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Thursday, July 25, 2024

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Nathaniel Hall: Cruising saved my life…

Diva worship has been a mainstay of queer culture from day dot. This month, Nathaniel Hall writes how a remarkable Yorkshire icon introduced herself into his life just at the right time

Us queers love our divas. From pop princesses to feisty female film leads, they offer us an escape from the mundanity of everyday life. In my college days, Celine was cemented as my top diva, but then in 2006, a chance encounter changed everything. 

I studied drama at Bretton Hall, a beautiful 18th-century mansion in West Yorkshire. Wakefield was our nearest town. On this fateful day in 2006, I was exiting the market to catch the bus back to campus when I saw her, the diva that would replace Celine. Jane McDonald. 

Our eyes locked outside the tripe shop (it’s Wakefield’s finest delicacy apparently) and as she crossed the town square laden with shopping bags from Wakey’s most glamourous outlets (BHS and Peacocks). She was the picture of ITV daytime glamour against the backdrop of the rough northern town.

The Iconic Jane McDonald

I shouted after her, well sort of shrieked with camp excitement. She turned, smiled, gave her signature false nails wave, and continued on her way. Screw Celine, a new queen was in town. I returned to campus daydreaming of a future where Jane and I would bump into one another at glam celeb events and regale people about our hilarious first meeting outside the tripe shop in Wakey.

Fast-forward to 2019, I’m stumbling out of my second failed relationship, I’m in a lot of debt and I’m moving back home with my parents. Very Bridget Jones, I know. But, as I sailed towards my mid-thirties, single, sad and lonely (even my cat left me for another man), a saviour with cracking hair, a cracking set of pipes and a knack for one-liners sailed back into my life. Jane had returned to save me.

Every Friday night whilst my parents were out having more of a social life than me, I reconnected with Jane over a G and T. Cruising With Jane McDonald. Never has a finer television show existed – and I’ll fight you on that.

OK, so the green credentials of going on a cruise ship aren’t great (cruise on the heath instead of the sea and save the planet!), but the show gave me a boost at a time when I most certainly needed it. Right from the opening credits where Jane declares: “I’ll show you how to cruise with confidence.” The entire show is a gay man’s wet dream.

From proclaiming she loves ‘a good sausage’ whilst visiting an American food hall, to confessing she loves ‘a line’ whilst demonstrating the place to dry your swimming cosy in the cabin bathroom, it’s clear Jane knows her audience.

Granted, reading directly from Google on her phone, Jane’s research techniques have much to be desired, but you can always count on her for a good laugh – she’s the kind of mate you want to take on a Club 18-25 (if you’re still young enough that is). And, OK, so Jane’s knowledge of history and culture may need sprucing up a bit. After being shown a statue of Italian National Treasure Garibaldi in Rome, in her signature Yorkshire twang, she replied, ‘ooh, good biscuits.’

But these things I can forgive, because like a cup of Yorkshire tea accompanying those good biscuits, Jane’s camp wit warmed me, restored me even. I made an entire Instagram story dedicated to her fabulous northern camp.

With talk of ‘huge organs’, ‘catching fresh crabs’ and a belting rendition of Madonna’s Ray of Light to a studio full of bewildered pensioners, you’ll soon see why Jane will always be my ultimate diva.

OK, so Jane and I remain strangers and are yet to bump into one another at that glam celeb event. But as she likes to say herself, ‘a stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet.’ And perhaps Jane didn’t really save me.

Two years of self-work and intensive therapy did that, but our Friday nights together reminded me that if a woman from a town with a tripe shop can cruise the world with confidence, then so can I. And for that Jane, you truly are iconic.

You can follow Nathaniel on Insta @nathanieljhall

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