Our 2024 Mister Leather Europe may seem like he’s straight out of the pages of the latest Burberry catalogue but don’t be fooled. Tom Keller is a man on a mission to clad Europe in leather. Wings sat down with Tom to discuss his year and learned his year is far from simply ceremonial. Like our community, it takes work – much of which happens behind the scenes.
When did Mister Leather Europe first know he was into leather?
“I grew up part of the millennial generation. I remember watching Pokemon and Power Rangers on TV, and they were all wearing fitting latex, rubber, and even some leather. It accentuated their bodies and their power and I loved it. In terms of leather, I specifically have this vivid picture in my memory: I was 5 years old, staying at my great grandparents’ house in the south of Germany. They had a barn that had this World War II, ‘Indiana Jones ’-style motorbike with a passenger seat. Both the driver’s and passenger’s seats had a gorgeous brown leather, with a really squeaky, clean finish to it. I remember smelling it and licking it… I even jumped on top of it, almost falling! Mum and Dad walked in and probably thought ‘What the hell is he doing?”
When did you start embracing leather in your own life?
“I recall heading into London when I was about 14 or 15 years old and going to old Camden. I visited the markets and I bought myself what must have been the cheapest, dirtiest ‘classic biker’ leather jacket I could find. I wore it for a few years until I basically couldn’t wear it anymore! At some point, I went online and began exploring actual fetish wear. You get the confidence to wear different things in the bedroom, so I started with the cheapest harness or jockstrap. Over time, I began noticing better gear in movies I watched. It was during COVID when started properly investing in gear. I then began attending events when London Leathermen organised their spring social at the Duke of Wellington, back in the spring of 2022. So I guess I’m a bit of a latecomer!”
Would you agree with those who say London is a challenging fetish scene to navigate?
“I would. I think it comes down to the nature of London itself. When you’ve got 32 London boroughs, people often live and communicate in silos. The city, the commute, and even people’s relationships are all fast-moving. Even the timespan people spend living in London can be short-lived. Luckily, things have changed for the better in the leather and fetish community, and are constantly improving with more events that welcome new and different people. For me personally, I found my way by first going out with a few guys I knew online, figuring there’s strength in numbers. After a couple of shots of courage, I walked in and never looked back. The first social you attend plays a big part in your confidence and in determining if you’re going to like it, so I’d say preparation is key: go with someone you know, perhaps more of a veteran. You may even contact the organizer for some information, and be sure to find an event suitable for your first time.”
What made you decide to run for the title of Mister London Leather 2023?
“At the time, I wasn’t aware of the benefits I would get from a personal development standpoint, more focusing on doing a bit for the community. I saw areas in the scene I could get involved in and knew London deserved to increase its reputation. The ‘Backstreet’ was shutting down and I sensed of certain lack of coordination. As the London titleholder, I first focused on coordinating London events, inspired by the event calendar created by the ECMC; second, I organised the Leather Cruise; third, I wanted to bring London Leathermen back into the European fetish scene.”
Speaking of Europe, how did this path lead you to the title of Mister Leather Europe 2024
“While travelling as the London titleholder, I recognised the value of making and building community connections outside London, across the UK and Europe. I especially remember Amsterdam Pride, when we were able to get on the ‘Mister B’ boat, gathering with other people from across Europe. I realised there was so much more beyond my big city! So many different perspectives! So you could say that I did a fair bit of research about the community through traveling. I also did my research about the ECMC and knew that it is approaching its pivotal birthday. With the ECMC having started in London 50 years ago, I felt there was a natural connection for me. I visited different events and clubs it worked with and saw the important work it does in strengthening a brotherhood. I wanted to support that work.”
So tell me, what do you do as Mister Leather Europe?
“In essence, you could say I act as a community ambassador for what Leather looks like in Europe. The work involves regular internal communication within the ECMC to help it develop and grow. It also includes external communications with all ECMC member clubs, offering them support if needed. In addition, there’s also communication with people outside the ECMC on an ad-hoc basis as their representative, as well as general admin. Then of course, there’s quite a bit of travelling to different events, which includes on-the-ground support for clubs, taking part in judging competitions, and meeting people in person, while representing the ECMC. In between, there’s the day-to-day conversations I have with people in the community which are a big part of holding the title.”
It seems like this isn’t merely a title, but an actual role you fill. How do you balance this work with the other parts of your life?
“There’s a lot of coordination and work, but all of which I enjoy. First of all, I make sure that when my 9-5 word day ends, it ends! I plan my titleholder activities for the week carefully in a dedicated calendar, always making sure I leave enough time for what I call ‘Ladmin’. When people message me, I offer support as best I can while striving to maintain a healthy balance, and often refer people to their regional club for additional resources. I try to play to my strengths: there’s a more personable aspect of just being me and talking to people in person, as well as coordinating ‘behind the scenes’ processes and communications – both of which I love. I’m a complete travel whore, but when choosing whether to attend an event, I first ask myself the benefit to the community for being there, be it raising the profile of a club or being asked to support in some way. For anyone considering competing, I would say don’t do it for yourself, but for the community. Think of the ‘trade-off’ in your life in terms of work, people, and finances, but most importantly – think of what you stand for, what can be improved in our community, and then play to your strengths.”
As a titleholder, many in the community turn to you for guidance and inspiration. Who would you say you’ve personally turned to on your own journey?
“There are so many people who’ve played a big part in my journey, it’s hard to name them all. When I first came out onto the scene, Brew Hunter offered me a lot of insight and guidance. John Grimshaw, a real veteran of the London scene did the same. Several of the previous Mister Leather Europe titleholders such as Andy Walgraef, Thorsten Bull, and Joe King were incredibly influential. One person who had a big impact on me and the work of the ECMC was Daniel Dumont. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to meet him in person, but his name is Legacy. I’d even mention you,Guy, in that list of people who embody the work needed in the community.”
Thanks, Tom! That means a lot. What do you think are some areas we could work on as a community?
“I recognise the importance of holding onto our leather history but also the need to build on it for the future. I feel there’s a need for clubs to be more inclusive-focused. There are many stepping-stone ways of doing so, such as welcoming more diverse people to events and becoming members of their clubs. You can still have inclusive spaces, with exclusive-focused events – it’s all about balance. I also feel there’s a need for more people to get involved in the community and volunteer. It takes so many people, including many volunteers, to make events happen and for the community function. Some are front and centre with titles and roles, while others contribute behind the scenes. Our community takes work. I think of it almost as a mechanical wheel, where we are its cogs. We each have a responsibility to work together for it to function properly.”
Follow Tom’s year as Mister Leather Europe 2024 through his Instagram@tkgearedto learn more about his work for the ECMCand upcoming community events.