Real story behind Kinky Boots will surprise you, says Northamptonshire inspiration for film and stage show

Former boss of WJ Brookes shoe factory Steve Pateman modelling 'kinky boots' in the same way he did for his company's catalogue
Former boss of WJ Brookes shoe factory Steve Pateman modelling 'kinky boots' in the same way he did for his company's catalogue

The real story behind the international cross-dressing sensation that is Kinky Boots has many a surprise.

Not least that the film world being a notoriously competitive place, everyone on set of the 2005 smash hit got along famously, according to the real life Charlie Price, Earls Barton's Steve Pateman.

"They said there will never be a film set like this where everyone got on well together. There were no divas."

No divas working on a film that revolves around eccentric drag queens is a bit of a revelation, but Steve's new book, which arrives at the same time that the Kinky Boots stage show hits Northampton, promises to be full of such gems.

Steve was the man who saved his family's traditional shoe factory, WJ Brookes, by branching out into footwear for men who like to dress as women.

But not everything in the film matches the reality.

"About 50 per cent of it is true.

"Lola (the transvestite played onscreen by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was ten people I met rolled into one." He adds, laughing: "All the best bits."

"Don is a character very loosely connected to a lot of real people from the factory."

As for the other 50 per cent, although he was thrilled with how the film turned out, artistic licence ran a little more freely. The portrayal of himself, for example.

"I was the go-getter with all the ideas. Sometimes I look at it and it's very hard for me because Charlie Price comes across as a bit of an idiot.

"He is the one bumbling around and Lola comes in and takes over.

"Actually I was the one who did it all, with the help of the team.

"But overall, it worked."

The book, Boss in Boots, begins with the fateful phone call from a Folkstone factory wanting to place an order at WJ Brookes for women's shoes to be worn by men.

What ensues for regular factory boss Steve is a rapid immersion in the world of transvestites, drag queens and cross-dressers, which led to a niche production line that saved his workers' jobs. He admits the journey was constantly an eyeopening experience.

"The interactions will come as a surprise to people who have never been in a world of kinkiness, thigh boots and court shoes.

"Our reactions to men dressed as women and their reactions to us, people will enjoy."

Steve says much of the book is spent sending himself up as he gets to know more about cross-dressing than he ever thought possible.

"I was in a world where it wasn't them being embarrassed, it was me.

"It was my inhibitions and a straight way of looking at everything

"But you get less and less shocked and you accept."

In fact Steve accepted it all right up to the point that he ended up learning how to shave his legs and donning a pair of the now-famous long boots himself, modelling not for the Milan catwalk as depicted in the film, but for the real factory's catalogue.

This steady conversion left Steve with deep and lasting appreciation for the cross-dressing and transvestite community.

"I'm very, very protective over the story and the people. I was with the Trouble at the Top documentary, (the BBC programme that brought the factory to national attention).

"I didn't want them ridiculed, put on a little pedestal for people to take the mickey out of. They had let me into their world.

"As everything transpired, I very clearly said to the writers, I didn't want them portrayed as weirdos. They are the kind of people who either love you, or if they don't get on with you, ignore you."

Steve was very much involved in the early days of the film and says the writers and producers did a wonderful job.

He is in touch with Kinky Boots actors Joel Edgerton (the onscreen him), Sarah Jane Potts and Jemima Rooper, who have written quotations for his book.

With the musical, although he has seen it several times and enjoyed it, Steve has a slightly different relationship - dating back to when it launched, on Broadway.

"I did offer my services. All I asked for was a couple of tickets, the flight, hotel and maybe a beer and I would do all the press and publicity myself. But that wasn't forthcoming."

His main issue is that the links to Northampton and his own part in the story aren't as prominently he had hoped, even in the touring UK production.

"It'd be nice to be mentioned in the programme about where it all came from, it really doesn't go deep enough."

For licensing reasons, he cannot promote his book at Kinky Boots' triumphant homecoming at the Royal & Derngate from September 19.

But showing the kind of ingenuity that saved his factory all those years ago, he will instead set up down the road in the foyer of the Premier Inn, in Swan Street.

He and his co-author - the Chron historian David Saint, a longtime friend of Steve's - will sign books and chat to theatre goers before and after every Kinky Boots performance.

"If people would like to meet the real Charlie Price and ask me any questions they like, they can. And we may even give out a few kinky cocktails.

"We'd love to see the people of Northampton, and they're more than welcome to come and have a chat."