Fifty-one million. No, that’s not the amount of queens that have been crowned in the franchise this year (pretty close, though), it is – according to official stats from the BBC – the total streams for the first three seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Let’s repeat that for dramatic effect, in bold and italicised: 51 million. While Broom once claimed that drag will “never be mainstream,” the host’s search for Britain’s Next Drag Superstar has been a monumental global success and blessed viewers with some of the most unforgettable slash unhinged moments in television herstory; from the BAFTA-nominated stylings of UK Hun? to Victoria Scone entering the werkroom as Drag Race’s first-ever cis female competitor and Ru’s (confusing but highly entertaining) takedown of H&M.
On Thursday (22 September), the search continues with one of the most varied casts of all time, including the UK series’ first trans woman and first (in all of the English-language iterations) bearded lady. With guest stars including Dame Joanna Lumley, Hannah Waddingham, Alison Hammond, Mel B, Boy George, Lorraine Pascale, Leomie Anderson, Olly Alexander, FKA Twigs – deep breath for even more star power – Tess Daly, AJ Odudu, Giovanni Pernice, Aisling Bea and Cathy Dennis, the fourth season of Drag Race UK promises to be a game-changer for RuPaul’s empire. As one queen puts it, “Some of these twists and turns will blindside you.”
Accompanied by new shots of their promo looks exclusive to GAY TIMES, read ahead for our digital cover story with the 12 new contenders for the Drag Race UK crown: Baby, Black Peppa, Cheddar Gorgeous, Copper Topp, Dakota Schiffer, Danny Beard, Jonbers Blonde, Just May, Le Fil, Pixie Polite, Sminty Drop and Starlet.
“My Drag Race experience was a mad ‘ting,” laughs Baby. The choreo queen of season four, London’s self-proclaimed “Afro Punk Princess” says the world “isn’t ready” for how hard she’ll turn it in the lip-sync smackdowns. Flips, kicks, splits and all of those other dancefloor tricks, you name it: Baby can do it. “I’m not trying to be in the bottom like that,” she says, “but if it happens, just know you’re in for a show!” Baby credits All Stars 5 and 7 alum Shea Couleé as the “reason” why she started drag, saying she “identified” with her intersecting identities as a Black and queer entertainer on TV. “Their perception of drag also opened my mind to the different ways you can go about doing Drag Race.” Admitting that she wears her heart on her sleeve, Baby’s drag persona is “led by passion and what inspires” her such as art and pop culture. As a Drag Race superfan, the 25-year-old didn’t “actively study” the competition element of the series because the challenges – and what RuPaul looks for in [insert country here]’s Next Drag Superstar – is already “ingrained” in her. (Don’t fret, a Sasha Belle, she is not.) (We love you Sasha.)
“I didn’t feel like I needed to sit down and prepare for it,” she explains, “I know how this runs!” Baby knew “99%” of her season four competitors prior to sashaying into the werkroom, but didn’t suss out anyone in particular as her “biggest” competition. It’s not cockiness, however, as she clarifies: “We’re all so different. I didn’t feel the pressure of, ‘I need to beat you specifically,’ because we have our own things that we offer, and we all thrive in our own way.” With her NDA in mind – “I’m not spilling the beans, I am not incriminating myself!” – Baby is hesitant to ruveal too much re season four, although she teases some major “gags” and “surprises” which is, honestly, very surprising for us to hear at this moment in time. Twists? On Drag Race? Like, gasp. What she can say is: “The fashion this season is gonna gag people. Even the girls that aren’t fashion girls really brought looks with them. The fans… are gonna gag.”
Ranking the drama slash conflama and twists slash turns of season four at “97” (on a scale of 1-Club 96, so pretty severe), Black Peppa is a competitive queen who “dissected” the ins-and-outs of the show before she stomped into the werkroom. If you get ready, you ain’t gotta – WHAT?! – YOU KNOW WHAT’S COMIN’ – stay ready. “You know what you sign up for,” she tells GAY TIMES. “You’re going to get certain challenges thrown at you, and you need to be ready.” So was she, y’know, ready? “No! There’s nothing that can prepare you for the show, nothing!” she stresses. “Mama Ru can throw curveballs at you at any given second.” Describing season four as an “out-of-body experience” and a “load of bollocks” (“Nah, it wasn’t a load of bollocks, it was amazing” she reassures), the Caribbean-born, Birmingham-based entertainer says her number-one skill is “conceptualising a look” thanks to all of the fashion references “in this tiny head of mine”. “I’m not the best at sewing, but I can create stuff,” she continues further. “Just like they said on Canada’s Drag Race, the hot glue brigade!”
Unlike Baby, Peppa zoned in on one specific queen as her biggest threat for the title of the UK’s Next Drag Superstar: “Cheddar Gorgeous, hands down. I didn’t think she’d ever go on Drag Race, because I think she is already so established. But when I saw her walk into the werkroom… I thought, ‘Wow, the competition is here.’” (Fun fact: Peppa and Cheddar used to “speak here and there” on Grindr. Are we in for a showmance?!) As for her aesthetic, Peppa says her style is “very true to myself” and that she isn’t a copycat queen. “Everyone’s trying to copy the style of makeup, try to look a certain way and do certain dance moves – a dip, death drop, split. For me, I hone in on my craft and I don’t look at what anyone else does. That’s one thing you need to take away when you know Black Peppa!” The star dramatically adds: “Get ready,” (there’s that word again…) “buckle up.”
“I did some serious research. I absolutely spent hours and hours researching,” Cheddar Gorgeous exclusively reveals of her Drag Race strategy. BREAKING NEWS: “No, I didn’t at all. But kids, do your exams properly! The thing about drag is, it’s about spontaneity. It’s about challenging your perception of what might happen.” One of the most revered drag entertainers in the UK (she boasts more followers on Instagram than a lot of queens who’ve already been on Drag Race), Cheddar’s “specialist skill” is how she builds a connection with her audience, which she hails as an “art-form” and “just as valid a skill in drag than anything you see on stage. In many ways, it is the real core of drag.” As an already established name who has been around for – in her words – “the dawn of time” – again, her words! – Cheddar wants viewers who predict she’ll easily “storm” the competition and “knock everyone out of the park” to “come into [season four] without “any assumptions”. “It’s very easy for people to come in thinking they know who I am, and those kind of assumptions take a lot of fun out of something like Drag Race.” Don’t expect Cheddar to be a cut-throat queen, as the 489-year-old – HER! WORDS! – doesn’t consider herself to be a competitive person, sharing that she was “more interested in who might be my best friend,” which is just lovely.
She adds: “That’s what I was really trying to notice on the first day. Who are gonna be my friends here? I have to say, all of them are amazing allies to have. They’re all brilliant.” Acknowledging that fans will expect RuPaul to throw some gaggery and goopery their way, Cheddar says, however, “the best things that happen on that show are what people aren’t expecting, and that’s probably what I learned, is that the great stuff is what [the producers] didn’t prepare for.” In her native tongue, Cheddar describes Drag Race UK season four as – you might need Google for this – “friggin’ bostin’ bab”. “It’s a very challenging experience,” she recalls, “and there’s something quite explosive about it. There’s something about shifting your life around in a really dramatic way, and I think ‘bostin’’ sums it up nicely.”
Copper Topp is ginger. “That is the most important thing I want people to know about me, that I’m ginger in real life,” she says, overcome with emotion. “It’s very important I say that, because the curtains do match the carpet. And I like to rep the gingers because downstairs are the happiest pubes you’ve ever seen in your life, and everyone needs to take part.” [End interview there.] With her performing arts background, the Cheltenham-based performer confidently states that she’ll conquer any acting challenge – including the Snatch Game – but faces strong opposition, however, from Danny Beard, a fellow lover of the cabaret. “We have the same style,” she says, before making the following bold claim about this new era in the British franchise: “[Drag Race UK season four] is the season to top all seasons. It’s the one, and I knew it from the start. As soon as I saw the cast I was like, ‘Yep, this is iconic.’ You’re in for a treat.” With her NDA in hand – they’re cautious this season! – Copper teases ‘tears, laughs and a few twists’ and a “wild ride” for viewers. “Suddenly, we’re nominating each other for something or maybe we’re learning a dance routine that we learned in our childhood. The Hokey Cokey isn’t as easy in your thirties, you know!”
Nominating Danny as the “shadiest” queen and Lil Fil as the “trade”, Copper admits that she “struggled” to keep up with some of the younger contestants, saying she has “brown sauce sachets in my fridge that are older than some of these queens, they have so much energy.” Co-signing Baby’s earlier comments, Copper, who is ginger, adds: “The runway, I’d say, is by far the best you’ve ever seen. Even the ones who are in the bottom, it’s still bloody good and you’re just picking at hairs!” As for the lip-sync showdowns… “You’re just going to be standing up on your feet, clicking that finger and not knowing what to do with yourself. And there’s quite a few singers in this competition as well! So, you’re going to get some stunning vocals from many people. Stunning vocals!” Break Up Bye Bye and UK Hun? are shaking.
Drag Race UK makes herstory this year with the inclusion of Sussex’s Dakota Schiffer, who becomes the British franchise’s first-ever openly transgender contestant. With anti-trans discourse rife in the UK, Dakota says it “felt very significant” for her to “take up space” within this cast. “In recent years, especially, it’s felt difficult to be trans in this country, and we’re constantly being used as some ridiculous culture war and our existence is politicised.” For Dakota, it’s crucial that viewers – particularly those who are questioning their own gender identity – witness that the trans experience isn’t “all doom and gloom and bleak”. “It’s important to show that trans people have vibrant lives and they’re funny! And they can have a good time,” the 22-year-old explains. “It’s time to finally shift that narrative, and I have a unique opportunity to showcase a side of our community that hasn’t been shown on national British television on this scale.” As well as positively representing trans people in the UK, Dakota’s aim this season is to show fans that she isn’t just a filtered Instagram model with “no personality” and “can hang with the comedy girls too!” She says: “A lot of queens that focus on visuals can get branded as lacking personality. I was excited to leave a 2D space for a 4D one.”
Compared to the rest of her sisters, Dakota “certainly knew” her way around a sewing machine: “I might not have the most money or most experience, but I can take concepts and make them come to life.” For Dakota, the most shocking part of season four wasn’t the twists and turns that we come to expect from the Blame It on the Edit singer, it was how “stacked and talented every queen is,” saying each contestant has their own “distinctive” style and that season four has more “variety” than any other cast in “recent memory”. “I kept thinking, ‘Bloody hell, how are they gonna send people home each week?’ The talent was off the charts.” However, Dakota does admit that the season will be “hard to watch” for her because of the “competitive air” amongst the contestants. “I’m not gonna sit here and say there were fistfights behind the cameras, but there might have been fistfights with words in the confessionals… I don’t know, I have to wait and see!” Hyped yet?
The first bearded queen to bring it to the runway on both the UK and US versions of the show, Danny Beard “never thought” anyone like them would ever sashay into the Drag Race werkroom. “If you say, ‘Draw me a picture of a Ru Girl,’ you’re drawing a human hair wig and a gorgeous female impersonator, like Krystal Versace or Bianca Del Rio. That’s never what my drag’s been about.” Having been in the industry for over a decade, the proud Liverpudlian says they “live, eat, sleep and breathe drag” and their main mission in their signature club kid aesthetic is to simply make audiences laugh. “I’m an entertainer through and through. If you cut me in half like a Blackpool rock it says, ‘Show off.’” Unlike a lot of their competitors, Danny studied for season four – c’mon dragucation! – by watching the past three instalments and turning their landing “into a whiteboard” with all of their planned looks to make sure they weren’t a silhouette repeater. “I worked on it like a project. I was quite strategic!” they tell GAY TIMES, before describing season four as a “pressure cooker environment” like no other and a case of “survival of the fittest”.
Discussing the dynamic between the queens, Danny teases: “Everyone’s respectful of each other, even when there is a bit of drama. But when there’s drama… That tension, you could cut it with a fart, let alone a knife.” With their inclusion on season four – which has been a long time comin’, ask any British drag fanatic – the gender-bending “cartoon clown” feels like their “dreams are coming true” and is “thankful” to RuPaul for giving them a platform to showcase their “hairy chinny chin chin” on an international scale. “It was the best experience of my life,” says Danny, “but my feathers were officially ruffled and the standard this year… next level. I’m not just saying that, my sisters on this show are some of the best queens you’ve ever seen on Drag Race UK. I really do not think people are ready.”
Ireland is hear, H-E-A-R, hear! “That’s it! That’s how you spell it. Can I get an amen?” says Jonbers Blonde, technophobe, who has travelled around the world with Mel C and served as a backing performer for acts such as Years & Years and Jessie Ware. Not only that, she also worked at Vogue International and walked runways in Paris and London. “I was a stylist for years,” the “fun fashion pig” tells GAY TIMES. “Growing up, I always loved fashion and I definitely have a unique sense of style; a fun and frisky use of colour!” Ranking the Emmy Award-winning series as her all-time favourite, Jonbers made sure to prepare as best she could for the maxi-challenges, runways and lip-sync smackdowns, living life with the following motto: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” The 33-year-old couldn’t name one particular “fraggle” as the shadiest, but says season four will definitely boast some rattlesnake moments and unexpected changes to the format. “It can’t be Drag Race without a twist or turn!” she rightfully states. “It’s like walking into a haunted mansion at Alton Towers, you never know what or who’s going to pop out in a scary mask. You’ll be falling at your knees!”
While Jonbers describes herself as “very lovely and honest” – we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we? – she thinks she might be responsible for some of the aforementioned rattlesnakes because her “eyes and face say a million words. I can’t tell my face what to do, it has a brain of its own. We’re drag queens, for goodness sake! It’s who we are darling, it’s in our DNA.” Following on from the rest of the cast’s comments about the runways, Jonbers says each week was like “going to RuPaul’s Met Ball,” and that every one of her competitors “went in” on the fashion. “It’s a mind-blowing season and getting there, I was like, ‘Uh-oh, This might not be as easy as I thought!’ But, I’m so excited to see how much fun we had. In this current climate, we need a bit of joy and entertainment and I think this season is going to bring that. It’s what we need right now.”
“I’m just trying to single-handedly keep the legacy of Geri Halliwell between June 1996 to May 1998 alive,” reveals Just May, the world’s “premier” (?) Ginger Spice impersonator. “Babe, I’m a triple no-threat. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t act. And do you know what? Everyone should be scared. That’s why I’ve made a career out of not being me!” The “mediator” of season four, as well as the “unhinged” one of the lot – “I don’t use Hinge,” she adds, because it is important and relevant to this conversation – May wasn’t afraid to tell her sisters when one of them was being “a bit of a c**t” during the cast’s moments of “GCSE drama”. Familiar with a majority of the queens before the series, May says her biggest competition was Pixie Polite as the two share a “penchant for blue eyeshadow” and Copper Topp, because she is – breaking – ginger. As for the trade of the season: “It was me. I looked in the mirror and went, ‘Ooh, who is that gorgeous Geri Halliwell impersonator staring back at me?’ If you can’t fancy yourself, how in the hell are you gonna fancy another drag queen?”
Her strategy for season four was the opposite to Jonbers’, literally: “I don’t believe in ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. My ethos for drag is to go in without preparation, because you never know what’s going to fly at your face.” The future star of the inevitable Spice World remake is most excited for viewers to learn about how versatile she is as a performer: she can wear a red wig with a blonde streak, or just a red wig. She can do it all! Looking ahead to the season, May – who is not yet verified on Twitter, make a formal complaint now! – says fans are in for “goops, shoops and poops”, which we’re very excited about, “and a couple of dupes. I’m a Geri dupe. That means a copy of something, doesn’t it?” Just May, everybody!
For Le Fil, drag isn’t about a female illusion, it’s an “elevation” of their most authentic self. “Even in drag, my pronouns are still he/him/they,” Le Fil explains. “It’s about reinventing what a man is and what gender is, so it’s about trying to break those rules.” The “all-singing, all-dancing Chinese pop star”, from Brighouse – Divina De Campo’s ends – named themselves Le Fil as it translates to “thread” in French, “to connect all disciplines”. “It’s about marrying all these elements of my drag in a way that’s unique to me, and present something that’s artistic and conceptual but fun and camp,” they say. “That’s my unique skill, this genre and gender-defying output. I’m both the sculpture and the sculptor!” Le Fil didn’t head into the competition with a strategy or pre-planned tactics for specific challenges, they just wanted to get on “the rollercoaster and go!” as opposed to re-watching seasons of Drag Race and studying the competition element. “Just throw it at me!” they enthusiastically state. “I just wanted to go into the experience fully ready for anything. This is such a magical ride that I don’t want to miss anything.”
When Le Fil first scoured the werkroom, they were shocked at all the familiar faces that they were already in “awe of” – such as Cheddar and Danny – and didn’t feel threatened by anyone in particular because of the plethora of different drag styles. “There’s so many different types of people to try and beat,” they recall. “Everyone’s got their own unique strengths.” Nominating Jonbers and Danny as the shadiest queens of season four, Le Fil enjoyed all of the drama due to their own “fighting spirit”. “I was always like, ‘C’mon, bring it on!’ I just wanna hear it. I love hearing who can come up with the quickest attacks.”
“Some of these twists and turns will blindside you,” Pixie Polite EXCLUSIVELY reports. “If you could see my face the entire time, I was just gasping the whole way through.” If you aren’t gagging from these quotes, then call the doctor immediately! You could be very unwell! A singer, comedian and actor, the Brightonian is using her stint on Drag Race UK to “prove” herself to audiences who think they know what Pixie’s gig is. Newsflash: you don’t. “Divina De Campo once said she can do it all in five octaves while singing in a foreign language and doing the splits,” she says, “and that’s my vibe too.” (Now you do!) Pixie, who has been performing as a drag queen for over eight years, is all about the fun and “getting a bit silly”. “If drag’s too serious, it loses its magic for me,” she says. “I’ve always thought, ‘As long as audiences are having fun and I’m having fun, I’ll keep going.’ It’s a way of bringing the LGBTQ+ community together and giving something back.”
Although she wasn’t familiar with a lot of the queens in the real world, Pixie felt “intimidated” by the level of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent of the entire cast and hoped that, “because a lot of them were beautiful and skinny that they would be bad at everything else.” Not the case. “Everyone is so strong, I couldn’t place who was going to do well and who was going to do badly,” she remembers. “That first day was very much, ‘What have I done? Am I on the level of these people?’ and obviously I am because I’m fabulous.” As a loyal Drag Race viewer ever since Jungle Kitty songstress Bebe Zahara Benet took home the first crown, Pixie credits the franchise with allowing her to “explore other aspects” of her talent and is thankful she wasn’t cast sooner because “the time that I’ve spent expanding my craft has been invaluable. Watch this space!”
Currently suffering from “severe main character complex that constantly needs to be fuelled,” (same) Sminty Drop is fully aware of her “threatening aura” as a result of her signature “stern and bitchy” mug. “I literally look at my pictures and think, ‘You would bully me,’” she laughs. The 23-year-old assures us, however, that she’s actually a teddy bear underneath it all; a teddy bear who specialises in “rinsing a bar dry” and drinking “24” (!) tequila shots in a row without passing out. “I actually can’t,” Sminty says with a sigh, “but I’d say my biggest talent is putting a fabulous look together. I can’t do the splits so I’ve got to find something.” Summarising her Drag Race UK experience as “utterly crackers and bonkers,” the Lancashire native has seen every single episode of the ever-expanding franchise and, with a “notebook and fluffy pen” in hand, prepared for the challenges that she “might” not succeed in. She didn’t give those away though, because spoilers! “I was literally in Drag Race school prior to going in, I was taking notes and everything.”
As blonde, blue-eyed fashionistas with similar goals for their drag career, Sminty says she was “nervous” when she met Starlet and teases a “London/Manchester feud” between the pair. “I felt so intimidated,” she reveals. “I was like, ‘This is going to go one of two ways…’” While she wants to separate her personality from her aesthetic, Sminty – who belongs to the same house as Drag Race UK’s very own Porkchop, Gothy Kendoll – admits that she’s (unintentionally) the shadiest queen of the season. “I just kept throwing out comments but I thought I was saying it in my head,” she reveals. “They’d all turn around like, ‘Sminty, be nice!’ I would be shocked at what I said.” The Lancashire performer is currently revelling in all of the attention that comes with being on the world’s biggest reality series (“Not a joke, just a fact,” a vegan once said). “It’s exactly what I needed in my life,” she says. “I’m like Tinkerbell. If people aren’t giving me attention, I will start fading away and die.”
If you were wondering who the “polished, silver screen beauty pinup” of the season is – you were looking for a queen with that exact criteria, obviously – then look no further than Surrey’s South African-born Starlet. “I went home and had McDonalds and went to bed,” the 23-year-old tells GAY TIMES of the day the cast was announced: aka, one of the biggest days of her life. We’ve never related to a silver screen, beauty pinup more?! Passionate about makeup and fashion, Starlet is deep down a “goofy character” and “not just a pretty face” with a quintessentially British sense-of-humour. “It’s a bit on the deadpan side,” she says, deadpan. The area of drag she excels most in is “image making” and utilising her creativity “to pull together different aspects for a final product”. “Flabbergasting” is how Starlet remembers her time on the series, particularly how “immediate” the race is and the lack of music and sound effects.
“It’s completely up to you what’s going to happen and you’ve got to deliver,” she says. “You don’t have a lot of insight in regards to what’s about to happen to you. You’ve just got to be able to go with it.” Based on what she’s already witnessed in the UK drag scene, she knew Danny Beard would be stiff competition, but in terms of her fashion slash makeup lane? “Nobody worried me.” Looking ahead to the season, Starlet is eager to see how her runway presentations translate on screen as she “pours” her “heart” into all of her ensembles. “With regards to the other girls,” she concludes, “I can’t wait for the viewers to see their runways and all of their wonderful personalities. It’s a great season of Drag Race.”
The fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK premieres 22 September on BBC Three.