Why Jodie Harsh Is Britain's Best-Known Drag Queen

Tom Barnes

Photography by Tom Barnes.

No lip-syncing, no singing, no dancing, no jokes. But if that makes British performer Jodie Harsh sound like she wouldn’t last the first round in, say, a televised search for the next drag superstar, think again. 

Harsh is the hottest drag DJ going. Her current gay club night, Room Service, has requests from people from the other side of the world, desperate to get photographed there. “I get people from Australia going, ‘I want a Room Service picture,’ ” she explains, referring to the ultra-airbrushed, wildly sexy shirtless shots the club takes of its patrons, which inevitably end up as slightly disingenuous profile pictures on dating apps. “They can get a bit cartoonish sometimes, but I don’t care.”

A journalism graduate of the London College of Fashion, Harsh — real name Jay Clarke, drag name adapted from “a crappy British celebrity called Jodie Marsh” — started working club night doors but quickly became queen bee at Circus, her champagne– and celebrity-fueled noughties club. Circus ran for six years from 2006, featured credible DJs (Robyn, Róisín Murphy, and the xx all played), and drew incredible guests: Kate Moss brought the paparazzi, the Geldof girls were regulars, and actress Jaime Winstone and pop star Paloma Faith became proper pals. “Alexander McQueen, Kelly Osbourne, and John Galliano were regulars; Amy Winehouse would usually rock up for the last five minutes,” recalls Harsh. “It was a real moment.”

But it’s as a DJ and producer that Harsh has really pushed the limits of what a drag queen can do. She was too busy to organize her 30th birthday party in February this year because she was playing Madonna’s U.K. launch of Rebel Heart. She’s DJed the MTV and Brit Awards. Her remixes of Beyoncé’s “Blow” and “Pretty Hurts” both hit number 1 on the Billboard dance charts, and she’s been number 1 in her own right in Europe on an EP featuring former Spice Girl Mel C. All of this, you’ll note, way before any of RuPaul’s children heard of iTunes. “I don’t jump on stage and perform. DJing has always been my hook,” she says. “I get booked because I’m a really good DJ, and I have this look. And there aren’t any other drag queen DJs. Well there are, but…”

Right now Jodie Harsh is at a pivotal point in her career, her trajectory headed onward and upward. She will be a judge on the U.K. version of Drag Race, and there’s a publishing deal, with her co-writing with ex-Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts and Ray of Light producer William Orbit. She doesn’t rule out stepping in front of the mic herself either. “That’s kind of up for negotiation at the moment. I would like to be Diplo in a wig. That’s where I’m aiming for.”

Find Jodie Harsh videos on YouTube. 

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