The stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK are on a mission: to bring “camp” and LGBT+ visibility to Britain.
Speaking to Sky News at the pink carpet event in London, the 10 contestants taking part in the competition to find the UK’s best drag queen said audiences could expect “a showcase of queer stories” and a “campy and funny” programme.
The show pits drag performers from across the UK against each other to test their dancing lip-syncing, sewing and acting skills to find the most talented queen in the country.
Although the stars of the show out of drag are either men or non-binary people, in character they all use female pronouns.
As well as becoming an Emmy-winning hit over its 10 years on air in America, RuPaul’s Drag Race has sparked conversations around LGBT+ matters. The show has discussed issues such as living with HIV, the Orlando gay nightclub mass shooting, and gay marriage.
Its political themes are something which the show’s cast said will continue in the UK version.
Blu Hydrangea, 23, is a queen from Northern Ireland. She told Sky News: “Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK that doesn’t have equal marriage and I feel like that should be shouted from the rooftops… so even being able to open up that conversation would be amazing.
“Me being able to express myself in a country where we are oppressed will really help young kids from Belfast that look at me and say: ‘That guy is being his authentic self in drag on nationwide TV’.”
Sum Ting Wong, 30, who is an Asian queen, said she chose her drag name partly from a joke she saw online, but also to reclaim it from racially derogatory connotations.
“I feel like it’s really a kind of reclamation…I want other Vietnamese, Oriental, Chinese kids to be, like, ‘I can be just like her – overweight and on telly’,” she joked, adding more seriously: “It’s the best way to tackle racism.”
Sum Ting Wong is also originally from Birmingham, where some parents have protested against same-sex relationship lessons for children in schools.
“It’s about starting the conversation and having a dialogue,” she said, adding that she hopes the show will spark viewers to have those discussions.
Some of her fellow contestants had stronger feelings about the issue, including 34-year-old east London circus performer Crystal.
“The idea that someone could be debating whether or not I exist is offensive to me,” she said.
“The show is really important because it’s showcasing queer stories… even though we’re dressing up like silly, silly things, if you’re paying attention there’s a lot of parts to it.”
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Labour MP Wes Streeting, who is gay and a self-professed Drag Race superfan, was also on the pink carpet, preparing to watch the first episode’s premiere.
He told Sky News: “Drag Race has promoted a powerful message about acceptance, inclusion, being proud about who we are and what we stand for.
“And I think given some of the debates we’ve had in the UK recently, with protesters outside of schools, let’s promote a message of inclusion and LGBT-inclusive education.”
Other big names on the carpet included Jamie-Lee O’Donnell and Nicola Coughlan from comedy show Derry Girls, which is due to return for a third series next year, and TV presenter Scarlett Moffatt, who will be hosting a podcast about the show.
Speaking to Sky News, Coughlan said: “This show, it’s always got that political edge to it.
“It’s really like an eff-you to all the bigots. It’s showing that you should be celebrating, you should be fabulous. It’s sending out the most positive message. If you can’t get on board with that then get in the bin.”
Moffatt told Sky News: “I feel like I am a bit different… I just wish it was around when I was a kid because it just embraces everybody and makes everybody feel like it’s okay to be different.”
One contestant who speaks openly about not fitting in is Scaredy Kat.
Aged only 19 during filming, growing up in rural Wiltshire, and being one of the show’s only openly bisexual queens, she told Sky News: “It’s been scary but really good… there’s no drag scene in Wiltshire. It’s like a joke to even say that there is one.”
The show will feature a range of performers, from queens like Scaredy Kat who focus on the artistic elements of drag, to more comedic queens, such as The Vivienne, 27, who is known for her celebrity impressions, and 35-year-old Vinegar Strokes, who starred in hit West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
One of the queens, Gothy Kendoll, described the series as a “campy and funny” show, while Baga Chipz said: “You’re going to see acceptance and people that have never seen a drag queen in everyday life are going to watch it and think ‘they are just normal down-to-earth people, showing their talents’.”
Contestant Cheryl Hole teased a potential lighthearted showdown with her namesake Cheryl, who is a guest judge in the series.
Speaking about the singer, formerly known as Cheryl Cole, the drag queen said: “Everybody wants to know if I met Cheryl. The Cheryl versus Cheryl show. But you’ll just have to watch.”
Meanwhile, asked if the UK was ready for a show like Drag Race, contestant Divina de Campo said: “The UK’s been ready for Drag Race for 25 years.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs weekly on BBC Three’s iPlayer channel from 3 October.