"Gentlemen start your engines and may the best woman win!"
After 11 successful seasons in the USA, RuPaul's Drag Race has arrived across the pond where it received a royal welcome.
The show which airs Tuesdays at 21:00 on BBC Brit (DStv 120) sees ten British queens over eight weeks compete in the games that Drag Race is known for – impromptu photoshoots, runway competitions, lip-sync battles and more.
In this Q&A RuPaul dishes on the new season, what it was like filming in London, and we find out how the British queens are doing compared to their US counterparts.
It's almost like come and join the party!
It is. Watching Drag Race is like watching an exclusive party at a club and what's great about it is kids around the world, no matter where they're from if they can stream, they can see the show and doing so they get to learn how to navigate their own lives. The kids on our show, the contestants have been very successful at making their way out of whatever small town or village they come from to become the fruition of their imagination, to become this concoction, which is so beautiful, and so powerful.
Now, that phenomenon is in England finally, how does it feel?
Well, it feels so good to be in England, you know when the show was conceived, wow, we thought this is going to be a no brainer for the UK, but it's taken so many years to get here. Of course, kids in the UK have seen the show because of streaming devices, but the UK version is its own special monster because it has the British sensibility and sense of humour and the edginess that England has always been known for.
Would you say you knew the UK drag scene well?
I've worked in the UK for many years, and I would say I know the UK drag scene very well. Although in the past ten years, I haven't done clubs as much as I used to. I used to travel around the world with my nightclub act, but in the ten years, we've been doing Drag Race I haven't' been able to do that. So I get my information about the drag world from Michelle Visage who tours the world with the Drag Race tour and so I get, inside information from her.
(WERK!: RuPaul takes Drag Race to England. Photo: BBC)
How did you find London?
I am loving London. You know when I used to come here 25 years ago it was very difficult, I felt very claustrophobic, I like to be in control. I couldn't make heads or tails of where I was in the city when I would visit here. So now, with the computer and the smartphones I know where I am at all times, and I'll tell you the most civilised thing about being in London right now – is that I can take my Apple Pay to the turnstile at the Tube and just press the button and I'm through. That is, the single most civilised thing I have ever seen in my life.
I totally agree. It's made life so much easier. So have you ridden the tube?
Oh please! You know, the thing about drag, is that it takes the piss out of being serious about your status. Drag is about making fun of identity, okay? So with drag, we don't take ourselves seriously. So if you want to get around London, the best way to get around London is to get your ass on the tube. And so I'm on the tube all the time. I love it!
What else do you love about London? You've got a very good eye for observations. Have you noticed things other than Apple Pay that makes the British slightly quirkier?
Well, what makes London so wonderful and quirky and special is there is, an old-world sensibility with a new world approach to life. First of all, I love the fashion, I love the sense of placement in the world, and I love the humour which is so brilliant. When I was a kid in San Diego, I grew up in San Diego, California, I felt like such an outsider, and it wasn't until I saw Monty Python's Flying Circus on public television that I thought 'Thank god, my tribe exists!' They're out there somewhere – it's my job to go out now and to find them. So that was very important for me.
How was filming?
I have had such a great time; I think this is actually my favourite time in England. This is the longest period of time I've ever been in London, and it's actually become very normal for me now. I still haven't quite got used to driving on the left hand side of the road – I don't think I ever will! It just seems counter-intuitive. I would think that, there would be some parliament measure to say 'okay enough with this craziness, let's drive on the right side where we belong'. You know (laughs).
(THE JUDGES: Graham Norton, Michelle Visage, RuPaul and Cheryl. Photo: BBC)
You have an executive producer title, and you really are an executive producer! You handpicked the queens. What were your observations at the beginning?
Well first of all, when we go into casting it has to be an ensemble cast. They have to complement each other, and they have to speak to whatever the audience knows about drag. Now this is the first series, of the British version and so we start with, what the audience already knows, we don't want to go too far out there. Now in America we do the same thing. We start it with you know, your ingénue, your Comedy Queen, the Body Queen, we start it the Pageant queen, it's almost like casting a boyband where you have certain characters. And as the series has gone on in America, we've introduced more avant-garde queens because we felt the audience was learning the structure and the types of queens as we taught them. So starting with the UK version, we start it with the basics and as time goes on we can build. But this group is still very out there, you know, we have on queen that doesn't shave her body hair, we have, you know, we have the classic British funny queen, we've got the ingénue, we've got the big girls, you know, so that's how it starts. But they have to complement one another, and a lot of times, we won't choose two girls that do the exact same type of thing. We want them to be different but similar.
How would you say British queens are doing compared to the US version?
Well the British queens, they do a lot of tongue and cheek. And they can be very (laughs) very cutting but in an intellectual way. It's going to be interesting for audiences around the world to try to decipher some of the lingo. That's been hard for me too. The other day one of the girls said that she had the 'mouth of a navvy' – I didn't know what that was. I asked her; she said a 'navvy' is someone who works on the roads. Still makes no sense to me but you know, I'm married to an Australian, so I'm used to a twist of a phrase and word abbreviations.
(THE QUEENS: Ten lucky queens were chosen by Ru to show off their runway-ready looks and biggest talents. Photo: BBC)
Some of your phrases have been around for most of career, how do you reflect on that?
You know I learned a long time ago, when I started my career, that you needed a platform, you needed a dogma, a domain; you needed something that was uniquely you. And I learned that from David Bowie, and Diana Ross and Dolly Parton and Cher that you had to brand yourself. I gathered a bunch of phrases early on that have stuck with me. Like, 'if you can't love yourself how the hell are you going to love someone else?', 'you better work' and you know, so my mother actually collected sayings. She would say them all the time. Some of them I still don't understand what they mean. But she would say them all the time, she used to say 'blind Tom said, sight beat the world, and we shall see'. She'd say it all the time – 'blind Tom said, sight beat the world, and we shall see'. Now, no idea, I can guess, I think it means that you have to have faith because if blind Tom who could not see says sight beat the world, I think meaning, sight will ... we will all see eventually. I think it means, the truth will be revealed. I think that's what it means; I really don't know.
I have a feeling you will be taking home some British sayings for your records.
One of the things I've enjoyed hearing you say is 'Put the kettle on'. I actually heard that years ago on French and Saunders – they were doing a skit about these two housewives who were going on about the world's problems. One of them knocks on the door and says, 'Oh darling, I've got a big problem. She says 'Oh, shall I put the kettle on?' Meaning we'll sit down, and we'll talk about this. Love it, love it!
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
RuPaul's Drag Race UK airs Tuesdays at 21:00 on BBC Brit (DStv 120).
(Compiled by Leandra Engelbrecht. Source supplied: BBC)