How we met - Cynthia Payne & Screaming Lord Sutch

How we met - Cynthia Payne & Screaming Lord Sutch image

Independent - 2nd July 1995

Cynthia Payne, 64, was born in Bognor. In 1980, she served four months in prison for running a disorderly house. She has been the subject of two films, Personal Services and Wish You Were Here. In 1988, she stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as a candidate for the Payne and Pleasure Party. David Sutch, 54, leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, was born in London. He is Britain's longest-serving party leader. He first stood for Parliament, aged 22, in 1963; since then he has fought 37 general elections and by-elections. He lives alone in London. He has a 20-year-old son, Tristan.

CYNTHIA PAYNE: When I came out of prison in 1980, a friend of mine who was a journalist said that I ought to try to get the sex laws changed. She said that the best way to do it was to stand for Parliament. She said that if Screaming Lord Sutch could do it, I could do it. Of course, that name rang a bell, but I didn't know much about him. It wasn't until 1988 that I met him, because that's when I did the Kensington by-election, standing as a candidate for my own party, the Payne and Pleasure Party.

During the campaign I was standing in Kensington High Street being interviewed for TV, when all of a sudden this mad bloke in a top hat jumps in front of the camera. I was a bit annoyed. I said "Who's that?" and my election agent said, "That, Cynthia, is Screaming Lord Sutch." He could see I was a bit miffed, so he disappeared, and then he came back half an hour later and started chatting to me. I think he was trying to sweeten me up, because he knew that if Cynthia Payne was going to be doing the election, then he'd get some good publicity out of it too. We had a wonderful election; it was very exciting. I got 400 votes, and he got 193, which is about what he usually gets.

Anyway, after that we stayed friends. When I first got to know him I was sort of besotted by him. I've met some really weird people in my time, but I've never met anyone as bizarre as him. I've learnt quite a lot about pop music from him because he does this rock and roll show in pubs - that's how he earns his living. He introduced me to a lot of great music. He's a really happy bloke; when he walks into a pub or a room he just makes everyone laugh. He cracks these bizarre jokes, and it usually takes me several goes before I get them, but when I do they make me laugh. He was never after girls or anything - he wasn't like a lot of men, who are just out bird-hunting most of the time. He never seemed to want to get married or anything, although he has had some lovely girlfriends.

He is totally wrapped up in this election business. He loves it. And he's amazing because he's from a working-class background, and I liked the way that he wanted to prove that anybody can stand for Parliament, whoever they are. But he's always late. Late for everything, and that does drive me mad. Shortly after I'd met him I invited him round for 7.30pm, and he turned up at midnight. That's quite typical. He has no sense of timing whatsoever. And I do think that's affected his political career. I think he could have got to the top otherwise.

I think he liked me because he knew that I didn't want to know him because he was famous. Quite a lot of people like to be seen with him because he always gets so much publicity, but he knew I didn't need it. So he could relax with me. And he comes over here and we talk.

I think what we have in common is that we both like to shock people. He does this horror act, this Jack the Ripper act, in pubs and clubs, and he shocks people with that. I suppose some people would find me shocking in a way. I used to like shocking people when I was a kid. I used to pull my knickers down in the garden and show the neighbours my bum or dance on the shed naked. And it did shock them. He still likes to shock, though I think I've got it out of my system now.

What I like about him is that he has this gift for cheering everybody up. He's a clown; he makes everyone laugh, even if he's feeling down. He's very quick with repartee. You can't get him away from people. I often take him to film premieres as my escort, but he doesn't stay my escort for long, because he just disappears - he's off making everyone laugh. There's something very child-like about him. Also, I can't bear men who drink, and Sutch doesn't drink. Just tea, about 20 cups a day. I call him Sutch, not David, because when I used to have the parties I used to call everyone by their surnames because there were so many Davids, and Johns, and Roberts - it was less confusing if I knew then all by their second names.

To be honest I think I'm a better friend to him than he is to me. But when I was ill in 1989 - I had to have quite a nasty operation, and I was really scared about it - Sutch was wonderful, and came to see me in hospital and cheered me up during a very nasty period. He got me out of quite a depressed state, which no man has ever been able to do.

He's a very gentle soul. But there is something in his nature that's a bit weird. I can't quite put my finger on it. I like eccentric people, and people say I'm a bit eccentric too, though I'm more businesslike than him. So we were two eccentric people together.

I still see a lot of him. Occasionally I'll go shopping with him, go down the Portobello market or somewhere like that, and he'll say, "Oh I'm just going in that shop for a minute," and three hours later I'm still waiting for him. He's mad. What would my life be like without him? A lot calmer. There's always something happening to him, there's always some drama, so if I didn't see him I'd miss all that.

SCREAMING LORD SUTCH: I first met Cynthia at the Kensington by-election, and we were both canvassing on Kensington High Street. We bumped into each other. I knew who she was, of course, because of all the publicity surrounding her at that time. We came face to face there and had our photos taken, and instantly we sort of had a little go at each other, and then realised that we liked each other. She said I was trying to nick her publicity, but these days I get more publicity than she does, so it's all swings and roundabouts.

I thought she was a happy-go-lucky, bubbly character, and I could just imagine her running her brothels, she seemed like the ideal sort of madame, one with a sense of humour. Then I found out that she catered for all types of men and women, even people in wheelchairs, at her parties. They called her the Freddie Laker of sex because she did all this cut price. A girl and as much as you could drink and eat for pounds 20, which was obviously quite cheap. And, of course, you could pay in luncheon vouchers, which was the great gimmick at the time. I thought she was very funny, so we got on well and did some publicity together.

I did a victory party the night before polling day with my band, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, and she came along and joined in the fun. I always have my victory parties the night before voting day. She got more votes than I did, and I was very annoyed about that, because she was only copying my gimmick, standing for Parliament, and because she'd had all this attention from the media because of her sex parties, she got more votes than me. But now I've recovered and got my act together with my party and I get an average of 600 to 800 votes. In Rotherham I got 1,140, so we're hitting the big figures now.

After the Kensington by-election there was a celebrity party at String- fellows, and we got chatting there and got on. She was telling me how wonderful her election agent, Gloria, had been. So, at the next election, what did I do? I nicked Gloria, so I had her as my election agent, and I got a lot of votes, thanks to Gloria.

Cynthia is always good for a laugh, although you can't tell her a joke. You get to the punch-line and she just looks blank. It's not just my jokes, it's everyone's. I've had people tell her really funny jokes to impress her, hilarious ones, and they get to the punch-line, and she just stares at them. She never gets them. Not even dirty jokes. Not even when you've explained them to her. I don't know why.

I go to quite a lot of film premieres with her; I really enjoy that, and it often gets reported in the papers the next day that we were seen together - they often call us "the odd couple".

What I like is that she meets these famous people but hasn't the foggiest who they are, because she doesn't read the papers. She's introduced to some massive film star like Harrison Ford, and she won't have a clue who he is. She'll give them her autograph on a luncheon voucher and ask them how they spell their name.

I was at her house once and she got a call from this bloke who said he wanted to invite her to his party, because his dad was a big fan of hers. He told her that he'd send a limousine to pick her up. She said: "Who are you?" He said: "George Michael". She said "Who? I've never heard of you," and put the phone down. When she told me who it was, I couldn't believe it. I told her she'd got to go, because there'd be all sorts of celebrities there, like Elton John and Paul McCartney. But she'd never heard of them, because she doesn't know the pop scene at all. If you say Led Zeppelin, or Pink Floyd, she won't have heard of them. She only knows people like Frank Sinatra or Tom Jones. George Michael had the guts to phone her back and ask her again, so she went.

She's very stubborn, and gets things completely wrong. You try to explain to her that she's totally, utterly wrong and she can't see it. She'll say that Paddy Ashdown is the leader of the Tory party, and I'll say, "No, Cynthia, he leads the Liberal Democrats, actually," but she'll insist he's the leader of the Tories. Even when you prove her wrong she still doesn't believe it.

I think she's quite fond of me - she finds me amusing and different from other guys. She's cooked me the odd meal here and there, and is very good at gardening. I admire that. The only problem is that when she comes out she tends to be covered in cat hairs because she takes in strays. She has about 20. It's like a cats' home, her house.

Cynthia's very kind, and listens to my problems. Cynthia and I will always be pals. I've had my ups and downs with her, because she tends to argue a lot and gets set in her ways, but she doesn't do that so much now. What would I miss if I didn't see her? Well, certainly not her cooking, but her happy, smiling face, yes, I think I'd miss that.