Tributes pour in as the news breaks of George Ward’s passing
On September 23rd, Drag Race fans from throughout the world woke up to the devastating news of the passing of Drag royalty Cherry Valentine. At the moment, we are unsure of the cause of death, but what we do know is that her legacy will live on in the masses of people that she touched during her short but colorful life on earth.
Cherry Valentine, born George Ward, rose to fame on the second series of the British take on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Despite not winning, Cherry stole the hearts of the nation, as his infectious laugh, good sense of humor and kind nature made her shine. The series was broadcast during the COVID-19 pandemic, where George Ward helped on the front line as a mental health nurse for the NHS. George believed that his journey as a drag queen had a positive impact on his ability to offer the best care to patients in his day-to-day job: “If you are a drag queen you are working with people. And to understand people I think you go the extra mile.”
Shortly following the show, Cherry’s light shined brighter, selling out shows all across the country. Just last year, she was handpicked by British pop icon, Charli XCX, to perform in her music video for the lead single, Good Ones. Cherry’s drag was described as “glamour”, “gothic” and “dark” by herself and many of her fans.
Cherry was a huge advocate for mental health. This February George opened up like never before, discussing his “traveler” heritage in BBC’s ‘Cherry Valentine: Gypsy Queen and Proud.’ In this poignant documentary, George went back to his ‘gypsy’ routes and discussed the stigma within the community surrounding sexuality and mental health. The show was incredibly emotional as George discussed his reasons for leaving the community in search of freedom. The show shined a light on the community and presented an angle to the traveling community that is relatively unknown.
Since the news broke on Twitter, Cherry’s cast-mates and friends shared their disbelief at the news. “I’m in shock and not quite sure how to process the news,” says Joe Black. “I will cherish the times we had together. An exceptional artist and person.” Ginny Lemon shares their grief, “Just woke up, just found out. I’m devastated and can’t stop crying.”
The fourth season of UK’s Drag Race premiered yesterday. A short tribute on next week’s episode is expected.
Spain managed to refresh the tired-out model for Drag Race España
So far, we have a US, UK, Canada, France, the Philippines, Italia, Australia and the Netherlands version of Drag Race. But in 2021, the franchise extended to yet another country. This time it’s Spain and, to everyone’s surprise, it has resulted in (arguably) the best season of Drag Race in history,
Of the Spanish instalment, two seasons have aired so far, delivering two deserving winners who have been catapulted to fame across the country and the continent. Drag Race Espana embodies the essence of drag, which is sheer talent and entertainment. Seasons 1 and 2 are reminiscent of the golden years of the US Drag Race, which has now sold its soul for profit and commercialism. Drag Race España returns the franchise back to its creative and revolutionary roots. Here is why it’s the best version.
It feels completely detached from RuPaul
Every fan of Drag culture and art is worried that their country’s version will be dominated by annoying Americanisms and excessive product placements. And, even though Drag Race España has elements of this, it’s easy to forget its relationship with the original. This is partly due to the wonderful judges, who consist of Spanish drag sensation Supremme de Luxe; fashion designer, Anna Locking, actor, director, and writer, Javier Ambrossi and his long-term partner Javier Calvo. The four permanent judges and hosts have amazing natural chemistry and a genuine love for the art form. It’s clear that their appointments were due to their knowledge and passion for creative arts and not for their fame.
No English-speaking lip sync songs
Each week, the two weakest queens compete in an iconic lipsync to an infamous queer song. In Drag Race España, producers have leaned into their Spanish heritage and have selected a string of Spanish-speaking songs that aren’t your typical Shakira hits. Songs are relative and specific to what queer people in Spain have been listening to throughout the generations, which includes many uptempo bangers, like Todos Me Miran by Gloria Trevia and the dramatic Un Año de Amor by Luz Casal.
Despite the seasons being released to an international audience through the streaming platform Wow Presents Plus, it’s clear the producers only have one objective, and that is to showcase the very best of Spanish queer and drag culture, and this certainly translates.
The category is… Spanish culture
It’s no secret that most spin-off series’ have some diabolical runway looks. The UK and Australian versions are notorious for their shabby looks and rough-around-the-edges makeup. Usually, the US looks are of higher quality due to the show’s exposure, which attracts top-tier designers who create garments for the queens. However, the Spanish drag queens didn’t have this luxury, and it didn’t matter because they still managed to produce some of the most jaw-dropping outfits. From intricate and couture dresses to avant-garde boundary-pushing art pieces – Drag Race Espana has it all.
The majority of the categories draw upon Spanish rich cultural heritage, such as tongue and cheek, ‘Jet Set Marbella’, ‘Spanish Art Extravaganza’, and even a tribute to the singer, La Veneno. The categories are cleverly designed to share the nation’s exceptional artistic history and talent with an international audience.
The talent is off the scale
Did you know that season 2, episode 2, titled, Supremme Elegant Talent Extravaganza, is actually the highest-rated episode of Drag Race in history, with a 9.7 rating on IMDB? That’s right, from start to finish, every single queen showcased a unique and original performance to the panel of judges. In the majority of the talent shows, queens tend to annoyingly perform an original song in an attempt to further promote their materials and tours, but as for the Spanish queens, they saw it as an opportunity to let go, have fun and showcase the unique and authentic side to drag. Performances ranged from an electronic transformers style dance routine to flamenco-inspired musical theatre, and even a futuristic piece by Onyx, who gives birth to an alien. Drag Race Espana has it all.
Just when you thought we had enough drag race seasons to binge, another one comes along!
It’s good news for French fans of Drag as RuPaul’s Drag Race France is well underway! The series is broadcast on France.tv – a public service broadcasting company with digital capabilities. Frustratingly, you must be from France in order to stream the free series. But, international fans don’t fret, as you can keep in the loop with a WOW Presents Plus subscription – which also happens to be the same streaming service as the current season of All Stars – so it’s all in one place.
Drag Race France will be hosted by Season 12 queen, Nicki Doll. Nicki was born Karl Sanchez and is from the sunny southern city of Marseille. The French heritage and affiliation with the US version of drag race make them the perfect host for France’s very own season. Upon hearing the news, Nicki was astounded. In season 12, Nicki didn’t perform very well and ended up being booted off only a few weeks in. This inevitably left some room for self-doubt to creep in. In a recent interview with Digital Spy, Nicki addressed these anxieties: “I started to ask myself: am I even qualified to look straight at these girls, and judge them, and give them feedback, when I, myself, as a contestant did not win a crown?” Fortunately, Nicki found the strength to take up the position, and fans are sure that they are a perfect fit for the famed role.
The show premiered last month and we are now approaching the halfway mark. With a great reception so far, Nicki wants to warn you that there is plenty more talent and creativity to come: “so I think visually, it’s already very amazing,” they said. “But also, what’s interesting about France is that people who haven’t been to France yet, or don’t really know what France is, they expect a lot of clichés. But then you realise that the real France – my France – is so much more diverse than this. My France has a Mexican living in Paris for the longest time and being a dancer. Or a North-African Muslim drag queen.”
One of Nicki’s many appealing qualities is their rationality. It’s no secret that fans have recently been suffering from Drag Race fatigue, due to the sheer quantity of spin off’s springing up around the world. In true Nicki fashion, they address the criticisms and concerns head-on: “If you’re tired, don’t watch it. The country that is going to have their own franchise is going to enjoy it. It’s going to bring conversation to families that maybe a queer kid would not be able to bring up, and they finally have examples.” What Nicki says is true. Drag is a diverse art form, and each country and culture deserve to be represented. Vive la Drag.
Despite being the runner-up of season 2 of the UK’s Ru Paul Drag Race, Bimini proved to be the real winner. Bimini (short for Bimini Bon Boulash) was the nation’s favourite ‘lockdown queen’. Once the pandemic eased, they were catapulted from their home in Great Yarmouth and are now selling out shows around the country. Now a Times Best Selling author, Bimini is turning their hand to music after landing their very own punk band. There is no stopping this East-London queen.
Originally from the East Coast, Thomas Hibbits moved to London in search of adventure and identity. “When I first moved to London was when I first saw a drag queen out in Soho. There really wasn’t anyone who was doing that in Great Yarmouth at that time,” they said to the Hackney Gazette. Bimini has always had strong ties to East London, as it’s their dad’s birthplace – which explains the strong cockney accent. Soon after making the move to the big city, they started building a solid reputation in niche queer nights at bars such as The Glory and Dalston Superstore. Their unique sense of style and sultry dance skills struck a tone with a trendy eastern audience. Bimini was able to transfer this image to the famed BBC show, without diluting their underground rawness.
On UK’s Drag Race, Bimini performed exceptionally well. One challenge in particular – the girl group week – propelled them from an underdog ranking to a frontrunner for the crown. “Gender-bender, cis-term offender. I like it rough but my lentils tender,” says Bimini, in their verse on UK Hun. “Whether you’re he, she, or them. Limp wrist, hair flick, crème de la crème. Love yourself, say that again,” they continue, whilst referencing their non-binary identity. The lyrics instantly became iconic, and the verse alone even earned the new artist a 2022 BAFTA nomination for Virgin Media’s Must-See Moment. Despite not being able to sing, Bimini has something to say, and why not use the power of music?
Bimini’s first single, God Save This Queen, is the first indication of their musical direction. The track has a punk sound, with even punkier visuals, and they rely upon their strong east-London accent to deliver a sort of Sex Pistols-style commentary. Although it sounds bizarre, the arrangement works! And Bimini is reportedly in the studio, recording an entire album or EP. In an interview with Kerrang, they addressed their forthcoming plans: “Music is another outlet that I’ve been able to do that with as well, which I’ve been working on. I put out one song last year [God Save This Queen]. I thought it was going to be song after song as I’ve been in the studio since February 2021. We’ve made music and I’m excited for people to finally hear it.”
In June 2022, Bimini moved onto the next stage of their musical career, performing at Download Festival. “I’m incorporating both fashion and music in my Download set, so it’s really exciting. I’ve always wanted to do this, and as the opportunities have risen, I’ve grabbed them. We’ve got my single and four original tracks in my longest setlist,” said an excited Bimini, on their upcoming booking.
For over a decade, the Drag Race franchise has been churning out drag queen after drag queen. Although many have successful careers, only a few have managed to remain in the public eye. Bimini is the queen British Drag has been waiting for. Bimini has the ability to take queer underground culture into the mainstream, without losing its authenticity. “I’ve always wanted to do this, and as the opportunities have risen, I’ve grabbed them,” says a disbelieved Bimini. Let’s see where their talent takes them next.
Thanks to RuPaul and the Drag race franchise, Drag, as an art form, has risen from the queer club scene to the mainstream media. For many around the world, RuPaul and the queens that have competed on the show will have been their first taste of drag. But, in the UK, it has been part of our culture for decades, if not longer. In the television era, there is one queen that most Brits will have heard of, and that’s the delightfully outrageous, Lily Savage.
Lily Savage is a drag persona created by the national treasure that is Paul O Grady. But before every great character, first, there is imagination. And in this case, it started with Paul’s trip to the Manilla in the Philippines where Paul worked both as a barman and a waiter whilst visiting his partner. It was here where some of the inspiration for Lily’s promiscuous ways developed.
However, the majority of Lily’s personality undoubtedly came from the strong women that raised a young Paul in Liverpool. In Paul’s 2008 book, he talks about his sources of inspiration for Lily, “I’ve frequently been asked over the years who Lily Savage was based on and I’ve always answered that it was no one in particular and she was just a figment of my imagination.” Paul continues, “the truth, I realise now, is that Lily owes a lot to the women I encountered in my childhood. Characteristics and attitudes were observed and absorbed, Aunty Chris’s in particular. They provided the roots and compost for the Lily that would germinate and grow later on.”
When Paul returned to the UK following his stint in the Philippines, he was ready to put the plan into action, creating shows in various working men’s clubs around the country. Although, the big break came in the early 1980s when Paul began working as a barman in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London. Here, Paul had the opportunity to practice his act in front of a familiar audience, which immediately took a shine to the quick-witted Lily. The more shows Lily fronted, the bigger the crowds became, which quickly caught the attention of TV executives that would ultimately propel Lily to a national level.
Lily’s career path can be considered a blueprint for drag success. In 2019, RuPaul’s Drag Race came to British TV screens through the BBC. A large proportion of the queens came from similar backgrounds to Paul O’Grady, who helped forged a pathway to success. Bagga Chipz is a regional queen who dominated Birmingham’s gay quarter for the past decade. Like Paul, Bagga secured frequent billing at some of the biggest clubs in the business, offering ample potential for producers to bridge the gap between the clubs and TV.
Despite Lily Savage being considered the OG British Drag Queen, Paul O’Grady is not a fan of RuPaul and the franchise. In a 2017 interview, Paul told BBC’s LGBTQ+ correspondent, Ben Hunte, what he really thought of the show, “No, I can’t bear it. No, I really can’t.” He continued: “In my day we had the likes of Phil Starr, who was a glorious comedian, we had Marc Fleming, Auntie Flo, Mrs Shufflewick. We had great comedians in drag. This new brigade who just parade around going, sashay, shantay – that’s not drag to me.”
Lily Savage symbolises a lost era of drag. For many, the charm of drag is that it is an underground niche that influences culture from the fringes of society. Its place in the club and pub scene means that it will forever remain edgy and will not become commercialised. Hence the argument that RuPaul’s Drag Race has taken the authenticity out of the artform.
Some may argue that Paul O’Grady is a hypocrite after “selling out” and becoming one of British TV’s most successful presenters in the 1990s, fronting shows such as An Evening with Lily Savage, Blankety Blank and Eyes Down. Although, despite going mainstream, Paul did not compromise Lily’s character or behaviour. The success did not change Lily, rather, TV changed because of Lily and her sharp and unapologetic tongue.
As Drag becomes mainstream, debate is inevitable and healthy. It is possible, however, for budding queens to remain true to the art form and also find themselves a profitable career, which earns them a living. And Lily Savage is a testament to that.
Drag Race fans went into meltdown on social media after it was announced that the new season of all-stars will be a collection of fan favourites and past winners.
The one-of-a-kind season will air on Paramount+ on Friday 20th May following eight contestants in their pursuit to be America’s next drag race superstar and win a cash prize of 200,000 dollars.
The queens revealed as the All Stars 7 contestants are Season 12 winner Jada Essence Hall, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon, All Stars 4 winner Monet X Change, Season 3 winner Raja, All Stars 5 winner Shea Coulee, All Stars 4 winner Trinity the Tuck, Season 1 Drag Race UK winner The Vivienne and Season 11 winner Yvie Oddly.
This year’s season is also a first for another reason as fans noticed that a UK queen will compete for the crown. The Vivienne, a fierce queen from Liverpool, rose to fame after a stellar performance on BBC’s UK Drag Race. Fans were “shook” on Twitter as they learned that a UK queen took the place of other famed winners. However, British fans defended the Vivienne, sharing her most iconic moments with an otherwise oblivious American audience. It will be interesting to see how this clash of cultures will play out on screen.
The season will also feature a “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked,” which is an opportunity for the queens to “throw shade” and share their juiciest gossip on the competition at hand. This will also be a platform to show behind-the-scenes conversations whilst the judges deliberate the week’s looks and performances. This will also stream on Paramount +.
Since 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race has grown from strength to strength. At first, it was considered to be a niche show within the queer community without much mainstream potential. A decade later, Drag Race became a global phenomenon and one of Netflix’s biggest exports. From Canada to Thailand, Drag Race has many spin-offs and its infectious appeal is showing no signs of slowing down.
Here’s a brief introduction to the queens of this year’s cast:
Shea has been a queen that keeps on growing. In season 9, Shea was placed 3rd/4th alongside Trinity the Tuck, but many fans believed that she had the potential to go all the way. In the months that followed the elimination, Shea ripened, and thus returned to Drag Race for All Stars 5, where she won the season, beating fellow finalists Jujubee and Miz Cracker.
The Vivienne is perhaps the dark horse of this year’s competition. Relatively unknown in US circles, this queen has tons of talent. She has the face, fierce looks, an incredible singing voice and acting skills. And who can remember Snatch Game, where her performance as Donald Trump was described as one of the best Snatch Game performances of all time. This is one queen to watch.
Jaida Essence Hall
Haling from Season 12, Jaida is the most recent recipient of the crown. Jaida is a queen that has talent on all fronts: acting, comedy, and looks. She was also considered by many to be the lip-sync assassin of her season. Can Jaida maintain her winning streak?
True to her name, Oddly is an odd queen. Oddly has immense talent, creating unique and freaky outfits and wearing them in unconventional ways due to her unparalleled flexibility. This queen is full to the brim with quirky ideas which could see her return as the winner once more. Considered to be another lip-sync assassin, Oddly has the potential to send multiple queens packing.
Monet X Change
Monet is one-half of one of the most controversial moments in Drag Race “herstory,” as RuPaul announced a shared win with Trinity the Tuck. Since the show, Monet’s career has gone strength to strength, securing high paid gigs around the US and Europe, as well as having spin-off shows on Netflix and YouTube. This is a queen at the top of her game.
Trinity the Tuck
This queen has had one of the biggest transformations, and we aren’t just talking about the face. When a shy, young Trinity turned up to Season 9, fans saw a lot of talent, that was sadly stifled by insecurity and self-awareness. But in All Stars 4, Trinity arrived with a new attitude and an appetite to slay. Subsequently, she went all the way and snatched the crown. Trinity has a fire lit under her “tuck.” She aims to go all the way.
An unapologetic comedy queen, Jinkx Monsoon is one of those queens with obvious talent. This talent led to her incredible performance on Drag Race season 5, where she was among the top queens each week. Jinkx has made many cameos in other seasons and spin-offs, but does she have what it takes to go all the way, once again?
Being from Indonesia, Raja has a huge worldwide fanbase. Raja joined the Drag Race family way back in Season 3. Since then, Raja’s career has continued to grow, working as a makeup artist on America’s Next Top Model, alongside Adam Lambert, Pamela Anderson, and Twiggy. Raja has been out of the Drag Race circuit for a while. Can this legendary queen reconnect with her competitive past?