Great LezBritain: Celebrating our favorite lesbian and bisexual British ladies


“Great LezBritian” is a fortnightly stroll through the very best of British lesbo-centric entertainment and culture. Plus there will be some jolly good interviews with the top ladies who are waving the flag for gay UK.

A couple of columns ago we wrote about the British women we wish were gay, which gave rise to much debate and informed us that our readers lust after and loathe Cheryl Cole in equal amounts. We decided that in this column we’d like to celebrate the British ladies we’re glad actually are gay or bisexual, which has been an unexpectedly tricky task.

Once again we sent out a Tweet asking you to suggest your favourite Britbians, and as the land that proffered Skins, Tipping the Velvet and Bad Girls, we were certain that Britain would have so many options that we’d be tossing second tier choices out of the list as if we were at a welly winging contest.

Yet there was a distinct lack of assortment in the answers we received. This, we concluded, is a bit of a worry and suggests that Britain isn’t the rich lesbian tapestry we would have hoped for in this day and age. But, not to be beaten, we whittled down the many nominations for Sue Perkins into one place and gathered a list of a further nine entries.

Most of the ladies on our list are there because they have carved out a hugely successful career while openly living their lives as gay or bisexual. British tabloids still find it rather difficult to discuss a story concerning a gay woman in society without their sexual orientation being put before their name. Yet these ten tend not to be drawn into much discussion about their sexuality because their career achievements more readily define them. While this might mean that some are not as well known as being gay-dies, we think it’s positive that they are seen as actors, writers and politicians rather than “lesbian actors,” etc. 

There is one worry about our list of lady lovers, in that we could not bring to mind one distinguished lesbian under 30-years old. So where is the younger lesbian contingency hiding? Who will the ladies on our list pass the rainbow coloured baton onto? It’s an uncomfortable thought that the future of British lesbian visibility may lay barren amidst our green, green grasses of heterosexuality. 

But until then, let’s enjoy the ones we have …

As Sandi Toksvig is still very much head and shoulders above anyone else in Britain, she is not on this list and has a special title of her own as the UK’s King Lesbian Trailblazer. Other special mentions for those that didn’t quite make our list of 10: Sam Fox (’80s pop star and glamour girl), Claire Balding (BBC Sports presenter), Dawn Airey (Head Of Channel 5), Phyllida Lloyd (director of Mama Mia the stage musical and film), Pam St. Clements (Pat Butcher, Eastenders), Jeanette Winterson (writer), Melanie Rickey, (Fashion Editor at large, Grazia magazine), Charlotte Mendelson (writer), Joanna Briscoe (writer).

Skin – Music

The emergence of nineties Brit Pop was announced by a chorus of mostly skinny white boys wearing vintage t-shirts and sporting too much hair, typically strumming guitars whilst smoking a fag. One of the few female fronted bands in this era was Skunk Anansie, with Skin at the helm — a bald black woman who never shied away from her bisexuality and as such it never became an issue.

She brought much needed diversity to the indie pack, she had ripe articulation, sang at points with angered political conviction and at others with a tender vulnerability that few of her male counterparts could even attempt to muster. The band split in 2001, but like all good indie bands that need the money, they reformed for a greatest hits tour last year, giving us all another chance to wallow in the deliciousness of tracks like “Weak,” “Hedonism,” “Twisted” and “Secretly.”

Mary Portas Fashion

The most respected woman in British fashion retail is Mary Portas. Responsible for the success of some of the country’s biggest brands including Harvey Nichols and Top Shop, she found fame relatively recently with her BBC2 series Mary, Queen Of Shops. The show basically sees Mary do for fashion boutiques, what Gordon Ramsay does for restaurants in Kitchen Nightmares. But unlike Ramsay, Mary manages to do this while looking effortlessly fabulous, and without swearing at, or ridiculing the people whose businesses she is there to save. 

The new season of the show kicks off tonight at 9pm on BBC2, and this time around Mary is spreading her expertise to include all kinds of retail outlets, including a bakery that looks like it has been selling the same cakes since 1932.

Last week, Mary married the equally fabulous Melanie Rickey, Fashion Editor of Grazia, the country’s number one weekly fashion magazine. Suffice it to say, there were no flat shoes at this civil partnership and the first photos of their dresses, designed by Antonio Berardi, were salivated over by the fashion elite — have a look at Melanie’s blog to see the photos of what she describes as “the best day of our life.”

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