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How to slay a train: When the queers took over the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Attitude joined the likes of Bimini, Amanda Lepore, Jake Shears, Omari Douglas, and Jayde Adams for a ride on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

By Cliff Joannou

Layton Williams, Kiddy Smile, Bimini, Amanda Lepore, Jake Shears, and more joined the Venice Simplon Orient Express
Layton Williams, Kiddy Smile, Bimini, Amanda Lepore, Jake Shears, and more joined Attitude on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

The answer was, “Absolutely YES!” The question from Glyn Fussell of Mighty Hoopla? “Fancy coming on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express?”

Two months later, outfits planned and bags packed, I land in Venice with 22 queerdos and one boyfriend in tow during a torrential downpour. Amongst others, our outrageous entourage includes Bimini, Jake Shears, Kadiff Kirwan, Jayde Adams, Omari Douglas, and Layton Williams, who all dash through the rain and dive into people carriers that whisk us to the heart of the city. A short car ride later we clamber onto boats that ferry us to the timeless Belmond-owned Cipriani hotel on Giudecca Island, located a few minutes from the city, for the first night of this ‘Traveling with Pride’ experience.

Omari Douglas on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Omari Douglas on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Image: Marshall Lawrence)
Miss Fame also joined the journey (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

After a quick costume change, we gather for the evening drink reception hosted by Dani St James, founder of Not A Phase, a UK-based charity that is working towards a brighter future for the trans+ community, which this 48-hour experience is supporting. Dani rouses our queer spirits (already roused by the free pour sbagliatos – “oooo stunning”) with a moving speech on the importance of allyship and the challenges facing the trans community in the UK. There’s nothing like a queer party with a good cause at the heart of it! It makes the hangovers feel so much more worthwhile.

The next morning, the weather transformed. The sun rises over Venice and a crisp, fresh air has rolled in. We board boats and make our way through the city to the train station for the highlight of our wild two-day tour of Europe: 24 hours on the world-famous Venice-Simplon-Orient Express.

Jake Shears
Jake Shears (Image: Marshall Lawrence)
Bimini stuns (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

Once inside the impressive carriages, we take our time to admire the impeccable Art Deco interiors; the craftsmanship is outstanding, beyond what we ever imagined it to be. From the woodwork to the intricate attention poured into every detail, it’s just so utterly enthralling. It’s quite bewildering to think that the train was first manufactured nearly a century ago, with all the carriages on our tour built in the late 1920s or early 30s.

We regroup for lunch, which tantalises the tastebuds as exquisitely as you’d imagine a meal on this world-famous train to be. Starters of divine slices of scallops are followed by flawless mains of guinea foul that satiate our precious palates. We sip on cocktails in the bar – aka Car 3674, which dates back to 1931 – before retreating to our cabins to watch the world unfurl through the window as the train rolls through the hills of Italy.

Amanda Lepore
Amanda Lepore dazzles (Image: Marshall Lawrence)
Attitude Pride Icon Award winner, Kiddy Smile
Attitude Pride Icon Award winner, Kiddy Smile (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

As we whoosh through the autumnal setting, the undoubted highlight comes as we emerge from a tunnel out onto the coast of the Ligurian Sea in northern Italy. The waves disappear beneath the left side of the train as we gasp with joy at the breathtaking view of a radiant red sun setting in the distance. It’s the perfect way to close out the day ahead of the evening’s party.

We next gather for an impeccable dinner, this time a divine main of lobster presented in a delicate puff pastry that melts in the mouth. With the night well and truly upon us, Jayde Adams opens the entertainment accompanied by Dinah Lux on piano. The Strictly star dazzles as she belts out operatic classics (‘Nessun Dorma’ was never so fabulously camp) before sending us into hysterics with a diabetes-inducing reinterpretation of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ (“Do you like Crumble, Do you like Trifle, Do you like arctic roll, put it all together with some cream…”). The mic gets passed over to Layton Williams who belts out an Everybody’s Talking About Jamie classic, before Jake Shears serves those classic high notes in true Scissor Sisters fashion.

Layton Williams belts out a tune
Layton Williams belts out a tune (Image: Marshall Lawrence)
Jake Shears takes to the mic on board the Venice Simplon Orient Express
Jake Shears takes to the mic on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

It’s then to the DJs to get the party started with We Love Pop opening the show in suitably sashaying style with Madonna’s ‘Vogue’. Within minutes, the train is transformed into the most intimate nightclub in the world. As we race through the French countryside, the rhythm is in full flow with us all gyrating to ‘Jai Ho’, before DJ Aimee Philips takes over to warm the decks up for the incomparable Amanda Lepore.

“I drink Champagne in the morning, I drink Champagne in the afternoon, I drink Champagne in the bubble bath, I drink Champagne in my dressing room,” Lepore sings to the appreciative train, before layer by layer of clothing is peeled back until the infamous New York performance artist is down to her knickers and nipple tassels. The gays go wild!

Jayde Adams
Jayde Adams on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

I glance over my shoulder whilst waiting at the bar, and see Janet, who earlier that day was working the train’s boutique. “I had two dreams when I was a little boy: to work on the Orient Express and to do drag. Today my two worlds have come together,” she says as a tear wells up in my eye. When Janet heard the news that the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was going queer, she revealed her love of drag to her colleagues.

We hug it out and I express how happy I am for Janet, and I thank the gathered Venice Simplon-Orient-Express team for giving their colleague the opportunity to embrace her identity in all its manifestations. In true Lepore style, Janet calls out to the bartender: “Champagne!” We raise our glasses and toast to her coming out.

The sensational Dinah Lux
The sensational Dinah Lux (Image: Marshall Lawrence)
Glyn Fussell
Glyn Fussell on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Image: Marshall Lawrence)
Kadiff Kirwan strikes a pose (Image: Marshall Lawrence)

Across the carriage, Jake Shears takes over the decks and unleashes his jacked-up house beats that send us doolally. Literally. Mid-conversation, Glyn Fussell tumbles sending me flying sideways, falling onto the speaker. I could blame the train jolting, but it’s also quite likely to be the constant flow of margaritas the barman has been free pouring. It’s then over to Kiddy Smile to take on the decks, keeping the beats bouncing until way beyond 3.30am when we only just begin to think about winding down, retreating to our cabins that have in the interim been transformed into cosy bunks, pulling the blinds down to wish goodnight to a truly remarkable 48 hours.

There may not have been a ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, but girl did we absolutely slay that train.