‘IF YOU boil it down, I’m a bloke in a dress onstage with a pint, having a sing-song,’ says RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner The Vivienne, as she sits in her Liverpool sitting room making sure she has her outfits sorted for this weekend’s RuPaul’s DragCon UK.
Erm, not really, Viv, who is known to her mum as James Williams. She is talking about where she came from — basically performing ‘blue as the day is long’ routines in bars and clubs in and around Liverpool — before her star started to rise, first as a RuPaul’s Drag Race ambassador and then as the winner of the very first UK version of the hit American show.
‘I think the thing with British drag, if you saw it in a photograph, you’d probably go, “What the f***?”’ says The Vivienne, spelling that word right out, ‘but if you see it on a stage with a drink inside you, as long as you’re entertained, what does it matter?’
And entertained you will be at DragCon, the country’s biggest coming together of drag queens and their (very many) fans.
‘You can buy jewellery, wigs, make-up, everything you need to be a drag queen,’ says The Vivienne, who takes her name from her favourite designer, Vivienne Westwood. ‘You can meet your favourite queens from the show, there are panels, live performances — it’s the ultimate for a Drag Race fan.’
And for The Vivienne herself? ‘My duties at DragCon will be manning the booth, selling my own merchandise [her husband will be on the till], doing meet-and-greets, I’ve got a performance on the main stage, I’ve got a performance with Baga…’
That would be Drag Race UK finalist Baga Chipz.
‘We will be Trump and Thatcher, which is going to be fun, promoting Morning T&T, our new show. It’s a great way to meet everyone in one place, especially for people who are under-age and can’t come to the shows.’ Fans of drag aren’t perhaps who you might imagine, according to The Vivienne, who first fell in love with drag when, as a young man, she bumped into two Liverpool queens dressed identically in the street and wondered what the hell was going on. She was instantly hooked.
‘It’s for everyone,’ she says. ‘A lot of people are straight ladies bringing their children, and it’s great that children can experience it. It’s not just a gay event, it’s across the spectrum of people.’
You wonder if drag queens, who came to prominence by way of shocking grown-up pub audiences with outrageously sexual humour while dressed as over-the-top caricatures of women, welcome the interest children seem to take in them.
‘I think it’s great,’ says The Vivienne. ‘A drag queen is just a clown, as [fellow Drag Race star] Bianca Del Rio would say,’ she adds. ‘We are entertainers and there’s nothing more to it. Hopefully we all handle ourselves appropriately in front of children. It’s great to have kids see it from an early age, not to normalise drag, because drag’s never going to be normal, but just to go, “Here we are and it’s just a bit of fun.” That’s all it is.’
As far as normalising drag goes, we may think it has come a long way since Lily Savage first went mainstream on The Big Breakfast back in the 1990s, and certainly since RuPaul’s Drag Race brought it to whole new generations, but The Vivienne thinks there’s a limit to how far it can go.
‘I don’t think drag’s ever going to be looked on as mainstream or whatever you want to call it,’ she says. ‘There are frequently stories in the news about drag and you think, “Yay, acceptance!” Then, boom, another thing happens.’
But the future certainly does look golden for The Vivienne. ‘I’m off to LA next month to film my web series with World Of Wonder,’ she says of the production company behind Drag Race.
‘It’s going to be The Vivienne takes Hollywood kind of thing — fun! — and then I want to get a show on the road, a full 90-minute production, a good variety show, a full knees-up, p***-up coming to your town.’
And with that she’s off, packing up two brand new costumes created especially for DragCon, some old favourites from the show and about half a tonne of wigs and make-up.
Never let it be said that being a drag superstar was easy.
■ RuPaul’s DragCon UK is at Olympia, London, tomorrow and Sunday, uk.rupaulsdragcon.com