We’ve seen the work room, we’ve been introduced to the queens and we’ve got to know the judges, and after what feels like years of waiting, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is finally upon us.
The show introduces the 10 queens competing to be crowned the UK’s first Drag Race superstar by Mama Ru herself, as they’re put through their paces in a variety of imaginative challenges.
Last month, we were lucky enough to sit down and spend some time with the queens and speak to them about their experiences on Drag Race UK, which was every bit a chaotic experience as you might imagine.
From their biggest Drag Race hurdles to what it’s really like being judged by the most famous drag queen in the world, here’s what we learned...
Let’s start with the big differences between the UK and US series...
Anyone concerned that Drag Race UK would simply be a rehash of the original series with a few Union Jacks strewn about can breathe a sigh of relief, as it sounds like BBC Three is going to be showing exactly what makes British drag unique.
“I think the main thing that’s going to hit you is the difference between our drag and American drag, because we love to take the piss and Americans take it so seriously,” Gothy Kendoll explained.
“It’s a bit more grunge-y,” said Blu Hydrangea. “It’s rough around the edges, but I like that it’s not as polished, it means it’s more relatable.”
Or, as Baga Chipz put it: “We’re all common as muck. It’s all pageantry on the American one, we’re more like ‘I want a ciggie and a kebab’, you know? That’s what we’re like.”
“Yeah,” Sum Ting Wong agreed. “We’re more like ‘oh I need to go and have a shave now, we’re on stage in two minutes’. We’re not even used to getting changed in front of mirrors, we normally get changed in cellars and things like that.”
“In America, everyone’s got to look pretty, everyone’s got to look pageant and put together. We’re just like, ‘we want to make our bus fare’.”
Vinegar Strokes said: “With this show, you’re going from looks to people that are just like ‘fuck the look, let’s perform and be camp’. So I think there’s a real cross-section of what British drag is all about.”
Baga added: “The best way to describe it is like a girls’ school trip. We’re like a bunch of naughty school girls that are always smoking…”
The British queens also put on much more of a united front than in the US series, which is often centred around conflict
“Rather than going down the reality show route of negativity and feuds everywhere, I think we’re going to see a lot more talent,” said The Vivienne, before quickly adding: “Not that the US show doesn’t have talent – but it’s bringing it back to old school drag. We’re men in dresses, we’re gobshites, we get pissed and call people bastards.”
Blu also noted: “There’s not like ‘pageant queens’ and ‘comedy queens’, it’s like each of us has our own sector that we are strong in.”
“We’re all so different in terms of British drag. You’re with people you wouldn’t normally be with, and I was with more pantomime-y, campy drag, and it was nice to be influenced by them,” said Gothy.
The time between filming and the line-up being announced was a particularly difficult period for a lot of the queens…
“Some coped…” teased Cheryl Hole. “It was enough time to have a mental breakdown, but also enough time to get over it.”
Blu added: “Last summer was hard. You can tell your significant other, but then your family isn’t allowed to know, so it’s like ‘I’m just going on a wee holiday’.
“It’s especially hard if you have a drink or two like ‘oooh, I could spill so much tea right now’, but you have to stop yourself. People come up to you who’ve worked it out, like, ‘so, I’ve heard the rumours’, and that’s the worst thing to do! It’s like going up to someone and talking about a dead relative or something. You don’t want to talk about that!”
Others didn’t struggle quite so much, though.
“Oh, I’ve got no friends so it was quite easy, really,” joked Scaredy Kat. “Honestly, I don’t like most people, so I just had to tell my girlfriend and the cat, and that was it.”
Crystal said: “Drag queens are used to sitting on big secrets, so... it’s been OK. It turns out I’m quite good at lying to my friends and family.”
And the queens were not given much preparation time either
“When you get a call to be on the show, you get, like, two-and-a-half weeks,” Crystal recalled, with The Vivienne interjecting: “To pull out eight million looks.”
“Here’s 100 challenges, here’s a bunch of shit you need to bring, let’s do it, let’s go,” Scaredy said, of the three-week period between being invited on the show and the first day of filming. “I had about three outfits and no idea how to sew, and from that moment, I was just like ‘right, fuck uni, I’ve got to figure out all this now’. And it was three solid weeks, day and night.”
Blu agreed: “I think we needed 26 costumes or something, definitely 20 at least.”
There were a few surprises when the queens met each other for the first time
And as it turned out, one or two already knew each other.
“When I saw Baga, I called her a lying bitch, because she’d been like, ‘I’m just going to go on holiday, I’m just going away’,” Sum Ting Wong revealed. “We were literally supposed to be working in the same bar the day after each other. And so it just happened that both of us mysteriously disappeared.”
“Oh they’re all so old!” said Scaredy, when asked for her first impressions of the other queens. “No, I’m joking. I was just like ‘oh god I’ve seen you on TV’ or ‘I’ve seen you on social media’, ‘oh fuck what am I doing here?’. That was my main thing. And to be honest, it was one of the first times I’d properly seen a drag queen, really.”
Blu revealed: “For me, I’d stalked everyone for the last three weeks on social media, because I’d been reading the forums trying to figure out who was on as well.
“It was very daunting. With every person that came in the room, you were kind of thinking ‘shit, I thought I had it in the bag, but there is gonna be some competing here to fight for the crown’.”
There were two main obstacles to overcome in the work room. The first was timing…
“You get no time, and you’ve got to throw together a whole look that’s meant to show the best of your drag,” Vinegar revealed. “When you’ve got no time it’s like ‘oh Jesus’.”
Trying to paint a picture of her Drag Race experience, The Vivienne suggests: “Imagine working until the early hours of the morning, having two hours’ sleep, having to get up… and you have an hour and a half to get in drag. I usually set aside four hours to get in drag. And they’re like ‘an hour and a half, come on!’.”
“I’ve only just got my make-up routine down from like four or five hours. So that was great,” joked Scaredy.
And who kept the queens hanging around for the longest?
“Baga was the one we were always waiting on,” Blu confessed. “She’d be gluing on nails on [right before the runway] going, ‘right I need a fag’.”
“The Vivienne was always ready for the runway, while we were all still gluing stuff together like ‘I hope this stays together’, she’d be there ready, with her beautiful long nails.”
“Yeah, while I’m crying in a corner,” Scaredy added.
...and the second was the heat from the light bulbs around the mirror
“It’s hot in that studio,” said Crystal. “The light bulbs around that mirror are boiling hot, and you’re trying to do your face and literally your lipstick is melting.
“And you’re conscious that it’s the most important face you’ve ever put on in your entire life, and you’ve only got an hour.”
Gothy added: “I get ready with a ring light and my music going, in about three and a half hours. Whereas it’s two hours there, and you’ve got bulbs that are boiling hot, melting your make-up as you’re doing it. And people are in your ear telling you to hurry up.”
Oh, and trying not to swear
“I’m the fucking worst,” said Sum Ting Wong, on the show’s bad language. “Literally, they’ll be like ‘don’t say c***’ and I’ll be like ‘fuck, shit, sorry’.”
Baga recalled: “I did try not to say minge, because I say minge a lot. We’re all just very common.”
Despite what you might have expected, there was nothing lost in translation between RuPaul and the queens
“Funnily enough, Ru is so down with all of the UK pop culture references,” Cheryl Hole insisted. “Ru’s sense of humour is the Monty Python, not-so-serious, just stupid stuff. So we all got on like a house on fire.”
“If our references didn’t translate, she’s a very good liar,” Sum Ting Wong also said.
(Well maybe apart from one)
“There were maybe a couple of words that may have needed some clarification,” Divina De Campo – whose laugh echoed throughout the room no matter which journalist she was talking to – admitted. “Like our word for ‘fanny’ means quite a different thing.”
“Tuppence,” Cheryl also added. “In fact, if you watch Baga’s ‘Meet The Queens’ video, you need Google translate for everything she says.”
Baga herself said: “British people can’t understand me. But Ru was laughing all the way.
“Even if she didn’t get it, she’d be like, ‘I don’t know what Baga’s just said, but that’s funny’, do you know what I mean?”
“[International viewers] are going to need subtitles,” claimed Sum Ting Wong. “And a full pamphlet so they can understand what Baga Chipz is saying.”
And all of the queens could agree on one thing – there was no preparing for the Drag Race experience
“The first episode was pretty much everyone putting on a brave face. Inside, we were all having meltdowns, but on the outside we were like, ‘I’m the fiercest one’,” Blu joked. “But yeah, it was all panic and fear. You prepare so much for the runways and stuff, but then you get there, and it’s like ‘oh shit, it’s a competition’.”
Cheryl also said: “You think you know what’s happening, and then you get there and you go, ‘oh wow, the work room is a lot bigger than I thought it would be’. Oh wow, there’s no time for anything!”
Divina – who previously appeared on singing shows The Voice and All Together Now – concluded: “All the US girls have all said that it was the most intense experience that they’ve ever had, and I can absolutely vouch for that. Having done all this TV, nothing has ever prepared me for this. And nothing ever could.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will debut on Stan Friday 4 October from 8am.