BST: Why are you holding AMW this year?
ANDREW LOGAN: Jes Benstock of Living Cinema shot the last event but didn’t have enough money to edit. So he then raised money with a new idea which was to take it right back to 1972 and to show how culturally it had influenced so many people and things. With me, I suppose, at the head of it. It is very much a family and friends thing. Very family-orientated but absolutely huge at the same time.
Can anyone enter?
Yes. I think we have 19 or 20 entrants this year.
What are the criteria for entry?
The contestants kind of find their way there. We don’t have auditions. It’s about transformation. Of course, it would be nice to have hundreds of people. But it’s quite tight and everyone takes 2 minutes on stage. And if you’ve got 20 people on stage that takes an hour. It kind of limits itself — finds its own level.
Can you confirm who the judges are this year?
We’ve got Ken Russell, Zandra Rhodes, Richard O’Brien, Tim Curry, Amy Lamé, and Betty — my housekeeper of many many years. And Tony Elliott. And then Philip Hughes who gave me a wonderful show up in Ruthin Craft Centre up in North Wales and he also published the book on my work. Altogether there are about twelve.
[The judges tend to be] the kind of people I’ve been involved with. And people that I admire. I’m not into names, names mean nothing to me. It’s just a bit of paper. That’s not the point of it.
You’ve described AMW as a family affair. Can you explain a bit more about that?
My brother Quentin has been in quite a few now. And my sister has been in every one. My mother judged it a number of times. My brother Peter used to the music and him and his wife — they both entered it. It was in 1973, when Derek [Jarman] shot it. Peter was doing the music so he had to get up — as the music was playing, walk up and down. It has always been a family thing.
Where do the similarities to Miss World start and end?
Contestants have a questionnaire which they fill in. Daywear-swimwear-eveningwear. Great isn’t it? It’s three outfits. It’s also fantastic to have an interview. It’s such a simple idea really — we just enlarged on that. In 1972 Miss World was huge in the UK, like it is in India is now. Every household watched it. Every household! No one escaped it.
Crufts Dog Show was the real inspiration. I’d been to Crufts Dog Show and we had one of the forms, for the dogs. Which kind of inspired the form for AMW.
There have been several films made already of the contest. Can you tell us a bit about the film that was made of the 1978 contest?
[The director Richard Gayor] was interested in disappearing tribes — so he chose us. He had been to 1975 so wanted to film 1978 and actually made a very beautiful movie. That’s the movie you should see. It’s about the event and the build up. It was the first time that 35mm handheld cameras had been used in this country and it was lit beautifully. Very sensitively done. I remember the credits — they said the AMW in mirror pieces. We laid it out on velvet and threw it up in the air and then reversed it. It produced a wonderful, magical movie and it’s timeless. You look at it and you wouldn’t really know it was 1978.
This year’s theme is The Elements. Can you tell us about how the themes work?
[The central theme of transformation] is timeless. There is a continuum between this generation of contestants and previous ones. Sometimes, I’m sitting there and someone comes out and I think — I’ve seen this before. Of course I don’t say that — I smile and applaud. Of course I’ve seen it before — there are only so many things you can do with the human body. Even though some of the transformations are absolutely fantastic.
There is always a theme. But I don’t know what the contestants are going to come as. I have the form, I read out the name and the description of the outfit and we do that all the way through the performance.
When you launched AMW the UK was in recession — and now we are again. It seems that AMW comes back whenever we need it most.
When I started the event and as it unfolded, I saw more and more that I wanted to continue with this event ‘til I dropped dead — brought in on a wheelchair. It’s fascinating that the format remains exactly the same and yet you get these things that happen. We had the war in ‘82- that was Miss Aldershot [who won]. There was punk in ‘75 — that was shot by Mike Ballard — the art editor for Interview, Andy Warhol’s magazine. The Alternative Miss World seems to indicate what is happening — or what is going to happen.
What’s the most surprised you’ve been by what someone came out wearing?
I think it might have been before someone came out. And it was my friend, the late, great Divine. I met him through Zandra and he came to the Alternative Tower of London. It was 1977 — it was the Queen’s Jubilee and we had a day-long party and he came to that. We became firm friends and he co-hosted the 1978 event.
I was getting ready in a caravan at the back because it was being held in a circus tent. I’d only ever seen him as a man — as Glenn. And a door opened and there… was Divine. He said, The look on your face, I’ll never forget it. I was a bit surprised.
Most of the others… Ok. When the donkey fell of the catwalk. That was a surprise to me. The donkey was the throne because it was in a circus. The donkey was fine because he fell on all these soft contestants in their outfits. I really wanted to have an elephant but it’s a good thing we didn’t because if that had fallen on the contestants it would have been most unfortunate. The whole thing is about surprises — you never know what will happen. All you can do is stand there and let the thing unfurl.
This year, a lot of health and safety seems to have crept in. however, it means that you have to use your imagination even more — so if you can’t use fire — what will I use? The postitive effect is that it stretches the imagination even more.
Norman’s great fun. He got some artists to help him out, including Sarah Lucas. He didn’t win, by the way.
Do you see AMW as anti-establishment?
It’s what people make it. I just put it on — that’s it. I leave all the interpretation to others.
Other than the films, what other documentation do you have of previous contests?
Each contestant before they go on is photographed. So we have a documentation right back to the beginning. David Bailey came one year — he did 1973 — and took some pictures. That documentation is really important.
I want to do a book of these wonderful images. I have everything here. I’m just waiting for someone to come along and say they’d like to do an AMW book which I’d be very happy with.
You’ve mentioned Piers Atkinson whose work is currently part of the Stephen Jones hat exhibition at the V&A. Do you feel like AMW has nurtured talents like his?
Piers started here in 1995 for the Fire AMW. He’s actually here [in the studio] today. He’d just left college and came up and helped me work on the contestant numbers that they wear.
We have all these funny little customs and you need someone to help out with them. He worked with me for a number of years and then went on to work with Zandra. He did Daily Rubbish for Fashion Week and now he’s producing a souvenir programme for AMW.
Have you ever held AMW outside of London?
It’s very English but I’ve negotiated many times over the years to get it held someone else in the world. Places such as Japan, America — which was going to be a huge tour of all the big cities of America. Fantastic! Well, that didn’t happen.
And India but then a man set himself alight for Miss World. And we thought, well it might be a bit difficult — they might get a bit muddled up… I would love to take it somewhere else. We have many Russians coming this year if we can get their visas sorted out.
I think AMW is very English but it would transfer somewhere else but it’s never had the opportunity.
To conclude, can you tell me a bit about Andrew Logan?
I was trained as an architect. I think I am very different from any other artist anyhow. I think my work is unique. There’s no one else working like I do. I just happen to be based in London. But I am a great traveller. If I wasn’t an artist I think I would have been a traveller.
[Thanks to Andrew and his team for the interview and photo access. AMW 2009 - The Elements, is at the Roundhouse, 2 May 2009. Book tickets here. Jes Benstock's film, The British Guide To Showing Off, is due for release later this year]