"I simply haven't the nerve to imagine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the planets revolving in their orbits and then suddenly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds."

"It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn't give enough."

"Nothing shortens a journey so pleasantly as an account of misfortunes at which the hearer is permitted to laugh."

"The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to plant their whole life in the hands of some other person. I would describe this method of searching for happiness as immature. Development of character consists solely in moving toward self-sufficiency."

 

 

I met and photographed Quentin Crisp on a few occasions, -he came to my Earl's Court studio and I visited him in his notorious Beaufort Street, Chelsea room, -you know the one that he never cleaned, of which he famously said -‘After the first four years it never gets any worse’ with regards to his long held belief that -‘Housework is for people with nothing better to do.’ I cringed a bit when he offered me a cup of tea, looking first at the state of the kettle, then the sink and then the pile of dirty cups, -but didn't like to offend, so reluctantly accepted!

It all started when on holiday one year I read the book of his life The Naked Civil Servant, all about his layabout days, working as a life model, and his series of disastrous jobs following on from his lifetime quest for an existence of "almost unprecedented obscurity" and "lack of accomplishment." I found his number (surprisingly easily), and blurted out on his answer that I'd read his book on holiday and wanted to come 'round and take his portrait, to which Quentin nonchalantly replied, but in the weirdest voice imaginable, -‘If you wish.’ This I quickly learned was a mixture of his absolute politeness and face to the world that anything that is okay with you, is okay with him. He always called me ‘Mr Watts’ (also in the spooky voice), never by my first name, that would be far too familiar and disrespectful, and he had this manner of always wanting to keep his distance, which I suppose this stance afforded him? I was later commissioned to photograph him for the cover of a magazine, and as per usual when commissioned, I either said that I'd never heard of the subject (to which the reply was often 'well I've obviously picked the right man for the job'), or as in this case, 'oh, I've already met/photographed him/her!' So when he came to my studio, although not on first name terms, we already knew one another which helped.

Anyroad, this bloke soon became my personal hero (I used to think ‘homophobic’ was being scared of your house?). I read other books that he'd written, like 'How To Become A Virgin', -and discovered he was one of my favourite sorts of person, -not one that I could say was like me, (he couldn't have been more opposite), but one that I could definitely relate to and I suppose played devil's advocate in presenting an opposite point of view to nearly everything I'd already made my mind up about, -you know like crap I'd learnt from my elders and peers, the established views of my age, class, era, background, -you name it, Quentin and his personal values challenged it. Not that he did this purposely or confrontationally, nor that I took any of it on board and actually changed, but it was good to know there were people out there with individually contrived views, someone that had re-thought and re-considered everything, accepted nothing and effectively, started again...

When The Naked Civil Servant was reprinted in 1975 on the strength of the success of the television version of his life story, Gay News commented that the book should have been published posthumously. Quentin said this was a polite way of their telling him to drop dead. This may have even been as a result of his outspoken views that modern gay culture was not entirely to his taste, re.: ‘When I was young, you never mentioned it. Now you never talk about anything else.' He'd also once referred to homosexuality as 'a terrible disease' -which didn't really go down a storm with the gay rights movement (often to be seen on their campaign bus with the distinctive registration plate of RU 12).

A lot of what he said was amusing and entertaining, but sometimes would really hit home and you would realise he was no lightweight in his philosophy of life. At one of his question and answer sessions in his one-man show, a girl in the audience asked -‘What is the quickest remedy for a broken heart?’ to which he replied -‘The quickest remedy is that you must learn not to value love because it is requited. It makes no difference whether your love is returned. Your love is of value to you because you give it. It’s as though you gave me a present merely because you thought I’d give you one in return. This won’t do. If you have love to give, you give it and you give it where it is needed, but never, never ask for anything in return. Once you’ve got that into your head, the idea of your heart being broken will disappear.’

Years after he came to my studio, and by which time he had become a minor, if not major celebrity (on the crisps and peanuts circuit as he liked to think of it), he decided to abandon England for New York, where he would become even more of a celebrity and less of an oddity. This decision was at the age of 72! I read an interview with him from there, explaining this decision and describing what he had to go through to become eligible to apply for American citizenship, thus: -‘They will give me an interview which is more or less like an exam. I will be asked to recite the oath of allegiance, name the presidents and explain the Constitution. If I pass I will be beyond deportation and able to commit my first murder.’ Brilliant or what?!

His first taste of America though had been at the outbreak of the Second World War, when he'd initially attempted to join the army but was rejected and declared exempt by the medical board on the grounds that he was ‘suffering from sexual perversion’. So he remained in London during the 1941 Blitz, stocked up on cosmetics, purchased five pounds of Henna and paraded through the blackout, picking up GIs, whose kindness and open-mindedness inspired his love of all things American. But his brief stint as a male prostitute was a failure: Crisp was simply too ostentatiously gay for a clientele that required discretion. He also summed this period up in a 1999 interview, explaining he was 'looking for love, but only found degradation.'

The sad thing was, he'd adopted America as much as America had adopted him, and he'd already decided that was where he wanted to end his days, and in fact die, completely without fuss, -he relished the idea that he would die as he lived - unconventionally, and in self-imposed exile. He said he hoped to be dropped in "one of those black plastic bags" and put out with the trash on the streets of his adopted East Village. Crisp would have appreciated the irony that when death finally got him, on Nov. 21st, 1999 at age 90, he was back in England and on the eve of a nation-wide revival of his one-man show, -not even in London, where he lived for most of his first seven decades, but in gruff Manchester, the heart of England's industrial north, and one of the least fabulous places on earth - a cosmic mistake if there ever was one. But his body was cremated with the minimum of ceremony, his ashes flown back to New York and scattered over Manhattan.

'You fall out of your mother's womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave...'