Which is the sexiest train? (*in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Starlight Express)

Not a clue what’s going on here, to be honest. Image: Getty.

While the rest of the world indulged in the fur-ore over the newly released CATS trailer, we were turning our attention to that other 1980s Andrew Lloyd-Webber hit musical, Starlight Express. Because, CityMetric readers, what could be sexier than human railway carriages on rollerskates?

Move aside, felines: it’s time to meet the stage’s steamiest trains. Here they are, in official and objective order of sexiness.

Electra

That contour! The mohawk! Train of the future Electra is canonically bisexual and genderfluid, with their key song AC/DC (listen, this show ain’t subtle) described by Andrew Lloyd-Webber as “transgender electro-pop”. So much in the worlds of trains and musical theatre shakes out down stereotypical gendered tracks, and Electra is here to stir Brendan O’Neill into a thousand columns about “woke politics” and the Times to run headlines suggesting they’re erasing… someone. Mostly Electra is exuding sex, power, magnetism and literal sparks.

Volta

She never smiles, seems aloof and comes across as arrogant. Is she a female politician running for office as reported by the Daily Mail? No, she’s Volta, everyone’s favourite freezer truck in Starlight Express. Switching genders between the numerous productions that have rolled across international stages since the show began in 1984, Volta is about as cool and sexy as it gets. We stan a goth ice queen.

Killerwatt

Well, don't you wanna know how he keeps startin' fires? It’s his desire, it’s his desire.

Grace Jones meets Vanilla Ice, but make it fashion: Killerwatt serves the best of all the lewks. He does not race, but that’s because he’s saving his high NRG for close protection. The bodyguard that makes Richard Madden look like the sweet boy of average height that he really is, Killerwatt will blow your circuits.

Dustin

Always willing to put himself forward to help his friends but shy of assuming power, Dustin is the ideal train to lead us through never-ending Brexit chaos. About as far down the line from toxic masculinity as its possible for a freight train to get, and with a body-positive narrative about self-belief and acceptance, Dustin is the train you’d take home to meet your parents. And you know that he’d do his best to get you there on time. 12/10 a very good boy.

Bobo

This hon hon hon honey is stuck with a clownish name, but has dark secrets under that striped Gallic exterior. Bobo is sometimes Coco, indulging his wilder dragged up side. And that nationalist fervour got channeled into the Coco Chanel-inspired token Female Engine in one production – inspired by a Nazi agent, sporting a tricolore skirt.

As a guy, his costume is all about his buffer, and as a gal, she’s got underwater Eurostar dreams. The real tea is that she doesn’t care what you think of her, and there’s nothing hotter than that.

Belle

Belle the Bar Car is a recent addition to the Starlight rolling stock. In her high-camp 1970s lampshade dress and sporting a ready supply of cocktails, Belle recalls the nostalgic glamour of railway travel before the onset of alcohol bans and talking lavatories. And with trendsetter Diane Abbott making onboard mojitos the hottest railway accessory of 2019, the stylish Bar Car easily makes our top-10 list of the sexiest trains.


Rusty & Pearl

Rusty and Pearl aren’t worth separate entries, they exist purely for basics new to sexy trains. Your mum loves them because they’re kind, dreamy, gentle and pretty – Rusty and Pearl are baby’s first crush. The Danny and Sandy, Dave and SamCam, Disney Princess and Little Mark Owen of Starlight, they teach you how to love but soon leave you craving more investment in your infrastructure and more capacity on your routes.

Joule

If ever there was a train that was mad, bad, and dangerous to know, it’s Joules. A dynamite truck with an explosive temper, she’s like a parliamentary scandal that can’t be contained and is just waiting to blow up. Sporting a Madonna-in-Gaultier style costume with “Danger” emblazoned across her chest, she’s an alluring BDSM fireball that will only hurt you in the end. She’s like voting Lib-Dem in 2010 but with an actual personality, and this time you might even enjoy the ride.

Wrench

Wrench is never out of uniform, ready for roleplay and the hot butch of your dreams. Don’t mistake her for a man, even when she’s played by one. Her aggression and masculinity is of the female variety. She does not appreciate you either misgendering her or assuming she does not respect and adore her boss Electra, however they are presenting. Wrench can repair you, or she can break you, but she is not to be crossed.

Purse

Purse, as his name suggests, is the accountant of the crew – second in command to Electra, he’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Starlight stage. Wearing an armoured metallic vest and oozing posh-boy charm, he’d be the first train to cut the branch lines and close local stations come Budget day. Nevertheless, he makes the list. A darling of the Mumsnet brigade, Purse would also be the shameful secret crush of many a progressive millennial.

Dishonourable Mention: Brexit

That’s right, the 2018 German production of Starlight reintroduced the British national train to the show as none other than hopeless purple and gold Faragian doom-monger Brexit. There is nothing less sexy than a nation careering out of control like a runaway train hell-bent on crashing engine-first into disaster. But this German schadenfreude deserves our acknowledgment. If by any chance this train stops before hitting Calamityville, we want off. 

Penny Andrews tweets as @pennyb. Rebecca Harrison as @beccaeharrison.

 
 
 
 

Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.