Soho is a place where there is no judgement, and the more outrageous you are, the better. The exhilarating streets filled with bars, clubs, and restaurants have long opened their arms to those who have not felt comfortable or been accepted elsewhere. But how did it become such a free loving, and accepting place?

Our own history starts with the “King of Soho”, Paul Raymond, famous for his risqué shows and entertainment venues, but before Raymond, there was a Queen, Mrs Henderson. Both owned The Windmill Theatre at different times in history. Mrs Henderson owned and named the theatre in 1931, and Raymond owned it from 1974.

The life of Mrs Henderson has been captured in the musical film Mrs Henderson Presents, starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.

It comically describes how a 70-year-old widow bought an abandoned cinema and transformed it into the infamous Windmill Theatre by incorporating nudity into the shows. This was only allowed if the performers were motionless as they could therefore be considered an ‘art’ display. These were the first nude shows to be performed in London.

The King of Soho Gin

Although it was not known at the time, these nude shows would be the birth of burlesque and the risqué shows in Soho that we all know and fell in love with and that can still be seen today. It was also the first time that nudity was shown in the UK; revolutions are often started by the most unlikely of candidates.

Raymond took this original concept one step further by placing his performers on conveyor belts, so the nudes began to move.

In the spirit of serendipity, Bob Hoskins also starred in the 1986 cult film Mona Lisa. Raymond’s Revue Bar was used as the set for some of the scenes, and the photographer, Terry O’Neill, captured Bob Hoskins and his co-star Michael Caine in the bar.

This photo, which hangs in the King of Soho HQ, is pictured below with our female founder, Alex Robson.

Alex Robson, King of Soho Gin
Alex Robson

The theme for this month is The Circle of Nights, as almost 50 years on the reign of non-conformity is now once again held by a Queen. Our female founder, Alex Robson, follows Mrs Henderson with “breaking conventions” and “challenging the norm” to capture the spirit of Soho once again.

During The Blitz in London, Mrs Henderson notoriously said, “We never close”. This one quote has portrayed the essence of Soho and has influenced our brand and our determination. 

On the 26th of August, it is Woman’s Equality Day.

So to celebrate the circular rotation of the crown, and strong female founders and creatives, this month we are launching a ‘Queens in Biz’ campaign.

This is part of Alex’s next project, ‘The Queen of Soho’ forum, which is there to support and encourage new entrepreneurs and creative spirits and give back to the community of Soho. So be sure not to miss any of our announcements!