How Does it Feel to be a Drag Queen?

Written by: Violet Myers

Drag is by no means a new phenomenon. From Shakespeare himself penning the phrase back in the 1700’s (DRAG being used as a stage direction for dressed as a girl), to Thatcher throwing on a skirt suit and bravely becoming the first cross-dressing Prime Minister of Great Britain. But now, with a little thanks to Ru Paul and his confusingly named show (which, FYI, has nothing to do with actual drag racing – much to the disappointment to car fans everywhere) drag has gone mainstream and has never been so popular. But what does it really take to succeed as a drag queen in London?

We spoke to up-and-coming queen Cherry Popper, real name George, to find out how it feels to be a drag queen…

“I’ve always been into dressing up. There’s photos of me as a four year old; ice cream bucket on my head, sash around my waist in a pair of my mum’s high heels. There’s always been something theatrical in me. Growing up I always loved the female villains in Disney films, I was so much more interested in the baddies than the princesses! Cruella Devil is my all time favourite. I realise now that she’s so drag – those cheek bones, the heavy eyeshadow, all that fur!

The first time I got on stage my name was Desire, then I realised that name was crap so I changed it. It was February last year, a week after Madonna had fallen off the stage at the Brits – I’d entered a lip-synch competition at The Glory on Kingsland Road and I did a Madonna medley. Looking back it was a bit obvious and as it happens I didn’t win, but I didn’t expect to. I started off with a cape and fell into the audience then carried on singing. I wasn’t nervous, that’s what so great about drag…

It’s like being another person, if I mess up I can go backstage transform back into a boy and nobody knows who I am, I get to be anonymous.
Drag Queen for North London Magazine, North London, N4, drag, queen, style, fashion, performance

I’m really new to the scene and have only been Cherry for eighteen months. I’ve spent hours in my bedroom practising, trying to get my look down, working on my lip synching, it’s not as easy as it looks, it takes work. Since Ru Paul’s Drag Race started a lot of queens think they can just show up in some ratty wig, throw themselves about and then they’re magically a drag queen, but it doesn’t work like that.

I looked awful until about June last year, I didn’t really know what I was doing when it came to makeup. It’s something I now practise relentlessly, about two or three times a week. Each look takes up to three hours to complete, with more elaborate ones taking up to five. I’m very competitive when it comes to Halloween, I have to look the best! My look last year took seven hours, but I looked great and scared a few kids.

Drag can get very expensive, in my short career I’ve already spent two grand on makeup, wigs and costumes. I’m still a student so I try to keep things on the cheaper side, but there are things you cannot scrimp on, like the base. I go to a theatrical makeup shop in Convent Garden, it’s where most queens get their stuff. I have about twenty five wigs, but only ten are still wearable, they get pretty ratty! Buying a wig here or there doesn’t seem so much but when you add it up and I think two grand? I could be eating better…or at all.

British drag used to be about older queens with bright makeup and big hair singing show tunes. Now there’s also the club scene, creatures of the night with spikes coming out of their faces. The cult is growing but everyone wants to be sexy. Cherry is more of a beautiful goofball when it comes to my performance, I’m totally in it to have fun. A lot of people are trying to say something, or blur gender lines, which is great, but when I go on stage I want to entertain.

I’m not under any pretences, I’m a boy in a dress.

I want to make ‘em laugh I’m not on any mission. Drag can be very intimidating for some people, you’re this ferocious creature that’s so heavily painted it can be a lot to take in. I want to make sure I’m approachable and that people can feel free to ask for my picture, I love that!

Drag Queen for North London Magazine, North London, N4, drag, queen, style, fashion, performance

I could never just be a Britney impersonator with perfect choreography, it’s been done to death.

I like to trick people into thinking I’ll be crap, start off with some lame choreography then suddenly start rapping to Eminem…

…that gets people on their feet. I’m inspired by viral content, so will always try to get that into my performance somehow. Recently I vogued to ‘Shoes’ by Kelly, the crowd loved it.

I’m really lucky and haven’t faced any trouble for being into drag, I know some people have horror stories, I know not everyone is as fortunate. I get a few funny looks on my way out and a little kid called me a weirdo once and though I totally could have taken him I wasn’t about to beat up a twelve year old, although in full drag that would have looked cool. Society is changing for the better and people are a lot more accepting of ‘the other’. I’d say to anyone wanting to do drag not to worry, you can stay safe, don’t let fear stop you.

My parents haven’t met Cherry yet, I’m not sure if it’ll ever happen. I live here in London and they live in Plymouth. They don’t visit so much, they work, it’s not like they hate me! They think drag is cool though and due to my exploits as a four year old they weren’t very shocked that this is what I’ve ended up doing.

The hardest element about drag, and I’m sure more seasoned queens would say different but for me, is getting ‘in’. Unless you know someone personally it can be very difficult to get noticed. So many people are trying it now, it’s all about standing out, which aint easy. Plus once you’re there you never know if this way of life could support you, it can be a hard life out there for a queen.”

Photos: Michael Barry

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