Sue Panover, the glitzy creation of Jamie Wake, only arrived in Reading in 2002.
Sue (well Jamie) grew up as an army baby settling in Kent after his (her) parents separated. Jamie didn’t know he was gay as a child and the only emotion he can recall as a child was loneliness. Of course, with hindsight there were clues: dressing up as Whoopi Goldberg from Jumping Jack Flash for fancy dress and being able to lip sync all of Sandra Dee’s lines from Grease. He left home at 16 with a rucksack to find himself and woke up one morning when he was 18 and realised he was gay.
Thankfully he was at Drama School so didn’t really encounter any homophobia. He found that there was little resource for young people who had or were contemplating coming out so established a support group for fellow students to join – even though he had only recently come out himself!
At this time, Jamie had met someone and Jamie moved in with them and he ended up in Margate. It was an unusual relationship (i.e. Jamie being given sleeping tablets by him to take) but it was a chance fancy dress night that Jamie started to create Sue. Jamie won the fancy dress competition (judged by the late Phil Star) and started to perform with Petra Alexander (from Bunny and the Rabbits) as the Gurlimen. Another relationship followed (and another!) and Jamie found himself moving to West London where Sue Panover became more established. When his relationship fell apart, Jamie was unfazed and enjoyed the single life and took up residencies to establish robust routine which was supplemented by acting work.
Jamie soon met someone and true to form left West London and came to Reading. Sue Panover was put in a box (Jamie didn’t drive at this point) and Jamie concentrated on a less flamboyant life.
Bored on the internet one day, Jamie found a discussion about a meeting to discuss establishing a pride festival. He didn’t want to go alone so dragged his partner and friend down to the meeting. It was agreed that Sue Panover would be used as a public figure to gain publicity as well as hosting the first pride festival in Reading (11am to 8pm!). Jamie was known for an Anne Robinson routine (Weakest Link) so a tour of the South followed to fundraise and raise the profile of Reading Pride.
Sue (now the Self Proclaimed First Lady of Berkshire) also stayed in a haunted house, had tea with the mayor of Reading and accosted Graham Norton at Tesco’s! Sue also became the topic of debate when an Evening Post columnist took Sue to task about her fake boobs (38DD). Sue also led the first ever Reading Pride Parade as well.
Jamie believes that Blatant is better than Latent. As both Jamie and Sue, he’s been vocal and championed equality for all. Sometimes the sequins get an audience so Sue has become a vehicle for LGBT Campaigning that can say things that Jamie is sometimes unable to say.
In August 2014, Sue Panover hung up her heels for the last time. An accident resulting in compound fractures in her arm and a fractured spine means that Sue faces a lot of pain when wearing high heels. Her last appearance was at this year’s Reading Pride festival where she insisted that she walked the parade. She was brought on stage to open the festival with the Mayor of Reading and was tricked into coming on stage to be acknowledged for the work she has done and to send Sue into retirement in style. Sue was also surprised and humbled to find that she was featured in the hidden voices project and a cartoon created of her on a t-shirt.
Jamie says that the character of Sue Panover has given him the confidence to speak in public and take on different roles in life – including that of a local politician. As Jamie, he was one of the strongest local voices surrounding Equal Marriage, started the OK2BGay Campaign and has stood for Election each year as an Independent candidate.
But will Sue ever reappear? As Jamie says, never say never!
See one of Sue Panovers’ outfits at the Reading Museum from the 20th January 2015.