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This week for the second part of our drag and love special, Bette Rinse, drag artist of more than twenty years, talks frankly and openly to Jason Reid about long-term love, repressed sexuality, drag beginnings and the future for her and husband Andrew… 

 by Jason Reid


Life was very different for Kev (Bette) when he met his soon-to-be partner, Andrew (with Bette and Jason Reid, above), in 1989. Working in a Post Office in West London, Kev was in a dark place emotionally, and in a bid to raise his spirits, his friend encouraged him to have an afternoon at the local pub, even though Kev had never been much of a drinker.

“I remember it like it was yesterday: the 27th January; my friend and I were having a great time, forgetting all our troubles, and then I got chatting to this guy at the bar. It sounds crazy, but I just fell in love with him instantly. After leaving the pub that evening I couldn’t get him out of my head, so I went back the next day to see if he was there again. He was.

“My heart just melted the minute I saw him. We drank the day away and I ended going back to his place. I remember gulping down a brandy and then getting sick (it’s never like it is in the movies); later I plucked up the courage to touch his leg. But that was all.”

It was almost like it was all meant to happen. A perfect love story unfolding. However, at the the time, Kev was already married to a woman, Karen, and had been for seven years, with two young children, Ben and Emma. On the 21st March 1990, three months into seeing Andrew, Kev told Karen everything. I asked him how she reacted to the news:

“She punched me square in the face [laughs]. After that, we continued to live together for the kids’ sake. Two years later, I told her she needed to move on as the situation was doing her no good, and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing we decided to get divorced. Since then we’ve stayed best friends and she’s still madly in love with me.”

The notion that many men suppressed their homosexual feelings, and even married, may seem absurd to today’s young generation, however, that’s what society and conscience dictated. As Kev explains: “I knew I was gay, but I didn’t want to be. It wasn’t accepted. It was wrong. I hid those feelings for many years.”

Drag started to ease its way into Kev’s life after he began working at the infamous Brief Encounter bar. He would dress up for fun and ‘just parade about’, as he puts it, with friends. “At first Andrew thought it was ridiculous, and he was quite worried for my safety. For three years I worked for nothing more than my bus fare, performing at charity nights and so on, but I really enjoyed it and kept at it. Ironically, over the last few years I’ve been wanting to give up performing and he has persuaded me not to. The tables have turned, “[laughs].”

Twenty-five years on, now civil partners, Kev and Andrew are as happy as they’ve ever been. Andrew talks of how he holds Bette in such high regard because ‘she’s a great talent’ and how Kev ‘has always been there for him.’ The future, Kev tells me with a giggle, is to ‘go on lots of holidays and be together for the rest of our lives.” He ends by telling me: “I love Andrew more and more every day. My children and ex-wife love him, too. We’re now one big family. Finally.”

 

• Bette Rinse performs at Halfway to Heaven (7 Duncannon Street, WC2N 4JF) every Tuesday from 9pm. 

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Outings at the Kings Head Theatre for Pride Month.

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