My London: Billy Porter on staying at The Langham and taking on Nicole Scherzinger's Sunset Boulevard

Billy Porter’s My London (ES Magazine)
Billy Porter’s My London (ES Magazine)

Home is…

I’m a nomad right now. I’m in transition. I was settled for a while and then Covid happened. The strikes happened. But the lovely part about it is that I’m 54 years old. I’ve been in this business from the beginning. I’m good.

Where do you stay in London?

Now you’re asking! I usually stay with my friends in Clapham Common. But The Langham is where I’ve been staying most recently, over by BBC Radio 2. I like it because it’s not in the middle of everything. I stayed at a hotel, which was really nice — Ham Yard — but it was near Piccadilly Circus, which is Times Square-level busy.

Where would you go on a first date?

Take them to the theatre. The new reimagining of Sunset Boulevard was so stunning to me. It took my breath away — that’s how to revisit our classics. I need to replace Nicole Scherzinger. Wow. Put it out into the world. Lower some keys, but I just I want to be in that slip.

What was your first job in London?

I’ve not done any theatre, but I’ve been doing my music. I hosted a British Fashion Awards. And I shot Cinderella with Camila Cabello at Pinewood. But it only took me like five or seven days.

Which shops do you rely on?

Dover Street Market. Yohji Yamamoto: they see my ass coming and they pull out the champagne. Unfortunately, the last time I went we’d been on strike, so I was like, ‘This is a one or two-piece order!’ I also love Vivienne Westwood, but can’t afford her until I get another job. With the strike, the fallout was only passed on to us, not the C-suite. But I’ve always spoken truth to power, so I’m never gonna change that.

What’s the best meal you’ve had?

House of Koko. It’s like a concert hall, club and now a private members place. The food is great, it’s beautiful. It’s like a high-end restaurant upstairs.

If you could buy any building in London and live there, which would you pick?

The first time I came, it was to accompany [playwright and director] George C Wolfe. We went to Buckingham Palace and sat on the steps and sang Cinderella. It was back in 2003, so the Queen would have been listening, goddammit.

The most iconic Londoner in history?

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. I haven’t worked with either one of them. It’s time to rectify that.

Where do you go if you want to let your hair down?

The gay club. I’ve been to G-A-Y, I performed at G-A-Y, I’ve gone to Heaven, but I’ve also gone to the ones on the outskirts. There are no clubs in New York City any more. You have to go to Brooklyn.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I grew up poor and I’m an over-worker. I don’t actually know how to be extravagant for myself, but I have taken myself on vacation twice. I’ve gone on several Atlantis cruises where I perform one night and then I get 10 days and get paid on top of it. So when I did Kinky Boots, I took myself on a vacation. On an Atlantis cruise. That I paid for, instead of performed on. When I got that bill I said, ‘I’m not doing that again!’

What are you up to right now for work?

I’m just about to collect the Harvey Milk award down here in Florida. And I just did a production of Jelly’s Last Jam, for City Centre in New York, which is a subscription-based theatre company off Broadway. And then I’m launching headlong into my music and trying to crack open a space for myself. The mainstream music industry is really tricky.

Who is your hero?

My mother, Cloerinda. She was disabled her entire life and her last seven years were spent at the Actors Fund Nursing Home with no mobility at all. And she still got up every single f***ing day to live. She loved living life. She died six weeks ago.

Your favourite work of art in London?

I would have to say going to the V&A, because my Oscar gown was there, and Kensington Palace, because my second Oscar dress and my Met Gala look were on display there! I am the art.

‘Our Son’ is out on digital release on 25 March