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24 January 2024

DJ Paulette Q&A: “Grace Jones still hula hoops through songs. She’s my hero”

The Manchester house music maestro on culture, crisps and coming home.

By New Statesman

Paulette Constable was born in Manchester in 1966 and is a house music DJ. During her 30-year career, she has had residencies at venues including the Haçienda and Ministry of Sound.

What’s your earliest memory?

I have a very early memory, which astonishes my family. I remember when my mum put me and my twin on top of the tallboy in our living room and said: “What shall we call them?” That was when we’d just come out of the hospital.

Who are your heroes?

My first hero was Floella Benjamin, who used to be on Play School and Play Away. She was one of the first black characters that I saw on TV. Then, in my teenage years, it was Grace Jones. She’s still my hero now, for lots of reasons: she’s 75 and still touring, curating programmes, hula hooping her way through songs. Madonna, too. It’s the big “f*** you” to the patriarchy. They are never gonna stop. And why should they?

What book last changed your thinking?

Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. It stopped me apologising for being black, and made me think about how my life has been challenged by invisible white privilege.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler. They inspire me to speak out, fearlessly.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I am the queen of snacking, so I have to say chocolate and crisp snacks between 1976 and 2024. I have many favourites: I know it’s contentious, but I like Walkers cheese and onion crisps. I’ve tried lots of other ones – and I do like Tyrrells, but they’re sharp, they take your gums out. Walkers have just the right amount of crunch.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

It’s a weird thing for black people to think about, because I don’t want to go back. But if I had to, I would go and be an activist on the front line with Martin Luther King Jr.

[See also: Are you ready for Elon Musk to read your mind?]

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m having to live without it, because it’s finished. Succession. I love everything about it. It was really well written, really well acted. They didn’t drop the ball anywhere. They could have got a fifth series. Me and my friend would happily write it.

Who would paint your portrait?

Either of the artists who did the portraits of the Obamas for the White House: Kehinde Wiley (who did Barack) or Amy Sherald (who did Michelle).

What’s your theme tune?

“And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”. It’s from Dreamgirls, but there is a really good house music version by Donna Giles.

What’s currently bugging you?

The Tory party. We’ve had five prime ministers in less than ten years and all of them have been terrible.

What single thing would make your life better?

Sleep. Money is the easier answer, but I would rather get a lot of sleep and be fully functioning and cheerful every day.

When were you happiest?

Now. Coming back to Manchester was the best decision I ever made.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d have been more applied academically and, when I finished my degree, rather than DJing I would have done my MA and PhD, then I would have become a professor.

Are we all doomed?

Yes, if you get sucked in to social media and the 24/7 news round. But no, if you have even one bone of positivity in your body. Nothing lasts and everything gets better.

“Welcome to the Club: The Life and Lessons of a Black Woman DJ” by DJ Paulette is published by Manchester University Press

[See also: Richard Hawley Q&A: “It’s sickening what this government gets away with”]

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This article appears in the 24 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Media Wars