Drag performer Ruby Venezuela has died following a period of illness. It’s believed he was in his mid-60s. He passed on Friday (10 August) evening.
Ruby Venezuela was born Brian Pearce and raised in Plymouth, where he began his drag career. He relocated to London to work as a front window display artist at Harrods, but eventually left full-time to concentrate on cabaret.
Venezuela was best known for hosting shows at Madame Jo Jo’s in Soho in the 1980s and 1990s. Pearce became artistic director of the venue. He also performed abroad, including residencies in Vienna in the late 1970s and Amsterdam in the 00s, besides other international locations.
He also presided over his own Soho bar, Ruby’s on Gerrard Street, in the late 90s.
‘A phenomenal talent’
Venezuela continued to perform around London’s gay scene and at private parties and to host the Soho Festival up until a couple of years ago. Ill health led to him retiring to Blackpool.
‘Ruby/ Brian was a lovely and kind-hearted person, and a phenomenal talent with the best lungs in the business,’ recalls Pride Life editor Nigel Robinson.
‘I hesitate calling her a drag queen/ artiste because she was more than that, more like a bonkers tornado coming in from Kansas, the lovechild of Mrs. Shufflewick, Ethel Merman, Mervyn Peake, and Beryl Cook, but above all else her very own character, bringing delight to everyone, young and old.’
In fact, artist Cook – also from Plymouth – painted Ruby on several occasions.
Performing for royalty
A drag performer who worked extensively with Venezuela was Ebbonknee (formerly Ebony). He told GSN that he remembers Venezuela as a ‘the perfect host and bon vivant.
‘If you went round for dinner, there would be a cornucopia of food. She was also a brilliant costume maker and great at set design – which went back to her window display experience. I learned a lot from her abilities.’
Ebbonknee recalls a particular encounter the two of them had with Princess Diana at Spencer House for the 21st birthday of Diana’s brother.
‘We were doing the Bradley and the Boys show. Me and Bradley shook her hand and were wearing gloves. Diana joked about it, saying, “I’m not contagious!” Then Ruby came out. And Diana was wearing a topless dress and Ruby just went up to her and rubbed her shoulders and said, “You must be freezing!” Everyone was shocked but Diana just laughed.’
‘I’m going to miss her so much’
Another to remember Pearce fondly is performer Minnie Diamond.
‘I first met Ruby in the 90s when I was a Barbette at Madame Jo Jo’s. When she first came in I was like, “Oh my God, who is that?” to one of the other girls there. Ruby scared the hell out of me because off her look!
‘She helped me become the act I am today. As the years went by we became very close. She became my drag mother.
‘We did a lot of show in London together. I’m going to miss her so much, but I am one off the lucky ones that knew her as a act and as the person behind the act.’
Pearce is survived by his long-term partner, Arjan.