Variety artist, Scottee, on his picture, “Dinner at me nan’s”
GB Tell me why you chose this.
S It’s the aesthetic of being at my nan’s. There’s always a big mug of tea, bread and potatoes, having paste sandwiches with your dinner with cheap bread and some ketchup on it all. The potatoes are usually in a separate bowl and you just take them and put as much butter as you like on them. There’s cabbage that you can smell coming down the road. Now, when I got to my nan’s for dinner, which is a couple of nights a week, I can see the romanticism in it and I value the fact that this is something that won’t always be in my life, so I’ve started to appreciate the beauty of that. She has no idea how much I love it but I love it for romantic reasons.
GB You’re such a good grandson, going twice a week for dinner.
S Well I care for my granddad because he needs round the clock care, so I’m one of the carers. We’re in and out of their house a lot.
GB I love the Sports Direct mug. That’s a real classic.
S It is! My granddad’s mobility is quite restricted but one of the things he likes to do for me is make me a strong, Irish cup of tea. He has that mug just for me because it’s such a giant mug. He always asks me how many sugars I want even though he knows that I never take sugar. It’s obviously a question that he doesn’t like my answer to, so he just keeps asking until one day I change my mind.
GB Your picture is very culturally specific. Do you think people from other cultures would find it beautiful?
S Yes, I think it is culturally specific but it’s also class specific. It’s a picture of things that talk to working class kids, especially council kids who can identify with that idea of when you have your tea and why you go to your nan’s for tea and what your nan means to you. The idea of having ketchup with potato and bread and as much butter as you like, and a cup of tea with your dinner is very British but it’s also very class specific.
GB Do your grandparents like your work or are they freaked out by it?
S They love it! They’re very supportive, especially my granddad. He loves to see anything where people are confident. He’s one of those old Irish storytellers. There’s this latent stereotype, that Irish men are drunks in pubs but there’s a reason why my granddad and his generation spent a lot of time in pubs. They were illiterate and because they were from a foreign country, that was where they got the news from back home. Someone in the pub would be able to read them their letters from home or the Irish paper and they’d share stories. My granddad was one of those story tellers and the pubs were their theatres. I think he sees my work like that – I’m a storyteller who’s making a show of himself. They come to my shows and sometimes I wonder what my nan will make of an act that’s all about vaginas – but they’ve seen it all!
GB Do you think something can be both beautiful and camp at the same time? You use a lot of camp in your shows.
S Yes, I love naff and camp and cheap thinks like glitter slash curtains and the windows of betting shops with shiny fake coins that allude to something expensive. It’s all cheap and nasty but pretending to be glam. That’s an aesthetic I grew up around. When I was a kid, Saturday night television was full of sequined shiny shit and cuddly toys. In my head, beauty is what was on telly when I was a kid, with Lily Savage and Les Dawson, that light entertainment feel that was born out of working men’s clubs. Those acts didn’t have money so they found whatever could look expensive even if it was just sewing a few sequins onto a suit.
GB So you don’t like it in an ironic way, you’re quite sincere about your love of that stuff. It has a sentimental and nostalgic meaning to you that makes you genuinely love it?
S Yes, it’s part of my cultural and class history. The variety and cabaret scene is part of my DNA. That traditional dress is the way we communicate to the world that we’re variety artists. I come from a council estate. Otherwise it would just be cultural appropriation. It took me a long time to realise that I don’t have to be ashamed of where I come from and it’s okay to love these iconic things from my childhood.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
S I like beauty to be a little bit messy. I like it to be on the surface, so aesthetically pleasing but when you a look a bit closer, it’s a little bit shoddy. When I was thinking about beautiful objects, I thought about choosing those neon cardboard stars you get in Happy Shopper, that they write the prices on; something that’s attractive and cheap at the same time. Thinking about beauty in the more normative sense, it feels quite fickle so my interpretation of beauty is one that looks for the dirt beneath it.
GB Do you think there’s something elitist in traditional ideals of beauty?
S Yes. I’ve never been accepted or considered to have value in a traditional world. I danced around fashion circles in my early career but I was always made to feel like the outsider or the weirdo because I wasn’t aesthetically beautiful myself. It’s only when you start to become wise to it that you think, hang on, this whole thing is full of people fickly trying to be something unobtainable. I don’t think that kind of beauty is achievable. Your version and my version of beauty are two different things and for you to achieve my version of what’s beautiful is going to be impossible.