The Departure Of Viscountess Boudica
Boudica & Boudica
By the time you read this, the Viscountess Boudica will already be gone – taken her leave from London forever and slipped away from Bethnal Green early on Tuesday morning in a van loaded with her possessions – driving up the Great North Road towards her new home in Uttoxeter.
Before she left, I accompanied the Viscountess upon a last sentimental pilgrimage to the statue of her namesake in Westminster and, on the train back to Whitechapel, she explained to me the circumstances of her departure.
Viscountess Boudica arrived at her council flat in Bethnal Green on January 31st 2002 and she remembers it clearly. ‘A friend with a van helped me move from Poplar and we arrived at 10pm. The previous tenant had died in the flat, leaving piles of rubbish and hole in the plaster,’ she recalled, ‘While we moving in, they smashed the windows of my friend’s van and, after three days, I started receiving hate mail telling me to leave.’
Yet in spite of this inauspicious beginning, the Viscountess painted her flat pink and created a life for herself, becoming celebrated as a trendsetter for her flamboyant colourful outfits which made her popular among the crowds at Brick Lane Market. When I met the Viscountess six years ago in Cheshire St and began publishing interviews with her, I was shocked to learn of the frequent violence that the Viscountess received walking around the streets of the East End.
‘I’m not the kind of person that gives in,’ the Viscountess admitted to me then, ‘I find each area is different, you can’t ascertain in advance whether you’ll get mugged or chased, but you only have one life and you have to live it as you think fit. The kids abuse me and the police are useless, so I have to take care of myself. You have to stand up to them. They say they don’t like how I look, and I tell them, ‘If you don’t like it you can put up with it,’ because I’ve been through so much that I’m not going to be persecuted anymore.”
I will never forget the time she changed her name to Viscountess Boudica Denvorgilla Veronica Scarlet Redd by deed poll and persuaded me to fill out the section in her passport application form, vouching for the veracity of her new identity. It was an unlikely collaboration we enjoyed over the course of more than twenty stories I wrote, photographed and published in these pages, documenting the Viscountess’ seasonal celebrations, recording her remarkable collection of domestic appliances and her coloured outfits – all of which have now been destroyed. I shall miss visiting the pink flat in Bethnal Green to undertake interviews at the court of Viscountess Boudica and encountering her irrepressible courage and good humour, which always sent me away in a buoyant mood. She never failed to astonish me with her originality of thought.
In the end, it was not antipathy and prejudice which drove Viscountess Boudica out of Bethnal Green but a combination of welfare policy and bureaucratic indifference. Like thousands of others, she had her benefits reassessed recently, accompanied by a demand for repayment of money already paid out. The Viscountess found herself in debt and without income, yet facing demands for payment. Any possibility of resolving this mess disappeared when the powers-that-be lost her paperwork. Instead, the Viscountess received a Court Summons for non-payment of Council Tax and Eviction Notices for rent arrears. In the midst of this, she told me the council decided to increase the rent of her one bedroom flat from £100 a week to the ‘market value’ of £700 a week.
The crunch came with a burglary this spring when intruders trashed her flat and destroyed her bed, leaving the Viscountess sleeping on a chair for months. No wonder she asked to be transferred elsewhere and, when a bedsit near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire was offered at £68 a week, she leapt at the opportunity.
‘If you stay in a place too long, it becomes over-familiar,’ she informed me, summoning Dutch courage as we sat in her empty flat last week, ‘I feel there are no more opportunities for me here, but Uttoxeter is a large place with a lot of different people and it will be a new challenge. There will be a period of adjustment but adventures feed the imagination.’
‘I was overcome by people’s generosity,’ she confessed, referring to the online fundraising campaign, as we made our farewells, ‘I’d like to thank all the readers of Spitalfields Life for their emotional support and financial help. If anyone would like me to do them a drawing, send me an email and I will do it for them…’
The East End will be a lesser place without Viscountess Boudica, a kind soul who discovered bravery in the face of cruelty and a neighbourhood dandy we were all proud to know.
You can contact Viscountess Boudica direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
‘As they said to me in Islington when they saw my outfit, ‘There’s not a lot of people that’s got the courage.’’
‘I tried going out in Bethnal Green and the reaction was very hostile – from children who threw bottles at me – but I thought, ‘I’ll persevere because fashion is too drab and life should be full of colour.’’
Be sure to follow Viscountess Boudica’s blog There’s More To Life Than Heaven & Earth
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Read my original profile of Mark Petty, Trendsetter
and take a look at Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats