What is the best thing about doing drag?
The confidence. The power to stand out in a crowded room because you’ve turned heads with your look, (hopefully) & then followed that up with what you do on stage. Although the look doesn’t have to be 100% glamour. It needs to fit with what you’re doing, as you’re playing a completely different person or a slightly different extension of your self, as I tend to do now. The WORST thing about doing drag, & this is important kids, is that its bloody uncomfortable, especially as you get older. Remember that. Every part of your body is held & moves in a different way once you’re dressed fully. And whilst you don’t have to go the extremes that American queens do when you ‘tuck’, you need to tuck & it can have its challenges, shall we say
How has your routine changed over the years?
When I started 31 years ago there was a wide mix of live & lip sync acts. Lily Savage started out as mime act, as did Dave Lynn before fully becoming the acts that you’re familiar with today. Phil Starr, The Trollettes, Dockyard Doris were always live & had a band whenever possible rather then backing tapes. I guess you started out with being comfortable & then challenging yourself.
How did you get into drag?
By accident I guess. It wasn’t something I went to the careers teachers at school with! I worked at the Two Brewers, Clapham as the coat check boy & then a barman. The Brewers had the best of the UK cabaret scene working there. Lily Savage, Adrella, Regina Fong, The Trollettes, Phil Starr, Ceri Dupree, the list is endless. I was watching these wonderful acts, & act is the important word, as none of these people grew up wanting to be drag queens. They grew up, in most cases, wanting to be entertainers & drag became their medium to do that. Most acts, including myself had 9to5 jobs which eventually they could leave behind & carry on with drag full time. The other important thing I saw which attracted me was the variety of acts. Lily was more stand-up comedian but in the form of this wonderful 3 dimensional character, which like Dame Edna Everage was totally believable & never referred to being a drag queen. The Trollettes had a live band for the vast majority of their shows. Ceri Dupree oozed glamour, sophistication with his fabulous tributes to Shirley Bassey, Marlene Dietrich etc. That's what marked the names listed & other, as being entertainers, but in drag.
I was a lip sync act, which meant I did 6 or 7 numbers over a 25-35 minute show with costume changes between each one. If the truth be told I wasn’t brilliant as a lip sync act, in the respect that you’d have to fully fill the stage & that was difficult on your own especially if you weren’t a dancer which I certainly wasn’t. When I became part of a treble act called ABC I felt less lonely on stage, was part of routines with the other 2 girls & I was happy to be the worst dancer there as the 3 of us gelled to make the overall product shine & we all bought different things to the show. But I knew that being live was where you could connect with the audience properly, & after every opening number I would always do a little bit of chat, tell a couple of jokes I had heard from other acts or been told. On my very first show at the RVT I ‘cleaned' a heckler & thats something that has stayed with me from the start. Over the years I became more confident, learnt how to tell a string of jokes, to properly engage with an audience & then I took the plunge & sang.
It’s bizarre. My first official show as Lola was meant to have been at the Two Brewers on Monday 12th June 1989, but the RVT got there first & I performed on Wednesday 7th June. The first time I was going to sing live was at The Two Brewers on a Monday night show. But I remembered that officially
The first time I actually sang was at the RVT when Adrella made me sing ‘Big Spender’ at Sports Day on a Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. I left my 9-5 job in 1995 & was a fully fledged live act from then on. I used to go down the road of telling jokes, in the same way that Phil Starr did for many years, but I realised that I could get bigger & better laughs by engaging with an audience & who they were. But always make sure you have prepared material to fall back on as some audiences are tougher to crack then others. Even now.
Where is your favourite place to perform?
Wherever employs me is the safest answer to give! I live in Brighton, although I’m London born, but I travel all over the UK & I guess that's why I’m still performing now. I’ve done virtually every major city & town which in itself gives you material for future shows, cause every venue is different as is every audience. And I’ve met some wonderful people over the years. I have special bonds with the Two Brewers as I’ve been coat check boy, barman, drag queen & punter in there since 1986 & its helped me grow up as a gay man. The RVT is special in so many ways to me as a drag queen & punter. And it really has a magical feeling when you’re on that stage performing to a busy room. Its probably the nearest you get to performing in an actual theatre or specialised cabaret room. I regularly work in Cardiff, Manchester & Birmingham & its always a pleasure.
Where would you still like to perform?
Oooh that's a difficult one. Venue wise in the UK there isn’t really anywhere I haven’t worked. I’d love to work in Scotland again as it’s a beautiful country & its been years since I’ve been to Dublin as an act. And Northern Ireland I’ve never been to at all. Given that the LGBTQ+ scene is very different now for drag queens, or any performer to work on & that audiences are younger & have less of an attention span sometimes it would be nice to work rooms where the audiences come to see the show specifically. However long you’re on stage is time for you & your audience to connect together through song, laughs & sometimes tears. That brings us back to being an entertainer but in the medium of drag. I’ve been lucky enough to be Lola, do stand up as Stephen, a number of pantos, both professionally & on the gay scene in a specially written adult one. And I’ve done 3 plays as a bona fide straight actor. And in ‘Boys In The Band’ & ‘Diamond’, I played the roles of straight men which surprised me as much as the audience.
What other drag queens impress you?
All of them! In the words of Bianca Del Rio “They’re my sisters & I love them” - ha ha! Seriously they all do. Anyone who can get on a stage full stop needs a round of applause as its tough. But if I’m off on a Sunday in Brighton then there’s a long list of acts performing that day in the various venues so I’m never stuck for choice. And similarly if I’m on the 'Power Of 4’ at the Brewers on a Sunday, I’ll normally get there early & stay late to see the other acts as its a brilliant day to perform there. That said, Im proud as punch of Mary Mac who’s part of the tour cast of ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ & is the resident Dame at Leamington Spa for their pantomime each year. And although she’s a real woman rather then a drag queen I love to watch & work with Myra Dubois who’s probably the wittiest & sharpest acts on the scene today. The LGBTQ+ scene provides us with a safety blanket so any act who can lose that & perform else where has my immediate attention & love, not to mention envy as well. I’m also very taken with drag queens who remember that they’re drag queens & use the stage as a platform to address issues which affect our community so Son Ofa Tutu & Divina De Campo, to name but 2 have a special place in my heart as well.
How are you coping with the coronavirus?
Well I haven’t had it thankfully but its a case of getting on with it & hoping theres a resolution to the crisis soon. Personally I’m a very tactile person & it destroys me that I can’t hug friends or be with them properly. That's my main bug bear about the whole thing. I didn’t want to do any online shows at all at first as the ones that were being done were experiencing real problems with feed & sound. There was no point in watching them, but gradually those problems, for the most were ironed out. And as I’m limited with technology & space doing a full cabaret show just wasn’t possible. However I was hosting the quiz at The Duke Of Wellington, on a Wednesday, so an online version became a reality & every Wednesday, at 6.30pm is Lola’s Lockdown ‘Didn’t They Do Welly’ Online quiz happens. Four rounds of 10 questions with 56 points in total to play for. You just need a pen, paper & a drink. Okay 2. Its on week 9 or 10 now & its a lot of fun. But whilst I’m not missing the travelling each week I am starting to really miss real audiences & the sound of laughter, mixed in with bar staff throwing bottles into a bin whilst you’re trying to sing a ballad.
What does the next few months look like for you?
Had you asked this in February I would have said absolutely manic. This year was really busy. My first Friday night off was July 31st. I had a handful of Saturday & Sundays free. There were all the Prides I attend. Plus the quiz at the Duke of Wellington & was taking on a Brighton residency from May onwards. Now I have NO idea. Venues are making tentative plans to re-open in the next few weeks but I know virtually none of them will be able to offer cabaret yet due to social distancing guidance & they’re going to need to make some money again before spending any. Its warmed my heart to see businesses being able to trade in some way with takeaway food & in some cases drinks. But the longer this goes on for the bleaker it looks for the LGBTQ+ scene & hospitality in general. And whilst no one anticipated 2020 being the almighty clusterfuck it has a lot of people have realised, including myself that you should really have a plan B on hand. I’m carrying on with the online quiz for the time being & I’m doing a project with the RVT & ‘Just Like Us’ which a new LGBTQ+ youth charity in the next few days.