Thursday, December 17, 2009

high camp letter from Thailand...

    Rob Astbury was Australia's highest paid and most popular sport's reporter for the Kerry Packer TV network before he upped stakes and de-camped to sunny Thailand where he has helped build a property empire which currently involves the world's tallest apartment block in the beach resort of Pattaya, Oceon 1 Tower (rumours still persist that Elton John has purchased one of the penthouses)
          He stills files reports for various media outlets including a riveting eye-witness take on the Boxing Day tsunami, for the top Oz website Astbury was in the middle of the terrible event which devestated the Thai island of Phuket
         In his soon to be published autobiography called Twice as Hard , Astbury has devoted a chapter to Karen Chant , who like another Sydney gay icon Simone Troy, has a villa in Pattaya. Karen & Simone were top stars at the late ruler of Kings Cross night life 'Mr Sin' Abe Saffron's Les Girls.
         Karen Chant recently celebrated her 78th birthday by performing at the trendy new Pattaya gay show bar and hotel The Venue.

          According to Astbury's book in those days Karen recalls that dressing and living as a woman on a daily basis was out of the question. “It was all cloak and dagger stuff, but hysterically exciting all the same. If there was a party on a Saturday night, you needed to take your clothes with you, and get changed at the venue.” In spite of a lot of abuse at the time, Karen decided to live out the rest of her life as a woman and, if at all possible, become involved in show business.
         “Posh night clubs were just beginning to open and some were renowned for alternative entertainment.” The era is remembered affectionately as the Roaring 50s and very soon the prejudice against gays, and in particular cross dressing, was starting to turn. Karen’s trademark was impersonating Frances Faye and the two even became friends after Frances attended one of the live performances. Some years later Karen and Frances did a duet at the glitzy Chequers Club, and after the show Frances told reporters: “Karen does me better than I do myself.”
          tSS recalls those days when at times, it was more exciting than today's 'open closet' supposed freedom. As a callow youth, once when leaving Les Girls with a friend who had decided to dress as a Carmelite nun for the evening , we were accosted by 2 policemen who were attracted by our joyful singing of "Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam". The coppers made menacing movements as truncheons were drawn and I hid behind the nun's habits as he suggested the plods ring his father first. Which they did whereupon Carmelite Nun's daddy ordered the officers to escort us safely home in a squad car. Our nun's dad happened to be the head of the Vice Squad. Sydney was that sort of town.
          Karen Chant's star continued to rise at a club known as Purple Onion. Sunday nights were magic with la crème de la crème of the entertainment world often in the audience, including Margot Fonteyn, Rudolph Nureyev, Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black, Rosemary Clooney, Earl Grant and even the Beatles  crammed into a small disused warehouse watching a Las Vegas style drag spectacular.
           Karen and her partner of 46 years Jeffrey Lee relocated to Pattaya three years ago. At 78 most of us would take off the wig, moisturize the make up from our face and sit back to enjoy the fruits of our labor. However, Karen still performs free of any fee at Pattaya’s popular gay night spot The Venue and encourages patrons to donate towards a local charity for underprivileged children.

And brought to you at great expense is Thailand's version of Karen Chant's 'This Is Your Life":


A city that is much maligned because of pre-conceived attitudes and numerous inaccurate tabloid reports ( that insult the highly friendly Thai people) Pattaya has become one of Asia's most exciting and vibrant holiday spots that now hosts tens of thousands of expatriates attracted by perfect tropical weather, cheap living costs, dozens of beautiful golf courses and tennis clubs, yachting marinas and some of the best hotels and restaurants in the world. At night the city comes alive with sensational cabaret shows, hundreds of small drinking bars and glam nightclubs.

And where else would one see a parade of 200 be-decked elephants parading down the main boulevarde to honour the head of the much loved and hard working Thai Royal Family, and the world's longest ruling monarch HM KING BHUMIBOL ADULYADEJ, (King Rama IX) on his Golden Jubilee. The Thai people's respect and love for their Royal Family is one reason Thailand is called the Land of Smiles.

Jomtien-a beach resort just outside Pattaya is the up and coming place and The Venue it's latest top nightclub and inn consisting of a brand new hotel of 15 luxury suits, a swimming pool and spa, but is best known for its show bar. It's the brain child of Brits Ray Cornell, Darrell Bevers and Ken Townsley, who recently sold his highly successful travel business and retired to Pattaya.

         The credit for the outstanding success of the floor shows and the very high standard belongs to Ray Cornell and Darrel Bevers.

Ray, was born in London and performed in West End musicals and on television as a dancer, but he really made his name as a choreographer and theatre director. Darrell joined Ray in 1975 and together formed a theatrical company and talent agency supplying dancers and singers to major shows in the U.K and to cruise lines throughout the world.     Ray & Darrell with some local beauties.

While we're in a gay and hearty mood...

Check out Same Same's just announced list of the "25 most influencial gay & lesbian Australians". Included are recently retired High Court justice Michael Kirby, tSS's own medico Dr Kerryn Phelps, respected author David Malouf, Olympic diver and gay pin-up Matthew Mitcham (right) the very pretty MTV host Ruby Rose and the Aaron Neitch (left) who audtioned as a cheerleader for the Penrith Panthers' football team and surprised even himself when the macho players heartily accepted him.

Ruby Rose