Coming from an underprivileged background in the East End of London, Berkeley sets himself the challenge to escape poverty and do well for himself. Armed with a good brain and determination, he succeeds and wants for nothing, but there’s a bitter price to pay. Now the challenge is with himself, and he escapes to the quiet of Tenerife for love, only to lose it promptly. What now? With no career or prospects in the unfamiliar country, what is Berkeley to do? He decides to set up business opening an art gallery, yet knows nothing about art. Comical disasters, veiled threats and visitors of a spiritual nature, believing that he’s to be served up to the Devil himself ensue. The whole experience pushes Berkeley to limits he’s never encountered before, and he learns the hard way that what goes around really does come around to haunt you. Only love and true friendships can bring him back to the real world.
Berkeley had always lived a double life. Not quite like Jekyll and Hyde, but one of his lifestyles didn’t and couldn’t be mixed with the other. As a child, being gay and trying to act straight in the depths of East London in the back end of the 60s was something you did if you valued your life, because queer bashing was still a big thing in those days.
From a tender young age, Berkeley quickly learned he had to conceal his deepest and darkest secret—his sexuality. Pretty hard when you consider he was the skipping champion at his school and was often told he had the looks and mannerisms of a choir boy. It didn’t help that his older sisters, Dawn and Tracy, dressed him up in their girliest frocks and high heels when Top of the Pops was on. Berkeley provided his parents and sisters with hours of entertainment while he imitated Pans People dance routines. It all seemed so natural for him at the time, and he loved it because he didn’t know any different. For all he knew, that was what all little boys did.
It was only when his father’s sister Anne was pregnant with her first child, Luis, that he discovered the truth. As all children do, he asked how babies were made, and he kind of wished he hadn’t asked the question. The response left him distraught—that men and women had sex. Fortunately for him, at the time he was too young to be expected to have a girlfriend, which was just as well, because most of the girls in his class were bigger than him, and by all accounts, they packed a bigger punch.
Berkeley knew from infancy that girls just weren’t for him. However, that didn’t stop those who weren’t trying to beat his brains out from thinking that he might just be for them. They often commented that his square jaw line, engaging blue eyes, little button nose and blond hair made him irresistible. So he was often chased around the playground by adoring little girls who wanted to play kiss-chase, which was something he wasn’t fond of. Perhaps that was why he’d become the fastest sprinter in his school.
Berkeley spent many a night during his childhood musing over whether it was his fault he was born gay. Had he chosen at birth to be gay? Was he born gay because of his genes? If that was the case, then surely it was his parent’s fault? Incidentally, they were Bernard Walter Riley and Joy Sylvia Tunstall, who later became Joy Silvia Riley. His father was one of the lifeguards at East Ham swimming baths, and at five-foot-eleven with a strong frame and chiselled jaw, he was, by all accounts, considered to be a bit of a local hunk. In contrast, his mother was only four-foot-eleven, with a small petite frame, who carried herself very well because of her parents being quite well-to-do. Berkeley’s grandfather Tunstall worked in printing, which was a well-respected and pretty well-paid job at the time. In comparison to his father’s parents, they were middle-class as opposed to working class.
Berkeley’s mother was a high-board diver, so she’d visited the baths frequently to practice. Given she spent a lot of time in the water, she kept her hair short, like a lovely little pixie. While not conventionally beautiful, she was attractive and well-known for her pout. They’d met at the swimming baths when Berkeley’s mother was eighteen and his father was twenty. He was sure both of them would deny that it was their genes that had anything to do with him being gay. However, something or someone was responsible for him starting to grow breasts at the age of thirteen.
He had clearly upset the logical sequence of births in his family—it went girl, boy, girl, boy, so according to that sequence, he should’ve been born a girl. He reconciled himself with the thought that being the last in the line of five children, he obviously didn’t want to upset the balance and was born half and half—a girl’s mind trapped in a boy’s body. That meant his family made up the perfect two-and-a halfboys and two-and-a half girls.
Berkeley secretly wondered if his sexuality was due to his father’s absence for the first years of his life. He’d had an accident when he was twenty-seven, while his mother was pregnant with Berkley. The box he’d picked up at the docks in East London, was a lot lighter than he’d thought and he lifted it up quicker than he’d expected. The result—he’d snapped his neck against the solid metal hook of a crane, leaving his spine permanently damaged. He spent four years in rehabilitation with only the occasional short visit home allowed. One of Berkeley’s first memories of his dad was him giving Berkeley a record of the theme tune to one of the most popular children’s programmes in the 70s, We are the Diddy Men by Ken Dodd. He adored it and got his mum to play the seventy-eight on their record player so much, it was a wonder it didn’t lose its grooves.
His dad was always at home for bonfire night and Christmas. Before Guy Fawkes night one year, Berkeley had made a stuffed Guy Fawkes guy out of his old clothes and newspaper, then spent hours outside his local sweet shop in the bitter cold, asking for a penny for the guy. With his sweet and innocent face and polite manners, he got enough money to buy a box of fireworks and keep a bit for him for sweets. On bonfire night, all the kids and their mum gleamed with excitement by the side of the roaring fire as their dad let off the fireworks Berkeley had bought. As they watched and listened to the dazzling array of sparkles, whooshes and booms the charred smoke, that led up to the starlit sky, was filled with squeals of delight and excitement. After the fireworks, they were treated to jacket potatoes that his mum had wrapped in aluminium foil and thrown into the bonfire.