BLUE NOW Russell Tovey on the power of queer elders

Jenny Mascia
WordsRussell Tovey

BLUE NOW” is a series of live performances and six pieces of writing inspired by quotes from “Blue,” British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s seminal 1993 film, created as he was dying from AIDS-related illnesses.

Actor Russell Tovey, who curated this series, was inspired by the quote above. Here, he shares a personal story about the power of listening to our queer elders.

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Miss Punch Leather Woman was the first out dyke I ever met. Closeted and frightened by my sexuality, she was my hope. ‘Climb on, let’s go for a ride.’
Derek Jarman

In his film “Blue,” Derek name-checks a 70-year-old woman who he met when he was still a confused and frightened student. Out and proud, she offered him a lift on the back of her motorbike. She was the first out lesbian that Derek had ever met, and his meeting with her gave him a life-changing glimpse of an alternative to fear.

That story of Derek's makes me remember a moment in my own life that occurred the first time I ever went to a gay bar. I was 17 and—this was in the late 1990's—I’d put on my best jeans, white trainers and checked shirt and entered the Army and Navy pub on a Sunday night in Chelmsford. I was shaky and anxious and as I ordered a drink at the bar an older man leaned into me furtively. “How old are you then?” He asked, “17” I responded, “you bitch” he sneered, before turning on his heels and sauntering away. I was stunned, and didn’t really understand what I’d done wrong.

But now, looking back over the years, I can understand that older man's fury. I was fresh, at the very start of all of my discoveries, my loves and heartaches, my life as an out gay man a story yet to be told. But this older man had seen it all, he’d done all the hard work, lived through all the terrible times heaped upon our community in those years, and I must have reminded him of a potential that he was simply never offered. As rude as he was, I revere him for that tiniest of interactions and have the utmost respect for him. I thank him for his anger, for it was anger like his that trickled down and made dramatic changes for me and my whole generation. In a strange way, he completely inspired me. He made me feel lucky.

Derek has become an inspiration for queer people all over the world, through his beautiful films of course, but also by being one of the first public figures in his own country to be honest about living with HIV/AIDS, and also just by being so open and passionate about who he was and who and what he loved. But we all have to find our own ancestors, the elders who pass on their experience to us. Sometimes you can come across these ancestors in surprising ways, like for me with that older man in a pub, when I got to glimpse his passionate, queer anger.

So keep your eyes and ears open, and you never know where you will hear the words that are going to open doors inside your head. Whose motorbike are you going to climb up on the back of, and dare to go for a ride?

Russell Tovey

English actor Russell Tovey is best known for appearing in “Being Human,” “The History Boys,” “Looking,” and “American Horror Story: NYC.” A keen art collector, he has co-hosted the art podcast “Talk Art” with gallerist Robert Diament since 2018, and the pair published a book,“Talk Art: Everything You Wanted To Ask About Contemporary Art But Were Afraid To Ask,” in 2021.

Each year, WePresent invites a creative to be its Guest Curator. In 2023 we are very proud to collaborate with brilliant actor and podcaster Russell Tovey on a handful of very special art-related projects on themes close to his heart. "BLUE NOW" is the first in this series.

The animation on this page was directed and illustrated by Jenny Mascia, and 3D animated by Alice Aires.

Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993) © Basilisk Communications Ltd., enquiries regarding Blue by Derek Jarman should be addressed to