When Ronnie Kray fancied you, you made yourself scarce says veteran entertainer Jess Conrad – Mirror Online
It is pretty hard not to have heard of the Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie, especially after the film “Legend”. The two London gangsters robbed, bashed and murdered their way through the London underworld in the 60s, and owned and ran a string of nightclubs and protection rackets.
As boys in 1940s England, Ronald and Reginald Kray were wartime evacuees. They called Bethnal Green home, had a dog named Freda, an older brother named Charlie, and a sister who died as a baby.
No strangers to malfeasance, the two got started early, racking up a lengthy rap sheet before they could even order a pint. Violence, gang activity, and running from the law were all just after-school activities for the twins. They even knocked a police constable around and were briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London—two of the last inmates to be locked up in the infamous facility.
In the early 1950s, the Kray twins displayed a talent for boxing as young men. Reggie was a particularly potent force in the ring. Yet a life of crime kept calling them back. So a life of crime it was.
Glamorous as they were, trouble loomed in the shadows. Ronnie was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 1959, a disorder that came to haunt him in the coming years. After helping a criminal associate named Frank “The Mad Axeman” Mitchell escape prison in December 1966, the brothers struggled to keep their newly freed friend under control and allegedly had him killed.
Ronnie had a thing for orgies mixed with politics, and carried on an affair with Tory peer Lord Boothby. And while Ronnie was known as “The Queen Mother” in London’s gay underworld, they both had alleged bisexual tendencies. Reggie married a woman named Frances Shea in 1965, though the tumultuous relationship allegedly involved Reggie’s attempted rape of his wife’s brother.
It is rumoured that both brothers had gay sex encounters, though Reggie has been labelled more as a bisexual than a gay male. In a Mirror (UK) article dated 31 August, 2015, Deputy Features Editor, Steve Myall, headlined an article claiming that the brothers had had secret gay sex with each other. The eye-opening revelation was made by author John Pearson, who interviewed them both. “Ronnie and Reggie Kray had a secret incestuous relationship with each other (as they were growing up) so criminal rivals would not discover they were gay”, he claimed. The cruel and violent East End pair were terrified of coming out (as gay). He further revealed “They were worried that rivals would see their sexuality as a sign of weakness so only had sex with each other in order to keep the secret”.
It has long been known that Ronnie was a homosexual and Reggie was bisexual but the news they had a sexual relationship with each other gives a telling insight into their close connection. John said the pair were spoilt by their mother Violet, Grandma Lee and their two aunties, May and Rose, while their father was soon dominated by the increasingly violent brothers.
He says while he knew about the incest he waited until the brothers were both dead before revealing it for fear of retribution. John wrote: “All of which conformed, of course, to a classic pattern; and with their warm, indulgent mother, their ineffectual father, and their surrounding cast of loving women, it was not surprising that, with adolescence, the Twins discovered that they were gay“. The brothers ran a notorious criminal network in the 1960s building up an empire of nightclubs though hijacking, armed robbery and arson. As they moved from the East End to the West End they became big names, rubbing shoulders with Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and being photographed by David Bailey.
But onto Ronnie.
Veteran entertainer Jess Conrad was a young man in London and in awe of the Kray twins and recalls the fear they instilled, the protection they offered to stars like Barbara Windsor and Diana Dors, and a very strange gig in Broadmoor Prison.
Ronnie Kray was a predatory homosexual who terrified young men in Soho in the 1960s so much that they hid when they knew he was coming. According to legendary singer and actor Jess Conrad, who knew the Kray twins well, good looking young men used to vanish for fear of catching Ronnie’s eye and being invited back to “a party”. He said: “You had to keep your wits about you if you were a young man and Ronnie really fancied you. Word used to go out that the Krays were on their way to a certain pub and all the good looking boys used to piss off. Because otherwise if he asked you to go back to the house you had to go back and that was it“.
It’s always been known Ronnie Kray was gay with a fondness for violence but Jess’ recollection is one of the few accounts of how he exerted power for sexual ends. Jess said many men, including himself, were in awe of the gangsters and the way they dressed and carried themselves and were attracted to them.
In an interview with author John Pearson, Ronnie indicated he identified with the 19th century soldier Gordon of Khartoum (Lawrence of Arabia): “Gordon was like me, homosexual, and he met his death like a man. When it’s time for me to go, I hope I do the same.” A British television documentary, The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009), showed that Ronnie Kray was a rapist of men. The programme also detailed his relationship with Conservative peer Bob Boothby, as well as an ongoing Daily Mirror investigation into Lord Boothby’s dealings with the Kray brothers.
Ronnie Kray shocked his older brother Charlie by admitting his homosexuality and goaded his twin brother Reg into experimenting with gay sex, a new (2001) biography reveals.
Laurie O’Leary, author of A Man Among Men and a childhood friend of the Krays, says Ronnie summoned him to Broadmoor Hospital eight weeks before he died. Kray asked him to write the ‘warts-and-all’ story of his life. ‘Don’t make me into a nice person,’ he told O’Leary. ‘Just say I was nice with nice people, but a bastard with bastards.’
O’Leary, who grew up next door to the Kray brothers, was a pallbearer at Reggie Kray’s funeral on 11 October last year. ‘Ron discussed his homosexuality with only a very few people, but put simply it was a part of his nature he discovered, explored and enjoyed,’ O’Leary said. ‘He was at ease with it. It did not seem to conflict with his “tough guy” image or cause him any problems on any level.’
Ronnie Kray first admitted to O’Leary he was gay in his mid-teens, after falling in love with a younger boy called Willy. But when O’Leary told Willy, who ran an unofficial school for card sharps, of Kray’s attachment, he reacted badly.
‘He was terrified and said he would never dare go round to Ron’s house again unless I was there too,’ O’Leary said. ‘But I refused: Ron would have assumed [Willy and I] were having an affair.
‘I could easily understand Willy’s feelings, though_ [Ron] could be frightening.’
The members of the twins’ gang, known as the Firm, were overwhelmingly tolerant of Kray’s homosexuality. ‘Even if they objected, Ron just smiled at them and told them they didn’t know what they were missing,’ O’Leary said.
Kray’s mother, Violet, was comfortable with her son’s homosexuality, but his father and older brother, both called Charlie, were horrified.
‘Ron’s father thought it was degrading and disgusting, and his older brother was totally flabbergasted,’ O’Leary said. ‘But Ronnie told him that he had been like it for years and that not only could nobody change him but that he wouldn’t let them try. He said his brother Charlie just had to accept him as he was.’
Ronnie further shocked Charlie by telling him that Reggie was a bisexual. When Charlie confronted Reggie, according to O’Leary, the twin confirmed the claim, adding: ‘Don’t you think that boys are nice, Charlie? I think I could fancy a few myself.’
Despite this acknowledgment, Reggie habitually denied he was a bisexual. ‘I would say that Reg fought the fact he could also be bisexual more than Ron, but I knew of his affection for quite a few young male teenagers with whom he kept company,’ said O’Leary.
‘Ron would goad Reg when he went out with women and tried to influence Reg with his own appetite for young men.’
Although Ronnie Kray did have a number of regular sexual partners and strong friendships with other homosexual men – including Lord Boothby, for whom he obtained youths – O’Leary says he had a particular penchant for dark, clean-cut, boys with very white teeth.
During the Sixties, Ronnie fell in love with a young Arab boy on one of his many trips to Tangier in North Africa. ‘Ronnie showed me a photo,’ O’Leary said.
‘He told me that the boy loved him and showed me a letter the boy had written. It was a real love letter that said how much the boy wanted to come to England and live with Ronnie.’
Although Kray lost interest in the Arab boy, O’Leary says Ronnie was often very possessive of his boyfriends. ‘When he was sentenced, he still had many boyfriends and would do anything he could to make them happy,’ he said.
But perhaps Ronnie’s greatest claim to notoriety was his headline grabbing involvement with Tory peer, Lord Boothby.
According to BBC News, 23 October, 2015 “An association between Conservative peer Robert Boothby and London gangster Ronnie Kray was the subject of an MI5 investigation, documents have revealed. The men went to “homosexual parties” together and were “hunters” of young men, declassified MI5 files claim.
Allegations in 1964 about the pair’s relationship caused such concern within Downing Street that the then head of MI5 was summoned to the Home Office.
The government feared a scandal greater than the so-called Profumo Affair.
Rumours that notorious gangster Kray and Lord Boothby – a popular TV presenter and former MP for East Aberdeenshire – were having an affair were published in 1964.
The Sunday Mirror – which did not name the pair – claimed to have a photo of Kray and Boothby together with the bisexual peer’s chauffeur and lover, Leslie Holt.
The men were later identified in a German magazine.
Lord Boothby publicly denied having a homosexual or any other close relationship with Kray.
At the time, he said the photograph showed them discussing “business matters”, dismissing rumours about his personal life as a “tissue of atrocious lies”.
The Sunday Mirror ended up paying £40,000 in damages to Boothby.
But the papers – released as part of 400 declassified files by the Security Service (MI5), Foreign Office and Cabinet Office – reveal new information about their association.
They show how home secretary Henry Brooke was so concerned about the matter he summoned the head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, to ask what the security services knew.
Brooke feared the allegations might erupt into a scandal to rival the Profumo affair, which helped to bring down the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.
Sir Roger told the home secretary how MI5 had received reports that Lord Boothby was bisexual and had contacts with the Krays.
But, since he had no access to official secrets, MI5 concluded that Boothby’s private life was of no concern, the papers reveal.
According to an MI5 source, Lord Boothby was in a relationship with Holt – his chauffer and ex-boxer who also went by the name Johnny Kidd.
Holt told the source how Lord Boothby and Kray had “been to a couple of (homosexual) parties together”.
The report suggested the Sunday Mirror was tipped off about the “affair” between Lord Boothby and Kray by the rival Nash gang.
The MI5 report said: “Certainly the suggestion that Boothby has been having an affair with the gangster Kray is hardly true.”
Dr Richard Dunley, records specialist at the National Archives, said the story was “one of the greatest scandals that never was”.
“If this had come out in 1964 it would have been a huge scandal,” he said.
Dr Dunley said the files do not mention well-known claims that Lord Boothby had a long-term relationship with former prime minister Harold Macmillian’s wife.
“As tabloid headlines go, you can imagine what would have happened,” he said.
“The Mirror did effectively get hold of the story but couldn’t publish it, they got sued for libel.”
Lord Boothby, left, with Ronnie Kray, centre, and Leslie Holt, the former’s chauffeur and lover ( )
9 Interesting facts about the Kay brothers.
1) In 1952 after refusing to do National Service the twins were jailed and became among the last prisoners held at the Tower of London, before being transferred to Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset for a month, to await court-martial.
2) In 1960 the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman gave Reggie a nightclub called Esmeralda’s Barn in Wilton Place where the Berkeley Hotel now stands.
3) In 1964 the Sunday Mirror reported Scotland Yard was investigating a homosexual relationship between an unnamed peer and a major figure in the criminal underworld – Ronnie and Conservative MP Robert Boothby. Despite the pair not being named Boothby chose to go public with a letter to The Times in which he denied being gay and stated that he had only ever met Kray three times, always to discuss business matters and always in the company of other people. Facing the threat of a libel defeat, the Sunday Mirror issued an apology to the peer and paid out £40,000, equivalent to £500,000 today while newspaper’s editor, Reg Payne, lost his job over the affair.
4) In 2000 when Reggie died those sending wreaths included Barbara Windsor, Who singer Roger Daltry and pop star Morrissey. There was also a wreath believed to be from the American Mafia – next to a photo of Manhattan was the message: “In deep respect, from your friends in New York.”
5) Jack “the Hat” McVitie, was a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to fulfil a £1,500 contract paid to him in advance to kill a rival. As punishment McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Stoke Newington, on the pretence of a party. As he entered, Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at his head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge. Instead Ronnie held McVitie in a bearhug and Reggie stabbed him to death with a carving knife – at one stage his liver came out and had to be flushed down the toilet.
6) In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ronnie’s, which prompted an investigation.It revealed the twins – incarcerated at separate institutions – plus their older brother Charlie Kray and an accomplice were operating a “lucrative bodyguard and ‘protection’ business for Hollywood stars” called Krayleigh Enterprises. Documentation of the investigation showed that Frank Sinatra hired 18 bodyguards from Krayleigh Enterprises during 1985.
7) In prison Reggie claimed to have become a born-again Christian while Ronnie got married in Broadmoor to a twice-divorced former topless kissogram girl.
8) Patsy Kensit’s dad James ‘Jimmy The Dip’ Kensit was not only a member of the notorious Richardson gang – who made most of their money from fraud and earned a terrifying reputation as ruthless torturers who nailed their victims to the floor – but was also a close friend of their rivals, Reggie and Ronnie Kray.
9) Artist Lucian Freud ran up half a million pounds in gambling debts with the Krays. The late artist confessed he once cancelled an exhibition out of fear they would demand more money if they saw he was earning.
(Image: Daily Mirror)
- “Gangster twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray ‘had secret gay sex with EACH OTHER” Mirror.co.uk 31 August 2015 by Steve Myall. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/gangster-twins-ronnie-reggie-kray-6354591
- When Ronnie Kray fancied you, you made yourself scarce says veteran entertainer Jess Conrad, Mirror.co.uk. By John Myall 3 Sept 2015. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ronnie-kray-fancied-you-you-6376849
- Krause Twins: The killer truth behind the killer legends. Huffington Post, 6th December 2016, by DeAnna James. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-lineup/kray-twins-the-killer-tru_b_8631552.html
- Katy’s death bed secrets revealed. The Guardian (UK). 25th March 2001, by Amelia Hill. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/mar/25/ameliahill.theobserver
- BBC News, 23 October, 2015. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34612729
- 9 things you never knew about the notorious Kray twins. Mirror.co.uk. 31 August 2015, by Steve Myall. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/9-things-you-never-knew-6357210