For those of you who don’t know who I am, I was a well-known face on the fetish scene way back in the 1990s (see bio below — Ed).
I put on events, DJed at all the big nights, played in one of the so-called ‘fetish bands’ that were all the rage before the record industry got cold feet over pervy popstars, and partied heartily every weekend in my custom leather gear… and my wheelchair!
I was one of the first disabled people most people had met in a nightclub, and I loved the fetish scene for being so accepting. I had come from the alternative, punk and goth scenes where I had found that, far too often, if I was out with a girl, men would come over to tell her she should be with “a real man”.
Once I found the fetish scene, this stopped, as people didn’t see me as broken or less, but as an obviously sexual entity who someone would be with for a reason. Oo,er missus!
In early November this year I posted to Facebook something that caused Tony, the illustrious editor of The Festishistas and one of the people who created the UK fetish scene, to ask me to write this.
Before I explain what I posted, I have to discuss the history of disabled people in the UK and how the fetish scene has been ahead of the curve when it comes to inclusivity and acceptance.
November 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act, a law that enshrined equality for disabled people on the statute books.
It wasn’t the law we had hoped for; not as tough on discrimination as we’d wanted. But it did require businesses to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the service they offered to ensure disabled people could access it.
Many people think that society before the DDA wasn’t accessible to disabled people at all. But actually, while it wasn’t perfect by miles, it was better than you’d think.
I spent most of the 1980s and the ’90s up to November 1995 in night clubs and bars, and many were really accessible. Clubs had lifts, many had accessible toilets and the security staff were very keen to help if I needed it.
Sure, at some venues I had to battle for a night out, as anyone who remembers seeing me crawl up the million steps of legendary Kings Cross venue Bagleys will agree. But at others it was plain sailing… or wheeling.
I even started my current career advising businesses on issues of accessibility working with Ministry of Sound, making it one of the first really accessible clubs in Europe.
On top of the accepting attitudes of fetish scene clubbers, the nights were held at accessible venues far more often than most other events. So this meant the scene really felt like home to me.
Then in 2000, I was involved in a serious car accident and had to disappear from the scene to have major surgery. After spending nearly
a decade recovering, I wanted to go out again. This was when I had a shock.
I soon found that many of the clubs that used to be accessible to me no longer provided disabled access to events.
Venues stopped me using their lifts, accessible toilets had been taken out, and I found myself being refused entry to venues that had welcomed me with open arms ten years earlier.
Rather than spending the time I’d been away from the night-time scene improving accessibility, venues had either stayed the same or had actually gone backwards.
And the venues used by the fetish scene were now among the worst offenders. A scene where I once felt at home had become hostile to people like me. Why?
Well this brings me to the Facebook post. You might expect that the laws requiring businesses to be accessible would place the legal responsibility to do so on the venue owners. But no. The law says it is the service provider who is responsible.
This means if you put on an event, gig, or club night, it is not the venue that is liable, but you, the promoter.
The theory was that market forces would oblige venue owners to make their properties accessible, as they wouldn’t be hired if they weren’t. Instead, promoters carried on hiring inaccessible venues, even when venues removed access features they’d once had. So there was no business pressure to improve.
As I said in my Facebook post, after 25 years, I doubt that most of the people who promote events have any idea that if a disabled person can’t access their event due to an inaccessible venue, the business that hired the venue — not the venue itself — is breaking the law.
I know I could have sued most of the major promoters of fetish nights in the ten years since I was well enough to get back on the scene. I didn’t take legal action because I know most of them and didn’t want to be the person that ruined the social lives of so many people.
But as we mark 25 years of the law that says things should have got better for the disabled — as we look around, wondering why we still face the same exclusion and getting angrier at the lack of action — this will change.
I posted my explanation of the legal situation for all promoters because I know that disabled people are becoming far more willing now to take legal action over disabled access to events.
My post was intended as a heads-up that it’s time to stop acting like there’s nothing promoters can do, and to be proactive.
Sure I know it’s tough finding venues, especially for fetish events. But if promoters act together and use their financial clout, they can be a force for good.
They can be a force for change that will allow more disabled people to experience the joys of the fetish scene: the wonderful people, the welcoming atmosphere and the pleasure of being accepted as sexual beings — all of which I remember from way back when.
It’s time to let us in and let us play!
Mik Scarlet (above) was born in Luton in 1965 with a huge adrenal neuroblastoma, a malignant and potentially fatal tumour. Thanks to a new experimental drug called Vincristine sulphate, plus surgery and radio therapy, he survived.
But it left him with a paralysed right leg which necessitated his wearing a calliper for school. On his first school day, kids started mocking his limp and ‘metal leg’ and he responded by using that leg to kick out at the bullies.
He says his mum considered this to demonstrate his “method of dealing with life’s little barriers”. He adds that he still reacts that way today.
Mik’s schooling proceeded normally until, taking his O-Levels aged 15, he collapsed — and then spent nine months in hospital, undergoing two major spinal operations.
His cancer treatment had deformed one of the vertebrae in his spine, which had finally collapsed on exam day, crushing the nerves to his legs.
Just before his 16th birthday, he left RNOH in Stanmore as a full-time wheelchair user. He returned to school part-time to finish his exams, and also taught himself to play keyboards and program music computers.
By the time Mik started at sixth form college, he had discovered the New Romantic scene and was writing his own songs and playing in a local band.
A second band, The Strontium Boys, changed their name to Freak UK. They played all over the UK and supported Gary Numan on a European tour.
Spotted at a gig by a TV producer, Mik was offered a screen test that led to his first presenting job, on Thames Television’s live weekly Help Roadshow.
From there his TV career took off. He became the first disabled presenter to work on mainstream national TV in the UK, presenting items for Channel 4 youth shows Survivors Guide and Sex Talk.
He toured local TV stations presenting items on disabled access, with focus on pubs and clubs, and also started working with BBC2’s disability magazine One in Four.
His big break, in 1990, was getting the presenting gig on Channel 4’s first ever kids’ TV show, Beat That. The show was an immediate hit, pushing Mik into the media spotlight just as he was making his acting début in C4’s Brookside.
He went on to act in ITV’s The Bill and the BBC comedy 2.4 Children, as well as playing Prince Charming in panto!
Freak UK’s future had also been looking rosy until the band started getting rejections from record labels on the basis that “no one would buy anything by a band with a disabled front man”. Freak UK split up and Mik moved to London.
Happily, his TV work went from strength to strength. The second series of Beat That was shown all over the world. It won an Emmy and was nominated for a BAFTA, while Mik himself won TV presenter of the Year 1992 and was given a UNICEF award for his work with disabled children.
The BBC offered him a job on a new kids’ poetry show Wham, Bam Strawberry Jam alongside Rik Mayall. At the same time he started working with a dance music act that became Eroticis, a fetish scene favourite.
“Combining my pop writing skills with dance production, we were soon playing sell-out gigs of 3,000-plus and massive festivals,” he recalls.
But the band’s slightly risqué image and stage shows got it into trouble with the Daily Mail.
“In 1996 the Mail ran a story about how awful it was that the BBC had hired a punk who sung in a weird pop band to present one of their kids’ TV shows,” Mik explains.
The article ignored the fact that Mik had been presenting children’s TV shows for years before his “weird pop band” exploits began.
On the verge of accepting an offer from perhaps the ultimate kids’ TV show, Blue
Peter, Mik decided to move on, and into more factual presenting. He focused on his work with the BBC’s Disability Programmes Unit and their news show From the Edge, as well as other news and current affairs output.
Eroticis split shortly after Mik’s change of direction. But the best thing to come out of this time, he says, was falling in love with Diane — lead singer of Eroticis under the name Angel Delight (and his wife since 2005).
The late ’90s saw TV, radio and other media work including journalism, and a new band project, Scarlet Messiah, that even got into the US Goth charts.
Then in 1999, Mik was in a car crash that left him with an injured shoulder. On his first day as outside broadcast presenter for Danny Baker’s Breakfast Show on BBC London, he felt something snap and was instantly plunged into agony.
Over the next couple of years Mik’s health deteriorated and working became harder and harder. Sporadic TV gigs included working on a BBC technology pilot and on BBC News 24. But making music proved impossible.
Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong until a surgeon at the RNOH spotted that Mik’s spine had cracked and was slowly collapsing. The snapping he’d experienced earlier had been his back breaking — for the second time!
He was soon booked for a major spinal operation, using a new technique of replacing segments of the spine with titanium. He emerged from 15 hours of surgery with no pain and, he jokes, a spine “worth over £250,000 as scrap”.
For the next five years Diane cared for him while he wrote for newspapers, magazines and websites from his sick bed. And in 2005 the couple married.
Figuring that his broadcasting career was probably now over, he studied to become an access and inclusivity expert, working in the field of disability.
“Ever since I was a kid I had campaigned for better access, and my first triumph as an adult was getting my local cinema to allow wheelchair users in, so this seemed a sensible way to go,” he says.
He took courses and began working with businesses including the owners of the Stables Market in Camden. He began contributing a fashion and lifestyle column for Disability Now magazine.
After attending a play by disabled performance specialists Graeae Theatre in 2011, Mik was offered a part in Rhinestone Rollers: Wheels on Broadway, a dance show in which wheelchair users performed Broadway numbers.
In 2012 Graeae CEO Jenny Sealey was given the job of directing the London Paralympic Games opening and closing ceremonies, and asked Mik to play a part.
In front of a crowd of 80,000 he “danced his wheels off” alongside his fellow Rollers. Then he went straight to the Basketball Arena in the Olympic Park for five days to present the live coverage of the wheelchair basketball.
In late 2012, Mik began writing for new disability magazine PosAbility. In 2013 he began hosting Three Counties Radio’s Breakfast Show, and travelling the country to appear at events such as Dadafest.
He became a regular on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, reviewed newspapers for Sky News, did phone-ins around disability for ITV’s This Morning and wrote regular columns for The Huffington Post and several print mags.
He reported for Channel 5 News, fronted items on TV and radio and wrote articles for global publication. He joined the presenting team for online travel site Britain Is Great and filmed travelogues all over the UK.
Mik returned to the stage, acting in a production in Stockton with a company called Little Cog. He even ventured briefly into the world of stand-up comedy, performing for the BBC and at live gigs.
Meanwhile his career in consultancy was taking off. He became an acknowledged expert in inclusive practice and procedure in the private and public sectors, specialising in retail, the arts, housing and public transport.
Most recently he spent six months working for Network Rail as an access and inclusion manager, and became a reviewer on Radio 4 arts show Front Row.
[Based on ‘About’ article at mikscarlet.com]