From jailbirds to platteland queens

22 March 2015 - 02:00 By BOBBY JORDAN
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As an openly gay couple in prison, their "intimate sexual activities" incensed warders and fellow inmates.

But Gregg and John Pettigrew have now become a cabaret sensation across the platteland, applauded by small-town audiences and drawing bigger crowds than Sunday church services.

The former jailbirds spent more than a year touring South Africa's criminal justice system, including a stretch in an East London prison.

Now they are touring small-town South Africa with a sexy drag show that has injected some "Ooh!" into the Karoo.

Gregg's saucy stage persona, "Falicity Spitfire", bears no resemblance to the convicted fraudster with a receding hairline who received a suspended sentence for fraud in 2013.

Nor do most people suspect that his sidekick on the keyboard, John, is the man who spent five months in the notorious Lindela repatriation centre near Johannesburg.

Their "Bonnie and Clyde" past is largely unknown in the small Eastern Cape town of Steynsburg, where they have settled.

The couple believe they have found their niche in South African showbiz in the "conservative" heartland.

Their tour reached Calitzdorp last night after a successful visit to Barrydale.

To their amazement, the response so far has been positive.

"'Surprised' would be an understatement - we were blown away," said Gregg, who dropped his surname, Wiggill, after their marriage last year.

"There was a lot of apprehension about touring in the platteland. First of all, a gay married couple in a small town, and then this completely over-the-top character, among what is essentially a farming community. "But the response has been absolutely phenomenal."

Queenstown guesthouse owner Johan Reynders said the show was unusual by platteland standards.

"They even had a show at the Queenstown casino, which was very well attended."


The couple's recent success is in stark contrast to the vitriolic comments that have dogged them on social media, including allegations that they have defrauded many within the gay community and prey on gullible small-town people.

Although they remain tight-lipped about their past, they have admitted the involvement of a false ID. They were imprisoned in 2013 and released later that year, only for John, an Australian citizen, to be thrown into Lindela for overstaying his visa.

Last year, the Sunday Times reported on their unusual attempt to get married while in custody, which culminated in a bizarre stand-off with the Department of Home Affairs.

The ceremony eventually took place inside Lindela but only after Gregg had obtained a High Court order.

Gregg said their brush with the law had helped them refocus on priorities, such as their relationship: "John's release was a wonderful exercise in what the power of love can do. I think it refocused us."

Prison also refocused them on earning a living - legally. "We needed to make money to keep John alive in Lindela," said Gregg, who did a first cabaret show alone in East London.

John, meanwhile, had time enough in Lindela to develop the show's drag act. "Gregg told me what he was doing. We never initially wanted Falicity to be a drag character. We were aiming for political satire, sort of like Evita Bezuidenhout, but on steroids and singing."

Molteno resident Hannes Aucamp said the Pettigrews were "nice guys" who had performed at his wife's coffee shop. He was aware of their troubled past, but believed they needed "a positive break".

"They are just trying to make an honest buck like all of us. This is what they are now. They are very passionate about their music. They work as a team."

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