Queenstion Time Goes to DragWorld UK
Andrew Nicholls takes his regular Queenstion Time on the road, rocking up to Europe’s biggest drag convention in London, and speaking to Jujubee, Manila, Cheryl Hole and many more.
DragWorld UK 2018 – the event to celebrate your love of drag, gender fuckery, creativity and being the queen/king/monster you are.
This is Europe’s biggest drag convention, held at London’s Olympia Convention Hall. 15,000 people descended to make the venue fabulous, experiencing Q&As, workshops, meet and greets and performances. There were also stalls and booths offering make up, wigs, jewellery, tattoos and plenty of other treats.
Our journey didn’t start out too well; Marks and Spencer’s didn’t have Le Froglet – a wine that conveniently comes individually housed in plastic glasses with a peel off lid. A train tradition for us, regardless of it being 11:30am. We had to settle on beers at Euston instead, though I did go for one called “I Don’t Have a Red Shrimp”.
We were heading down on the Friday so we could attend the Drag Ball, a kind of warm up show to the convention. The line-up of Jujubee, Tatianna, Phi Phi O’Hara, Violet Chachki and Alaska sounded a great way to start the weekend.
The Drag Ball was in the Clapham Grand. With its leopard doors and chandeliers, it was a perfect setting. It’s not a huge venue, so it feels intimate without being cramped, and everyone has a pretty decent view of the stage.
The ball was hosted by Meth, a London based queen. During this writer’s time in London, we used to go to her regular night Meth Lab at the now (sadly) closed Black Cap in Camden. She performed a song which had interludes of other songs with the word “Hey”, including the theme tune from 90s kids TV show Arthur, which has been stuck in my head since.
Jujubee came out, looking absolutely amazing, as usual. Her padding was so good, and her outfit was made by season ten queen Yuhua. She was followed by the stunning Tatianna performing I Know from her new album, T1. She made full use of the stage and strobe lighting, and proved to show why the Boomerang app was made.
Unfortunately, Phi Phi’s performance didn’t get off to the best start when her music didn’t start. She announced she was going to sing live, but not to worry, it wouldn’t be acapella as she had “learnt her lesson”. With the music still off, she started singing the first line of her song from the All Stars 2 talent show. Is self-aware cringe still cringe? It was funny though.
Violet did her usual burlesque style routine, with different parts of the outfit being removed during the song. Her outfit was lovely, and each part of it were nice garments, fitted well and not a blemish anywhere on her body.
We suppose Alaska was technically the headliner, and her first appearance was a real highlight. Dressed in her trademark trash bags – but still looking incredible – she started by singing Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing, using her tonal range making it funny. During the line “There’s nowhere to hide,” the “hide” trailed off to her higher pitched catchphrase “Hieeee” to lead directly into her song Hieeeee. At the same time, people came from under her trash bag dress, to whip it off, and reveal a tight yellow dress, and throwing a yellow boa on her. Both elements made an amazing moment.
After the interval, Meth came back on and performed, interacted with the crowd and told some jokes. She is a natural at hosting, and it really shows. Jujubee came on to do another great performance, this time a bit more sensual, before Tatianna performed fan favourite The Same Parts. Phi Phi did not sing this time, but did do a high energy dance routine, including taking a fans fan, which at the end of her performance she came back out to replace the fans fan, with her own fan (hope you followed the fan and fans).
Violet’s second performance lacked the reveals of her first one, and was mostly her walking up and down the stage, and without any real costume change from the first half. Thankfully Alaska came out to perform a song from her new album, Amethyst Journey, along with Jeremy who she has made the album with. The song had a more folky vibe then we’re used to from Alaska, but was fun nonetheless.
When Meth came on to say it was the end of the show, she introduced an unannounced performer would be closing the show – Dragula season two winner, Biqtch Puddin’!
Dragula is a lower budget, more niche TV drag competition than RuPaul’s Drag Race, focusing on a more horror themed. She was wearing a “Pizza Slut” t-shirt and throwing pizza at the audience, and was a supremely charismatic performer. It was a perfect closing for the night, but we were already thinking about how much sleep the queens are going to get as they need to be at DragWorld by 10am the next day.
Walking into the main convention on Saturday, we were greeted by giant letter spelling “DRAG” along with a giant pink glitter shoe, and an equally giant glittery pink compact. The hall was set out with a stage for performances, meet and greet areas, blocks of booths and a second stage for the panels.
The booths were stalls selling queens merchandise, including wigs, designers, beauty and fashions. We started off by heading over to the press section, which was kitted out with a bright pink carpet and some comfortable pink chesterfields. We were offered the chance to speak to Cheryl Hole, an Essex queen who regularly performs in London.
Planet Slop: How important do you think it is for there to be safe spaces for queer people?
Cheryl Hole: It’s been very unfortunately with the closure of Her Upstairs and the Black Cap before, because they were such spaces for people to come and feel comfortable. Especially for artists to bring their work and bring to the stage what they wanted and they’d be welcomed and be applauded regardless. These spaces in London and the UK as well, are so incredible as I just believe that while there are people coming against our community, having a space where people can come together and have that positivity is important.
PS: How long have you been doing drag?
CH: I’ve been doing it for two years, I started in 2016 and I’ve been twirling in the pubs since. I was like dabbling in my bedroom, and I saw an advert for a bar in my hometown looking for drag queens. I was like “This is my moment!” I mean I was busted as but it was the break I needed and that was my foot in the floor. I still live in Essex, and commute to London. You’ll see me in full face on the M25 scaring the commuters.
PS: Did you come here last year?
CH: I did and I had the chance to perform on the Sunday. Before last year, I’d never been to a convention like this. I’ve always wanted to go to Dragcon, but you know, finances. To see the growth of it this year is incredible, and the heightened interest in UK drag. It’s brilliant to get the Ru girls over and give everyone the opportunity to meet there favourite queens from the TV, but it is DragWorld, to celebrate all things drag and it wouldn’t be a drag convention without UK talent.
Throughout the weekend, we had the opportunity to speak to a number of queens. Manila, best known for Drag Race season three, was a little more cheeky than Cheryl Hole; “There’s probably other things that are way more important than this. But it is fun and it is great to have a bunch of people come here and be surrounded by stuff they love, and meeting other people who love the same things as they do. It’s great to have a gathering as a community and look fabulous while doing it.”
Of all the queens we did meet on the Saturday, Jujubee was one of our favourites. Once again looked amazing, and was unwavering in her support of DragWorld; “I think queer events like this are just all about love, and people can just show up and be themselves,” she told us. “I see people turning up in all different costumes, full make up and this is the safe room, well a safe mansion, for all of us and everyone here has the same goal of spreading love and being happy. And I think we’ve succeeded.”
Of course, it is a sign that drag has become much more mainstream, a fact exemplified by the abundance of young people and those from outside the queer community. “I know some people are completely against the idea, as they believe one something becomes mainstream it loses its strength,” Jujubee admits. “But to me personally, I believe drag can keep going. It’s not a new thing, but now people can see the beauty and the art form. Even before in the LGBT+ community, drag was the lowest part, being used to make money at charity events and pride, and the rest of the year we were ignored. Now we are the ones people turn to, and the Goddesses.”
There were different panels throughout the day, on different topics such as the power of makeup and wigs to weaves.
We watched one called Drag Persona which was with Charity Kase, Cheddar Gorgeous, Ana Phylatic and Phi Phi. They were providing stories on how they came up with their drag persona, and the person behind the queen.
Unfortunately the sound wasn’t the best and it was sometimes hard to hear the queens talk. But the question and answer sessions and seeing them answer on the spot was interesting. An example of the sound issues – both in volume and sound bleed between areas, was after we had finished talking to Jujubee, she turned around and asked “Did you just whisper bite my c**t?”. It wasn’t us. With the stage right next to the press area, it was Katya during a panel.
We explored the area, and had a few drinks. The stalls were selling queens merchandise which ranged from keyrings, prints and shirts, to fans, bags and things. The set up at DragWorld had a meet and greet section, tickets for which could be bought prior to the event. The queens were also at the stalls throughout the day meeting fans at the stall.
Most had a setup of getting a photo with the queen if you bought a piece of their merchandise, which is understandable. Phi Phi was slightly different, her background to her booth were brown Primark bags, and she had a sign saying “You don’t have to buy my merch for a pic! I’m not that bitch!” I happen to like Phi Phi, but is this genuine or is she still trying to do (frankly unnecessary) damage control from the backlash she received for All Stars 2?
Katya’s booth ran out of merchandise pretty quickly, and a sign was put up to say she wouldn’t be back at the booth during the day. Some people took it upon themselves to write and stick labels on her booth, some being rude and offensive.
But let us be clear; the queens owe us nothing beyond making good on the ticket price. Yes their drag is their creativity and loved, but it is also their full time job and career. The meet and greet tickets in place were there to guarantee you can meet a certain queen if you wanted, and to also allow the queens to do other things, such as the panels. Buying a piece of merchandise to meet the queen is fair enough.
In one instance, there was one particular a Katya (now ex) fan on Twitter. He tweeted her in the morning saying he was excited to meet her that day, however never got the chance as she didn’t go back to her booth in the afternoon. Fair enough you can be disappointed, but this person’s entitlement came out on Twitter, when they were spewing hate towards Katya.
They were saying Katya is “entitled” and a “scammer” for asking fans to buy a piece of merchandise to get a photo. To quote directly “You think I should PAY to be in the presence of someone, fuck off. She is nothing without us. They owe their fans everything. We are the only people who pay their bills and manipulating us like that and valuing us purely on our bank accounts is greedy and pathetic.”
They then went into a triage of hateful tweets, all directed at Katya. We witnessed this type of behaviour first hand at the convention. I don’t know whether its immaturity, entitlement or the fact the queens seem to be close and relatable. The queens have travelled from America to be here, to work their job. From what we’ve seen and heard, none of them were rude to anyone, so this hate and anger is pretty disgusting. I get you’re disappointed, and you may not have the money to meet the queen, but realise it’s their livelihoods and have some understanding for that. Besides, there were plenty of more local queens walking around you can meet, speak too and get photos with there.
Our Sunday started off with an interview with Biblegirl, drag queen, owner of Dragqueenmerch.com and also a sponsor for Dragula.
Planet Slop: How did your business come about?
Biblegirl: I was in college studying fashion in New York and I started dabbling in drag. I felt my passion dragging me towards the industry. I have the skill set I know already, and I can channel that into something else and I knew it was a kind of sink or swim situation, where I knew I wanted to continue drag but I needed something to sustain it. I felt like apparel was something that was missing. I took me a while to pick it up as drag queens, including myself, don’t like reading emails or any kind of information with numbers, so it took a little teeth pulling to get them on the bandwagon.
PS: How did you get involved with Dragula?
B: I did a Hey Qween interview two years ago, and I had never met [Dragula hosts] the Boulet Brothers before, but we were shooting on the same day and that’s where we made the first connection. We kept communication after that, and it just kind of snowballed into the monster that it is today. It’s just such a well thought out about everything. I love the show and the girls on the show, and I massively respect the Boulet Brothers. They really carved there niche into the LA scene.
Today we had more time to see the performances with the first being Lolo Brow, someone I had seen a few times during my time in London. Her show has slightly changed since then, with her sticking a mousetrap on her tongue, nailing a nail up her nose and finishing my sticking a condom in her mouth and pulling it out her nose. It was crazy and we loved it.
One of the absolute highlights of the weekend was a surprise performance by Alaska, who performed Read U Wrote U from the All Stars 2 finale, joined by Jiggly Caliente, who performed Roxxxy Andrews’ part, and nailed it.
Manchester queen Cheddar Gorgeous was wearing a lovely black and white checked suit, which she pulled off to reveal a black latex skirt. Although we have followed her for a while, this is the first time we have seen her perform, and she was worth the wait, constantly serves amazing looks.
Have you ever seen someone do a burlesque/striptease dressed as a Wookie and then recreate sexual acts with the shed fur parts of the outfit? Well I have thanks to Lily Snatchdragon. She gyrated, humped and strutted around the stage. Ending with her shaking her breasts (nipple covers on) at the audience.
As much as we loved it, the people with the children on the front rows may have not. The sign on the way in only stated there may be “mild language”. It was nice to see people of all ages there, children and young teens expressing themselves, especially as they don’t have the means or the occasion to do this in the same way we do. But as drag is predominantly for adults, you should be expecting a swear word, sexual themes and a nipple or two.
Meth used to hold her “Meth Lab” at the Black Cap, and when that closed, she went to open her own bar Her Upstairs. Unfortunately, this also closed down recently, so Meth knows the importance of having queer spaces; “I mean I ran one for two years, darling!” she exclaimed to us. “I think this is pretty damn important. They have been vital to our survival as queer people throughout our history. They have taken different forms over the years, but having access to space that is ours where our sexualities and our gender identities aren’t challenged or questioned in those spaces is important. We don’t have it in the rest of the fucking world, so a space to go and be safe.
“We’re currently in a convention centre with thousands of people all here because they all love drag,” she beams. “Yes, some of them are here just because they love Drag Race girls but we have been running a stall with 20 UK artists and we’ve been pretty damn busy all weekend. People through Drag Race have found out what is happening out there in the real world and going out and supporting them”.
Looking around the room, it’s hard to disagree with her, but Meth is fairly realistic about the future of drag. “There’s a part of me that thinks it may hit a boiling point, and not fizzle out, but the hype over it may die out eventually. Nothing really lasts forever does it? I used to do Burlesque before drag, in the real burlesque hype before it reached its peak, where it was so over-saturated in the clubs, that you couldn’t sustain a career. With drag professionally, there will certainly be a point where there’s too many people out there trying to do drag and it may become a little unsustainable. So quit now!”
A criticism we would have of DragWorld would be with the queen’s booths and the fans waiting to meet the queens. The queues would wind on and in-between small corridors between the stalls. This made it awkward to few some of the stalls and to also walk around.
Overall, DragWorld was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Special thank you for Rosalia and Sal from HushPR for the invitation. It brought together a great mixture of fans, admirers and queens from throughout the world to create Europe’s largest drag convention, as much as a part of me is attached to seeing drag in bars – the loud music, drink and uncensored drag.
But we appreciate what DragWorld is doing, and we’re sure it’s only going to get bigger and better.
Check out these images of our Queenstion Time team hanging at DragWorld UK!