Christmas With Boudica
It is the season of rebirth and transformation, and – behold – the Brick Lane trendsetter formerly known as Mark Petty is no more – in his place, welcome Boudica Denvorgilla Veronica Scarlet Redd. It was solemnized by oath in November and now he asserts to the postman, “If they spell it wrong, I will summon an army.”
Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie and I paid a visit upon Boudica at his house in Bethnal Green last week to admire his Christmas decorations, before we set out to accompany him to Ridley Rd where each year at this time he distributes gifts to old friends in the market. Yet the first point of interest was his new identity, and Boudica produced the certificate to show us. “When I was a child, I never knew my name was Mark Petty for years,” he confessed to me with a beaming smile, as he flourished the piece of paper proudly, “It was always,’Hey you!’ or ‘Where are you?’” A situation that is happily resolved, now that no-one will ever be able to ignore his name again.
I knew that he chose the name “Boudica” because she stood up for the right to be different – a cause that Boudica himself espouses in every aspect of his life – but I was curious to understand the significance of his other choices. Denvorgilla is an old Irish name referring to Boudica’s Celtic roots, since he is descended from a long line of Irish aristocracy who fled when Elizabeth I sent the troops into Ireland, escaping to France before settling in Gloucestershire. In fact, Boudica is titled and although, with characteristic modesty of temperament, he chooses not to use it, I cannot deny a certain nobility in his bearing. On a contrasting note, Veronica drives from a cherished Go-Cat commercial in the nineteen eighties, while Scarlet Redd refers both to Boudica’s favourite colour and to Sharon Redd, the singer remembered for her album “Redd Hot.”
There was no time to dwell upon these notions of identity that morning. Once we had scrutinized the paperwork and applauded Boudica’s honeycomb bells, it was time for the three of us to hurry along to the bus stop. Snatching an umbrella, as we set out into the grim December rain, Boudica handed me the bags of mince pies, cards and gifts to carry and I was only too happy to follow along in his train, fulfilling the role of Boudica’s attendant Christmas elf. The bus quickly filled up with shoppers and I was puzzled, at first, by their curious indifference to Boudica’s magnificent ankle-length scarlet leather cloak and tall cat-in-the-hat style fluffy red bonnet, until I realised that at Christmas everyone expects to see people dressed in full-length red suits with a fur trim. Far from standing out, as Boudica’s usually does, on this occasion he was the one most appropriately dressed for the season, shaming the rest of us in our drab attire.
Yet, as we descended from the bus at the entrance to Ridley Rd Market, an excited frisson travelled through the crowd, busy about their festive errands in the rain, while applause and cheers arose from the stallholders in their lit booths, peering over piles of shining fruit and vegetables. “Boudica, you look lovely!” called one, drawing roars of approval from his colleagues and causing Boudica to assume that regal stillness which is the preserve of only the most dignified of public figures. Boudica has superlative aplomb, and in spite of the cold and the damp, everyone was euphoric to see him arriving bearing gifts and offering more than a passing resemblance to Spirit of Christmas Present.
Parcels, mince pies and cards were distributed – reciprocated with hugs and handshakes and generous embraces. Joy was incarnate in Ridley Rd Market thanks to one of the East End’s most beloved characters, Boudica Denvorgilla Veronica Scarlet Redd.
Boudica - “Next year, I’m going to get a chariot.”
John Leech’s original drawing of the Ghost of Christmas Present from “A Christmas Carol.”
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter
and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats,