RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul is best-known in the UK for his reality TV show 'Ru- Paul's Drag Race', and has released three albums, modelled, written an autobiography and presented a chat show

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The Independent Online

You had a prolific career in show business before Drag Race, which you've presented for seven series. Do you have any downtime?

Sacrifices have to be made if you want to make a dent in the world, and that's what I started out to do – to make a dent in pop culture. I've done hanging out, I've done slacking – I love to work.

Has "making a dent in pop culture" always been the thing that drove you?

My motivation comes from a love of being creative. I'm in love with music and colour and laughter and dancing and all things that are beautiful. But "making a dent", that's a tricky one. It's only a select few who get anything that's off-the-grid – and that's what I've always been interested in. Drag has always been off-the-grid.

But you've crossed over into the mainstream. Is that to do with you or a shift in social attitudes?

Drag will never be accepted by the mainstream. Drag is punk rock. It mocks the mainstream. The mainstream is sceptical of drag, and rightly so: drag is making fun of it. My ability to cross over has to do with cultural changes but also a scientific approach to creating a persona that doesn't threaten people. My persona is only dangerous in broad strokes.

Do you remember the first time you put on female clothes?

I never think of it as women's clothing; I think of it as drag. Drag is what you're wearing right now, drag is everything. That's the hardest part for people to understand. That's the part that is poking fun at society. For people to understand they would have to deconstruct their own belief system. A belief system that you are a white, 27-year-old, English, Labour Party-voting journalist, or whatever.

 

Growing up, did you want to fit in?

I always felt like an outer-space alien. I was always breaking the fourth wall. As a kid, I was searching for my tribe of other people who saw through the matrix. Even as a kid I could never buy into the status quo. I just thought it was a joke; I couldn't believe other people weren't laughing at it.

You mentioned punk rock. Is that a place you looked for inspiration?

I looked to anyone who was dancing to the beat of a different drum – definitely to David Bowie. For different reasons, I also love Diana Ross and Cher. Now you look back and what they were doing seems very mainstream, but at the time it was revolutionary.

How has drag evolved from the time when you started in the 1980s?

Every season, the girls who come through RuPaul's Drag Race – and I think there have been close to 100 – gobsmack me with their gall and tenacity. There's a lot less shame involved in drag in general.

The put-downs are hilarious. So sassy – it can feel catty sometimes.

All of the girls come from similar backgrounds. They've all had to fight for themselves. To be successful, they've had to put up this facade, this bodacious personality, to survive. When they all get together, they understand each other – they have had to fight the same fight.

When they're being catty, there's definitely love for one another.

How often are you in drag nowadays?

The only time you'll see me in drag now is if I'm getting paid a load of money.

One thing, how did you know I'm a white, 27-year-old English, Labour Party-voting journalist?

I looked at your picture online. The Labour part? Honestly, I don't know if Labour is conservative or if it's liberal. But, being 54, at some point you learn to trust the first thing that comes into your head. There is an intuitive quality to getting older. That's the first thing I thought and how about that, what do you know?

Biography

Born RuPaul Andre Charles, RuPaul, 54, is best-known in the UK for his reality TV show ‘Ru- Paul’s Drag Race’, in which men and transgenderwomen compete to become ‘America’s next drag superstar’. He began his career as a filmmaker in Atlanta, becoming well-known as a drag queen on the club scene there and in New York City. His first prominent national exposure came in 1989 with an appearance in the video for ‘Love Shack’ by The B-52’s. He has since released three albums, modelled, written an autobiography and presented a chat show. He has a long-term partner and has homes in Los Angeles and New York. 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' premieres on Monday 10th August at 10pm on truTV.

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