night. Between Manchester and Newcastle there seemed to be nothing for the gay community.
“It was a big risk at the time, but the owners were fully supportive and have been ever since. I thought it would be just another night’s work, I never imagined I would become so involved.”
The gay night proved a hit, with Ttonic drawing in huge crowds. Other bars followed suit and, at its peak, around a dozen bars in the city centre took part in the weekly night.
It was not the first time Timothy had made a stand for change.
Further afield, the entertainer had stood shoulder to shoulder with other gay activists during the troubled times of the ‘80s.
“When I moved to London originally it was at the height of the Aids epidemic and we buried a lot of people,” he recalled. “I became a buddy for the Terence Higgins Trust and would go into hospitals to bathe the patients because the nurses didn’t want to.
“I felt so passionate about supporting the gay rights movement. One day I was arrested 15 times under the Public Order Act because we’d chained ourselves to the House of Parliament during the Thatcher years. The Tory government had brought in Clause 28 which meant that schools and libraries couldn’t carry literature about being gay. It was a terrible time.
“I was an activist with Stonewall and we fought so hard in those years.”
But, as he turns 50, the entertainer feels the time is right to ditch the drag and swap his stilettoes for flip flops.
“I’ve been a drag act for 30 years, half of that time being at Ttonic, and I feel like everything I’ve fought for I’ve achieved,” said Timothy who’s worked across the UK and Spain. “Ttonic and Eazy Street are the only places who take part in gay night now and that’s a good thing, it’s because the gay community are accepted. “Times have changed so much, we have civil partnerships and marriages and I’ve seen the age of consent be lowered from 21 to 18 to 16. People at university don’t care if their friends are gay or straight, they accept you whatever.
“Of course there is still a need for a gay night and DJ Skippy will still be doing the Tuesday nights here, it will still go on without me, but it’s more of a fun night for everyone now.”
After his own struggle with addiction a decade ago, Timothy is hoping to help others with addiction in the future through support groups and charity work.
He says he’ll miss his alter ego who he describes as “Roy Chubby Brown in drag”, but he won’t miss teetering about in vertiginous heels for six hours a night.
“I put on a persona for Miss Trixie, she’s wild and doesn’t suffer fools, but I’m actually quite private and quiet when I’m not her,” he said. “I’m looking forward to some me time. I have no plans to be Trixie in the future, but never say never, as they say in the entertainment world always leave the audience wanting more.”
•Miss Trixie’s farewell party takes place from 9pm tonight at Ttonic. All are welcome.