How We met: Lenny Beige & William Hunt

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The Independent Culture
Lenny Beige (right), 49, is a showbiz legend. A veteran of cruise liners, he is currently preforming in the sixth season of his weekly cabaret evening, Regency Rooms, at the Talk of London in the West End. Divorced with two grown-up children, Lenny divides his time between his Green Park penthouse and his mansion on the East Anglian Riviera

Clothes designer William Hunt, 39, came to prominence during the `New Romantic' early Eighties, tailoring for bands including Spandau Ballet, Heaven 17 and ABC. Now the Spice Girls, Tom Jones and Robbie Williams are among his clients. Hunt's third shop is due to open next month in Savile Row. He lives in London with his fiancee, Rachel, a model

LENNY BEIGE: I was changing my image in 1977, and I'd heard that punk music was all the rage, so I thought I'd get a nice tartan viscose mix to make a kilt dress. Wandering around the Textile King in Berwick Street, I bumped into William, who had come to London on a working visit. We talked and I touched his heart deeply, so he decided to make me a pair of slacks.

This came at a time when Willy had nothing, and I had it all, but was spending it fast. First impressions of William are deceptive. You'd think he was a fat, northern bloke, and you wouldn't be wrong, but he has an extraordinary talent for clothing, and loves style and going against the grain. I wouldn't say there was an instant rapport beween us because we have a different love of drinks. He loves lagers, I abhor them, but we did have common ground in that we both despise training shoes and leisure wear, so we'd meet up, talk about that and think up ideas for my wardrobe. William's very dear to me. He's like my son, except I love him.

When he moved to London five years ago he really came into his own as a friend. Nowadays he comes to all of my shows and afterwards we'll go for dinner and talk clothes. He's become far busier through his association with me and I don't think he'd be shy about acknowledging that particular fact. Work is always social with William. He doesn't have acolytes following him around with notebooks. We sit down at his club or mine, and talk about our lives and get inspiration. William is amenable, loquacious and inimitable in his style, both personally and professionally. I admire his honesty and sense of humour, though it's not as sophisticated as mine. But he understands what I'm trying to do in my act; and I understand what he's doing with his clothes. It's flamboyance, but at the same time we're both "keeping it real". We live in the fast lane, but we're not shy of pulling into a service station for mutual admiration and support. Sometimes you fall out with someone and think, "My God, they were nothing!" - because they were never really interested in you as a person. Willy and I are involved in each other's lives and if I'm having a bad time he will make the effort to contact me. I can put a gloss on any mood and people who don't know me will think it's all constant. But we sense mood changes in each other instantly.

We differ only in that I'm more eloquent, obviously better-looking and have far more money. He also has an inordinately short memory and will tell you the same story 20 times. I don't stop him, because he's like a little boy - so excited about things. Who am I to deny him that? He is good at doing things at the very last minute. I know him so well I've learnt to relax, and if I'm standing in my underpants and wig waiting to go on stage, I know the slacks will turn up. He might pretend he's forgotten them, and while you know he's joking it still winds you up. When he finally gives you the trousers, though, you love him even more for it. I envy the way he can knock up a pair of slacks in five minutes. I wish I could - it would save me a fortune. But then I think he would find it hard to stand on a stage and sing (although he becomes a performer every time anyone walks into his shop). I knew William was a true friend early on. I think with some people you have that gut instinct. He would really have to kill my mother for us not to be friends, but then, even if he did, he'd probably make her something nice for the funeral.

WILLIAM HUNT: I first saw Lenny in a poster 20 years ago and I was overawed by his sartorial elegance. After a chance meeting with him in Berwick Street a few months later, when I was down in London working, we began chatting and I ended up making him a pair of tartan trousers. However, it was really only years later, when friends of mine, Paul Atreed and Matt Goss, took me to the Regency Rooms cabaret club at the Talk of London to watch Lenny perform, that I was enlightened. I thought, "This guy's a genius - I'd love to take his wardrobe to the max!" and arranged to meet him after the show. We got on like a house on fire and I have made his clothes ever since. It has been an accidental but perfect marriage.

My first impressions could only have been that Lenny was a god of genius, and that women were falling at his feet. Also, I couldn't fail to notice his phenomenal wit and style. We didn't share a sense of humour at the time though. Lenny has shown me another type of wit and a different side to laughing - camp humour in the theatrical sense. It's like getting into better company, in that it has stretched me a bit. Lenny has brought out a part of my mind that was dormant, and I appreciate that. I don't know what I've brought to the relationship; a beer-swilling crudeness perhaps?

We tend to bounce off each other in conversation and say things to one another that you wouldn't say to your worst enemy - because we're friends and we can. Lenny's intelligence is frightening, and that's a good thing because I've got quite a forceful personality and don't like it when people just roll over. Resistance is good in a friendship. With Lenny you have to watch your P and Qs - otherwise he'll be in there to trip you up. My retorts are quite feeble compared to his, but luckily I like setting myself up, so I'm the perfect fall guy. I generally have an audience with Lenny once a week to discuss his wardrobe. He's going through the roof at the moment and we're working on a lot of clothing ideas. The outfits I make for him are so vulgar, the height of Lenny-Taste, and I love it because it's great fun. I am Spock to his Captain Kirk. I suggest ideas and Lenny will take them on and they will become his. I get no credit for it, but the joy of doing it is all the thanks I need. By way of a return, Lenny comperes all my shows, and I'm grateful to him for that. His mere presence attracts celebrities.

Our friendship is really based on Lenny's magnetism and that click that happens between people. I don't like to analyse relationships. Realistically, Lenny and I have very little in common; just our love of fine wines and our appreciation of women, I suppose. Otherwise, I like beer and Lenny likes champagne. He's a sipper; I'm a guzzler. I've always worked quite hard with the ladies, he doesn't need too. I'm a football man; he isn't. The list goes on and on. But the most important thing that binds our friendship together is that we laugh at the same things. Usually me.

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