Jordan Mooney on being the face of punk and her new book
PUBLISHED: 09:58 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:58 24 September 2019
Adam Ant said she invented punk rock. But how did a ballet-mad youngster from Seaford become one of the most iconic faces of the time?
Jordan Mooney turns heads at the Old Boot in Seaford with her torn Vivienne Westwood jacket, leather wristbands, black net skirt and Ray Bans matching her purple hair. She greets me with a kiss, fusses my dog and insists on buying the first drink. “I never wanted to fit in,” she says. “By the time I left junior school, I knew I was going to do something different with my life.”
Pamela Rooke was born in June 1955, the youngest of three children. “My dad, Stanley, was billeted in Seaford during the war and settled here. My mum Linda was a seamstress – vivacious and glamorous. In many ways, my childhood was like a dream. I used to do the Dance of the Seven Veils to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite using Mum’s chiffon scarves,” she laughs. At seven, she started ballet at Miss Angela’s School of Dancing in Eastbourne.
“Our parents allowed us to run free. I spent hours on Seaford beach. The sea always feels like freedom to me,” she explains.
“If I bunked off school, I would go to the Seven Sisters and walk along the cliffs with my best friend, Sally.”
At Seaford Head Secondary, she was captain of the hockey team. “Other girls wanted to get married and have babies. But I wanted to be my own person and excel at something.”
Inspired by Roxy Music and David Bowie, she started experimenting with her appearance. By 18, Pamela was sent home from school for her outrageous razor-cut pink and red hair. Her mother insisted she keep several yards behind when they went out!
In 1973, Pamela queued all night for tickets to see David Bowie at Brighton Dome. “He’d had photos done wearing a satin suit with cherry blossom so Sally and I climbed a tree in my road to get all the cherry blossom we could carry. I walked to the stage and threw it over him. Through the falling petals, he took my hand and asked to have my homemade feather and pearl earring. I said no.”
She enjoyed English and Art and says “Cimabue, the Florentine artist, baulked against the establishment and was one of the first people I considered to be punk”.
She left school with two A levels, changed her name to Jordan (after a character in The Great Gatsby), adopted a towering peroxide beehive, Cleopatra make-up taken to the max and started working in Harrods’ Way In department.
By 1974, she was working at Sex, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s King’s Road boutique, selling designer pieces and fetish wear. Commuting from Seaford to London was eventful. “Sometimes, everyone would leave when I got into a carriage. When my outfit comprised a see-through bra and knickers with stockings, the police threatened to arrest me. The guard sometimes moved me into First Class to keep me separate. I wasn’t being brave or an exhibitionist. I didn’t care what anyone thought, I wanted to be a living work of art,” she insists.
In the shop where McLaren put together The Sex Pistols. Jordan remembers John Lydon (soon-to-be Johnny Rotten) auditioning “with a shower attachment for a microphone”. She went riding in Hyde Park with John Beverley, who became Sid Vicious, both refusing to wear helmets which would ruin their hair.
McLaren asked Jordan to get on stage with the Pistols at their 1976 TV debut. She became a regular at gigs and got love letters from Stuart Goddard, later the frontman of Adam and the Ants. She briefly managed the band and they remain friends.
By 1977, Jordan was painting her face with pink triangles, inspired by Mondrian. She got a part in Derek Jarman’s 1978 cult film Jubilee. In a striking scene, Jordan ballet dances beside a flaming pyre in a desolate dockyard.
She intrigued Andy Warhol. “At the Factory, he took pictures of me with a load of stuffed penguins,” she chuckles.
On her 26th birthday, she married Kevin Mooney, the Ants’ bassist. It was Honey magazine’s Wedding of the Year – but Vivienne Westwood sacked her for this “conformist act”.
As drugs took hold, Jordan’s London life started to unravel. Needing an escape, she came home in 1983.
“When I moved back to Seaford, it was a kind of therapy to see the Seven Sisters again; to be out in this wild place, with the skylarks and swallows ducking and diving around.
My mother died suddenly four years later and I’m so glad I was here for her.”
Jordan had developed a love of Burmese cats back in London. When she entered her boy, Al, into a show she was “immediately hooked”. Back home, she started breeding Burmese with her best friend. “I’ve bred many top show cats including a double supreme show overall winner (like winning Crufts twice). I always say if you’re going to do something, do it really well.”
When her farmer brother-in-law had a heart attack, she went up to the farm to help her sister Jeannie with lambing. They had to learn fast. After unwinding afterbirth that was twisted around the leg of a newborn feral kitten, she had found her new vocation. She has been a receptionist and veterinary nurse at Beechwood Veterinary Surgery for 27 years.
Jordan lives in the house where she was born, along with four Burmese cats. “Dad picked the house for the big back garden and used to show his flowers and veg. Dad died in 2003 but all the trees and fuschias he planted are still here.”
On her 60th birthday, Jordan’s collection of Westwood-McLaren originals were auctioned. There’s a photograph of Kate Moss modelling Jordan’s iconic studded ‘Venus’ T-shirt. “It’s a weight off my shoulders that someone else is going to preserve those clothes properly,” she says.
That same year, she gave her first public talk at the Crypt in Seaford – with her art teacher from Seaford Head in the front row. In 2016, the British Library had the Punk 1976-1978 exhibition and Jordan says: “It made me realise how many people are fascinated by that time when a small group of people led the way to change things. I decided it was time to write my book. I’ll always be a punk. It’s a state of mind. It’s about freedom of speech and individuality.”
Defying Gravity: Jordan’s Story by Jordan Mooney and Cathi Unsworth is published by Omnibus, price £20.
My favourite Sussex
– Place – At Hope Gap you can see Coastguard Cottages and all Seven Sisters. Dad and I used to go “dangerous prawning” there after dark. We climbed over slimy rocks to put nets out and Mum used to worry I’d fall. It’s where we scattered Dad’s ashes. I always think of him when I go there.
– View – Looking up from the Martello Tower to Seaford Head. My older sister, Jeannie, was a keen golfer and I used to caddy for her there when I was 10 or 11.
– Shops – When I was six, there was a little shop called Dancia, just off the Western Road in Brighton. I had a tutu made to order with a satin top and Fabiola tights in palest pink. I still remember the wonderful smell of new ballet shoes.
– Restaurant – No question – English’s, the seafood restaurant in Brighton’s Lanes. They have the most wonderful oysters, a lovely wine selection and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted! The staff are so welcoming, I can stay for hours.
– The work of Birdham-based artist Shazia Mahmood – Landscape artist Shazia Mahmood has painted around the world, but there’s no place like home when it comes to dramatic seaside scenery, as she tells Simone Hellyer