Drag has never been more prominent than it is right now.
Drag culture derives from fabulously dingy cabaret bars, but RuPaul’s Drag Race has turned drag mainstream. And with the show airing on major networks across the globe, drag is reaching the masses.
This Pride month, HuffPost UK asked two of the UK’s most prominent drag queens to discuss what all this explosion of drag in the mainstream means for queer culture.
We’ve chosen two queens that have arrived on the scene forty years apart from one another.
First up, meet RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star Scaredy Kat, a performance artist who turned heads on the show for having a girlfriend. Scaredy Kat’s drag aesthetic, they’ll admit, isn’t even necessary ‘gay’...
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Then in terms of properly accomplished, they don’t get much more impressive than Sandra.
A drag icon since the early 1980s when she was an early adopter to the new style of live singing – rather than miming – Sandra may have been in the game longer, but as she reminds Scaredy, she is also a true innovator herself.
She even says she turned down an appearance on Drag Race UK, much to Scaredy’s shock...
Drag Race UK’s Scaredy Kat Meets Sandra: In Conversation
One boiling hot Thursday night, these two queens had a Whatsapp call to have a pressing conversation about the future of drag... Here’s how it went.
Sandra: Hello, Scaredy! You were the youngest act on Drag Race last season, right?
Scaredy Kat: Hi Sandra! Yeah, I went on the show when I was 19, which is the youngest for the UK and US version. I think someone was 18 on the Thai version. It was pretty nuts...
Sandra: Were you doing drag in your home town before RuPaul’s?
Scaredy: I’ve always done art. Me and my girlfriend do art all the time and kind of invented these characters and decided to apply for the show, not expecting to get on really. And then it just fucking happened, which was weird, but great.
Sandra: And so where are you from, are you not from London I presume?
Scaredy: No, I live in London now, but I’m from Wiltshire, literally the middle of nowhere.
Sandra: Wiltshire, god! I know Wiltshire, oh my god! Yes darling! I think I did a venue down there years and years ago.
Scaredy: Oh my god, really! Where, do you know?
Sandra: I can’t remember! It was a really weird place!
Scaredy: Hahahahaha, It might have been Swindon...
Sandra: But back to RuPaul’s, unfortunately you went out first didn’t you..
Scaredy: I went out second...
Sandra: So when you did drag back in Wiltshire, was it something that you wanted to pursue, or was it just fun?
Scaredy: It was mainly just loads of fun, doing art on our bodies, do you know what I mean? I never thought I’d actually get on the show...I wanted to pursue it at the time but just as one character...
Sandra: Just as Scaredy Kat?
Scaredy: Scaredy Kat’s one character, we have loads of other weird characters we do for comedy and stuff, so, yeah...
Sandra: And how’re you doing at the moment, are you working more since Drag Race?
Scaredy: Obviously at the moment we haven’t been able to perform, but we’ve been doing YouTube videos and stuff like that.
Sandra: Oh fabulous, if people want to watch you they watch you on YouTube. Do they have to subscribe? Or is it free?
Scaredy: Oh no it’s all free, it’s all free.
Sandra: Oh it’s all free! Oh, I might have to look at you. So you can look at it anytime?
Scaredy: Anytime yeah, it’s all there just waiting for ya! [Scaredy puts on a flirty voice....]
Sandra: [Laughs] Oh stop that now Scaredy!
Sandra: Now you were saying about drag changing. Do you think it’s changed? I think it’s changed, but I think it’s a different take of what the traditional drag should be.
Scaredy: Well that’s what I wanted to ask you! How has drag changed?
When I started everyone was miming. Nobody back in the Eighties sang.Sandra
Sandra: Well I think it has changed because, don’t forget, when I first started everyone was miming. I came from mime, nobody back in the Eighties sang. So when the whole scene had changed and it became live, that’s when you could see a lot of queens who had failed, and the ones that sang live had carried on.
But I think it’s good because I’ve also done shows at The Glory [a new east London drag pub synonymous with more alternative styles] so I can cross over. I call that alternative drag, not like traditional drag, but I still think it’s a good thing, because you need the younger ones like yourself to come forward. It may be a different form of drag but it’s still drag if you understand?
Scaredy: Oh yeah, that makes complete sense to me.
Sandra: A lot of people say, ‘that’s not really drag’ but it is. Because we’re all men dressing up at the end of the day.
Scaredy: Hahaha. It is basically just dress up now I think...
Sandra: When you first entered I had to admit I thought you were a woman, I thought she shouldn’t be entering, it’s drag!
Scaredy: Hahaha, not quite, but thank you though!
Sandra: So what do you think now, I’ve been watching Drag Race All Stars on Netflix, and Gia Gunn’s in it. She’s trans, so it seems like drag isn’t just about being male anymore.
I genuinely think anyone can do drag, whether you’re a guy or a girl or trans or non-binary.Scaredy Kat
Scaredy: I genuinely think anyone can do drag, whether you’re a guy or a girl or trans or non-binary. That may be an area I think a lot of people are unhappy isn’t being filled in Drag Race. They think there should be more of a variety to represent what is out there, do you know what I mean?
Sandra: I totally understand. I’ve been watching RuPaul’s for years and it’s too White. There’s not enough Black people, ethnic minorities...
Scaredy: Totally, totally...And I think that was a problem with the UK version as well.
Sandra: I spoke to Baga Chipz [another Drag Race UK contestant] ’cause I’m good friends with Baga and she said the same thing as well, that there wasn’t enough diversity.
Scaredy: When you find out what the UK scene has to offer there’s a lot more than was shown I think...
Sandra: But I have to admit I did love the London one, it was so much better than the American one. Bit more relaxed. We take it seriously but not to the extent where we’ll stab people in the back.
Scaredy: Exactly. You can watch them for different things. It’s fun to watch the American one for drama I guess, but the UK one has more individual personalities, no one was repeating, whereas the American one...
Sandra: It was too samey-samey.
Sandra: You had such a diverse take on drag on the show.
Scaredy: Thank you.
Sandra: In in the middle. When I came on the scene I wasn’t a traditional act. At the time it was a lot of miming and Shirley Bassey, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do a fresh take on drag, to make it modern. And that’s what you’ve done, you’ve bought it onto the next level, which is really good. Do you think it’s gone masculine in drag?
Scaredy: Erm, I think there’s definitely elements of that. It’s like genderfuck or genderfunk, whatever you want to call it. People like Danny Beard who has a beard, I think it’s fun, I’m totally up for it.
What you are doing now is breaking the mould, and that’s what drag is about: you don’t keep it the same because it becomes stagnant. I love it when people like you come along...Sandra
Sandra: It broke the mould. What you lot are doing now is breaking the mould, and that’s what drag is about: you don’t keep it the same because it becomes stagnant. I love it when people like you come along...
Scaredy: Thank you. Totally, I’m always up for something new. Like Crystal Methyd on the new season of Drag Race, her drag make up is really really cool.
Sandra: I was rooting for her to win. I loved her from the beginning...I like that quirkiness about people... So how was your experience on RuPaul’s Drag Race?!
Scaredy: It was terrifying, very anxiety-riddled... I was nervous a lot of the time. It’s weird being on it rather than watching it... silent and intense and probably not as real as you’d hope it was!
Sandra: It’s filmed down in the east end isn’t it I believe?
Scaredy: It’s in Stratford, is that in the east end?
Sandra: Yeah, it’s where they used to film Big Brother years ago, in the Three Mills studios.
Scaredy: No way...that’s weird.
Scaredy: It’s a weird place, it’s very silent and empty.
Sandra: So tell people, now that you’ve moved to London, was that to further your career as there’s more opportunity here?
Scaredy: Yeah that’s exactly it, I could do more shows, it’s a lot easier, it’s a massive city. Hopefully I can branch out...
Sandra: Have you played the Glory?
Scaredy: I was literally booked to do a show there, then all this happened!
Sandra: Isn’t it horrible?
Scaredy: Yeah it’s a nightmare!
Sandra: I’ve done it and I absolutely loved it, you would love it, trust me.
Sandra: I think she [Jonny Woo, The Glory’s founder and prominent London drag queen] wanted to bring the traditional and the alternative. I’m in the middle, I cross over. Sometimes I’ll wear breasts, sometimes I don’t, if the outfit doesn’t require breasts I don’t put them in.
Earlier you mentioned your bisexuality - was that a hindrance to you when you first did drag or did it open a lot of doors for you? I know you have a girlfriend?
Scaredy: We did it together so we never really questioned it...
Sandra: Oh that’s nice.
Scaredy: Yeah, we taught each other make up, but I thought it was going to be an issue for other drag queens - i think for some it probably is but they’re more silent about it I think!
It’s what you do on stage that I critique, not what you do in bed!Sandra on Scaredy Kat's bisexuality
Sandra: It doesn’t bother me, it’s what you do on stage that I critique, not what you do in bed! And I think the gay scene, I said this online, is far too critical of their own kind.
Scaredy: Oh totally, 100%.
Sandra: I’ve been saying this for years. People used to tell me to shut up because I wouldn’t conform to what they wanted, and I think you’re much like that as well.
Scaredy: Yeah it can receive a lot of controversy about it, especially when you combine it with what the drag is, which is also not gay, so it ruffles a lot of feathers, do you know what I mean?
Sandra: When you first told RuPaul, or the producers, was he okay, was it something they were looking for?
Scaredy: I dunno, I feel like possibly part of it was the story, but in my audition tape I never said anything, but you had to answer a question asking, ‘who are you most close with in the world?’ and I said my girlfriend. They said, ‘Is that girlfriend like a partner, or girlfriend like a friend?’
Scaredy: So maybe I was probably on there for a bit of a story, but I dunno, I think it’s also the story that I hadn’t been doing it very long and stuff like that.
Sandra: Now you’ve moved to London and you’re doing all these venues, do you ever hope to get on the traditional circuit as well?
Scaredy: Totally. I think my show is weird, but I definitely 100% would want to go that way more.
Sandra: I was saying I think it’s a good thing that RuPaul has opened the door for acts that we don’t normally see... We just have to get rid of the acts that are useless, that are no good... RuPaul has elevated it that one step more, it’s mainstream, which is good...
Scaredy: Yeah, totally...
Sandra: So where do you see yourself in the future?
Scaredy: I’d love to end up in America!
Sandra: Oh you should! You’ve got your costumes, you know what you want, you know what your direction is...
Scaredy: Where have you been, where do you want to go?
Sandra: I’ve worked in the States, I’ve worked in Australia, I’ve been on the circuit forty years...
Scaredy: Oh my god...
When I started there were a lot of acts doing Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield, and I thought I can’t be doing with this shit...Sandra on standing out at the beginning of her career
Sandra: When I started there were a lot of acts doing Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield, and I thought I can’t be doing with this shit... It wasn’t for me, as a Black act, I said I can’t do those numbers, I’ll make it accessible to everybody. I made it different, and I think that’s what you’re going to do.
Scaredy: Have you ever thought about applying for Drag Race?
Sandra: Well they asked me before the first one...
Scaredy: No way!
Sandra: They phoned me, one of the women phoned me and I said no.
Sandra: I said, ‘I don’t need to go on there to make a fool of myself, I can do it all by myself.’
But I watched the first one and I thought actually, it’s not too bad. So I know some people who are in the second season, so I thought I’ll watch that and see how that one goes, and if it’s as good as the first season then I might apply..
Scaredy: You should, that’d be crazy - you’ve got so much experience you’ve been doing it so long..
Sandra: But I know what I’m like, I’ve got a big mouth on me, if someone pisses me off I’ll just tell them.
Scaredy: That’d be great!
Sandra: I can’t hold nothing down I’ll just blurt it out!
Sandra: I’m really good friends with Baga, and I gave Baga her first platform when she first started...
Scaredy: No way...
Sandra: When I came I was struggling because nobody helped me, so I thought let me give a little bit back to the people who are up-and-coming. I can never critique people but if you have an idea, I thought, what can we do to elevate this more...?
Scaredy: That’s so nice and we need more people to do that I think...
Sandra: I will say to people, enter competitions because you never know what’s going to happen, even if you don’t win, enter it.
Scaredy: That’s why you should go on Drag Race!
Scaredy: Everyone keeps telling me, ‘Sandra I don’t know why you’re not up there.’
I think you'd make Drag Race more real...Scaredy on Sandra's drag style
Scaredy: I think you’d make it more real...
Sandra: When I was was watching it, I really thought Baga should have won it..
Scaredy: Oh really?
Sandra: Baga bought something different that I don’t normally see her do. Vivienne was good but more Hollywood, Baga was more like, I don’t give a shit. And I liked you but you went out too soon!
Scaredy: Oh thank you I thought the same! Oh well, done now..
Sandra: So what do you have planned? Recently someone told me about OnlyFans, it used to be a porn site but they’re trying to clean it up now. They have to subscribe to watch you, I got $200 dollars the other night. I can put you in contact with someone from OnlyFans...
Scaredy: Oh thank you, that’d be great! And you should apply for Drag Race!
Sandra: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure talking to you. If you need to get in contact, go on Facebook, do a live message... I mentioned you on my live chat. I said Scaredy Kat, look out for that girl!
Scaredy: Thank you! Have a really great weekend!
Sandra: And you too! I’m just walking around a cemetery at the moment. Can you hear the birds?
Scaredy: I can! Haha! I’ll let you go.
Sandra: If you need me, just get in touch okay?
Scaredy: You’re so kind, you’re such a sweetheart. Bye!