Updated: Friday, 7th August 2020 @ 1:30pm

Dita MAN Teese: Boylesque star Tom Harlow lifts lid on burlesque's male counterpart

Dita MAN Teese: Boylesque star Tom Harlow lifts lid on burlesque's male counterpart

| By Helen Le Caplain

Standing on stage at the world’s biggest burlesque club is a corset-clad figure sporting elegant opera gloves, bejewelled nipple tassles and a statement necklace.

As kaleidoscopic lights bathed the stage in a warm and sensual glow audience members were left open-mouthed at Glasgow’s Club Noir as the statuesque performer standing before them was a man.

Meet Tom Harlow, one of the country’s premier UK boylesque artistes.

NARCISSUS: Tom's character admires his reflection 

Burlesque as an art form is something that has seen a great renaissance in recent years with stars such as Dita Von Teese reviving the once outdated entertainment.

The lesser-known style of boylesque is the male version of burlesque which include male striptease, comedy, singing, dancing and even clowning and miming on the stage.

The 24-year-old Glaswegian explained that the relatively new art form has been gathering momentum over the last three years with the biggest boylesque star in the world, Tigger! inspiring a legion of future boylesque legends.

“Boylesque is still a new art form – we don’t have the history that burlesque but it’s really big in America.

“In the last three years, since I’ve been on the scene, it’s really got its own vernacular.”

The premier boylesque artiste, who has done shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has always been a performer having trained as a singer, specialising in opera and musical theatre, and also studying ballet, jazz and contemporary dance.

POUR HOMME: Tom pays homage to iconic Jean Paul Gaultier image

So how does someone make the transition from prolific musical theatre to the niche art of boylesque?

“I auditioned for Club Noir in Glasgow and performed for more than 2000 people at Christmas time a couple of years ago which was amazing,” he explained.

“I’ve built up a series of routines over the years. I used to do cheesecake which was quite sweet and innocent but now I’m a bit dirty!

“I’m inspired by Marlene Dietrich and old Hollywood burlesque stars such as Tempest Storm and Bettie Page along with Dita Von Teese who was responsible for the revival in the late 90s and early noughties and Tigger, who started in the 90s.”

Tom’s style of boylesque is different to many other performers and focuses largely on sensuality, erotica and dance together with make-up design and costume.

TAT'S MORE LIKE IT! Tom reveals brightly-coloured inkings

“My style of boylesque is different, I don’t really do comedy I focus more on male striptease – what interests me is essentially what the girls do. 

“I do more erotic, sensual performances and it’s great to do what I do full-time. I've done it now for over a year.

“I like showing the audience a different type of man – that men can be beautiful and powerful, erotic and sensual beings.”

Along with commissioning bespoke costumes and customising his own outfits, Tom likes expressing himself through make-up design.

“I like showing androgynous sides too and wearing make-up. I’m showing people that I’m not trying to be a girl, just showing a different type of man,” he explained.

“Burlesque has always been around – some people can’t deal with their feelings and get embarrassed.

“I get great reactions and bad reactions from audiences, but as a performer you’re always up for scrutiny – you are putting yourself out there and are open to all kinds of judgements.

READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP: Tom gets up close and personal with the camera

“I’ve had people stand up from their seats being really offended.

“It challenges people sexually quite a lot and sometimes they just can’t deal with the fact that a boy can be quite erotic, soft and beautiful and dance in a way that stirs up feelings that they can’t really process – I like watching people in the audience!

Tom will be performing at an all-male revue at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival this Sunday alongside other high-profile UK boylesque performers including Joe Black, Dave the Bear, Kiki Lovechild and Edward Muir.

Tom said: Festival organisers Heidi Bang Tidy and Lady Wildflower are so lovely. I was really honoured that they asked me to perform at Hebden Bridge’s all-male revue.

“Of all the boys together we’re still a really niche group. I’m the only guy in the line-up who does what I do and the same for each of the others – no-one else does what we do.

“We’re completely different but still the same family."

STRIKE A POSE: Tom Vogueing in the bath 

Last year Hebden Bridge’s Burlesque Festival hit headlines when the council banned the show saying it ‘demeaned women’ and did little to promote equality.

The decision was eventually overturned after Hebden Royd Town Council voted to rescind a decision banning the entertainment from the picture house.

Tom said he found the arguments surrounding alleged discrimination intriguing.

“A lot of guys don’t do striptease. It was just really interesting watching it unfold,” he explained.

“The thing that stands out is it’s their choice to be on stage, nobody’s exploiting them we are performing – it’s our choice, we’re not in some form of slave labour!

“We’re not pushed on stage like performing monkeys, we are there to do a job – it’s a free country.

Burlesque has a very strong British tradition harking back to the 1800s when music halls were crammed with families looking for a night out filled with parody and political satire.

AU NATURAL: Tom off the stage

He said: “Back then striptease came in when women showed off their ankles which was quite scandalous – they were very prudish back then!

“It developed into the art form we know today when it went to America and was glamorised.”

The council was accused of being ‘self-appointed moral guardians’ when they initially banned the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival, but Tom argues this doesn’t sit with some of the recent shows there.

“Hebden Bridge Picture House had a viewing of Nymphomaniac where actors are taking their clothes off in, what I understand to be, a really graphic film.

“I’d love to hear their [the councillors’] point of view. I’d be really interested if councillors would come along to the [burlesque] show, maybe then they’d have a completely different view.”

For more information about the revue, and to buy the last few tickets, click here

Pictures courtesy of Mark Liddell Photography, with thanks