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Biography History Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

The Queen of Whale Cay

By Kate Summerscale, 2017

Born in 1900 to a promiscuous American oil heiress and a British army captain, ‘Joe’ Carstairs became a leading light of the 1920s London lesbian demi-monde. She dressed in men’s clothes, smoked cigars and cheroots, tattooed her arms, and raced speedboats so hard that she was hailed in the international press as the ‘fastest woman on water’.

But in 1934 Joe vanished from the pages of the newspapers. She bought herself an island in the Bahamas, named Whale Cay, where she fashioned a self-sufficient kingdom, with 500 Bahamian subjects, and hosted riotous parties. Her many girlfriends included screen sirens such as Marlene Dietrich, but the love of Joe’s life was a small man-doll called Lord Tod Wadley, which she took with her wherever she went. ‘He’s me,’ she explained, ‘and I’m him.’

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