Bianca Del Rio is heading to the West End, baby.
Since appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race and snatching the coveted crown, American drag superstar Bianca has won a legion of fans around the world with her signature brand of hateful comedy – particularly here in the UK.
As well as headlining Wembley Arena later this year, which will be the biggest solo show from a drag queen we’ve ever had on our shores, she’s currently starring in hit London show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie as fading drag queen Loco Chanelle.
“You guys love to drink, smoke and laugh, so that’s worked out well for me,” she laughs when we ask why she thinks the Brits have taken such a shine to her. “You guys have a good sense of humour… when you’re drunk. Either way, I’ll take you!”
To celebrate her return to theatre, we caught up with Bianca to talk about the importance of Pride, why young people need to stop worrying about ‘likes’ on social media, and what her best advice is for the queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
How are you feeling about Arya Stark using your ‘Not today’ line in Game of Thrones last week?
[Cackles] Well she’s not the first one! They also had Sabrina, or one of those teenage witches, use it recently too. I’ve never watched an episode of Game of Thrones or that witch show, but you know there’s some gay guy on the writing staff that thought, ‘Ooh, this’ll work!’ So I’m flattered, but I have not watched either one of them, which is scary to think about. I’m not really a TV person. Some people will be upset by that, like, ‘How could you not?!’ But if I did I would never get anything accomplished. I’d get too wrapped up in it.
Well, you’ve been busy preparing for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – how’s that going?
It’s been an amazing process! It’s been quite a few years since I’ve gotten in touch with my theatrical roots, which is kind of how I started, but of course these past few years, as far as drag is concerned, I’ve been doing my own stuff, with the exception of a couple of movies here and there with my friends. So it’s challenging to go back to this world, but it’s also fabulous too. It’s been a while since I’ve performed a script written by someone else. It’s been daunting, but in a good way. I’m in my third week in London now, so it’s been lovely just to be in one place. With all the travel that I do, it’s nice just to have one bed.
What is it about the show that really drew you in?
I saw the show last December when Michelle Visage was in it, I happened to be in London and managed to catch a performance of it, and what I love about the show is obviously it’s message – even though the show deals with someone who’s gay and wants to do drag, that isn’t the focal point of the show, it’s basically just about people’s relationships with others, and the message isn’t preachy, it isn’t beating you over the head with, ‘This is how things are supposed to be’, and I just thought it was genius because Jamie, who wants to be a drag queen, usually they spend so much time on the transformation of someone becoming a drag queen, and I kinda like that it’s second fiddle to Jamie being who he is. I just love the story, and I’m quite fond of any new musical that’s out there. I’m old, and I’ve kinda seen everything at this point, so it’s great to see something new that’s positive and fabulous. The cast is amazing, and it’s just a great story.
On both occasions that I’ve been to see the show, the audience has been mostly older straight people. Do you think shows like Jamie have the power to educate people about queer issues?
That’s exactly what it’s doing: It’s educating, without being preachy. I think that if you’re someone… for instance if you’re a straight person, your image of what gay life is about may be a bit different than what it really is. This shows the human side of it, it shows someone who is balancing his relationships with his father and also his mother, who is very accepting and loving, and he just happens to want to be a drag queen. When I’ve spoken with my gay friends who’ve watched the show, we’ve all had that type of mother that’s in the show, or we wish we had that mother. So when the mother is doing her song [He’s My Boy], you can’t help but cry. You’re either thinking, ‘Oh my god, I wish I had that’, or you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god, my mother is so wonderful, I’m so grateful for what she’s done for me’. So I think it hits you on many levels, and I think it’s important to educate without being too preachy.
When you’re playing the character of Loco, are you bringing bits of Bianca into it? Or are you playing it totally straight?
Well, it’d be very hard to play it straight….
Okay, poor choice of words.
Well I just found out through the company that I’m the first openly gay man playing the role, much less a drag queen, so I’m sure my take will be different. To play a strong, out drag queen who had her fame back in the day, it’s going to be a bit of a stretch… [Laughs] No, there’s lots I can relate to, with Hugo and with Loco as well, with things I’ve experienced in my life or some of the amazing drag queens I’ve met in my life that I can see this story being told through. I guess visually, it’ll obviously look like me – but done in 19 minutes, because we have to get into drag quickly. I’m not in the first part of the show, then 30 minutes in I show up as a man, and then I have 19 minutes to get into that drag. Bianca’s been around for 21 years, and I said before if it’s something I haven’t experienced it’s someone I’ve met or known, which definitely helps with the storytelling. I must say, as a compliment, the show is written very well, and it’s very conversational. As I’m reading the script, a lot of it is things I would’ve said, or things I’ve been told. I mean, our drag days were a little different than it is now with social media. It was a different world back then. You actually had to talk to people!
You mentioned that you saw Michelle Visage in the show – has she given you any advice?
She was the first person I spoke to once I signed the contract, I sent her a text to let her know I was doing it and she was extremely excited and she said I would have one of the best experiences of my life. And I thought, ‘Okay, this is great!’ It’s important to have friends who have been in the same business to be supportive. But she did say the schedule is tiring, it’s eight shows a week. She said, ‘Make sure you take care of yourself, make sure you take your vitamins and get your rest’. I’ve been kinda floating around the world for the past six years, so she said, ‘Just make sure you take care of myself, for stamina purposes, but you’re gonna have a blast’.
You’re also making history with your Wembley show – that arena can hold over 12,000 people. Are you nervous?
To be honest, nervous is never a word I use. Excited? Yes. Nervous? No. I think nervous is when you doubt yourself. I’m just going to do what I do, and hope that translates. With the venue, what happened was I had done a theatre in London last year which can hold 3,300 people, and I’d sold out three nights there, which registers close to 12,000 which was the obvious reason to move to a larger venue. Having to explain the difference between Wembley Arena and Wembley Stadium has been a constant thing. People are like, ‘90,000 people?!’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t get crazy!’ But I truly am looking forward to it. The UK has been very good to me.
Why do you think the UK in particular has taken such a shine to you?
I think we’re going through something in America right now with political correctness which is absolutely insane, but I think that people here in the UK seem to get my sense of humour and seem to understand what a joke is. You guys love to drink, smoke and laugh, so that’s worked out well for me. I haven’t tried to completely dissect it, but I’m welcome to all of it, I really am, because especially with social media, you deal with that sometimes where people feel the need to be a part of this ‘cancel culture’, they have to say something and be a pioneer or some kind of ‘drag activist’ online. But really if they don’t like you, they’re not gonna like you at all. If they don’t like me now, they’re not gonna like me later, so what’s the point of having a conversation with them? I just think you guys [in the UK] have a good sense of humour… when you’re drunk. Either way, I’ll take you.
It does seem that the younger generation are more sensitive to your brand of humour, whereas an older generation…
…well I don’t actually think that they’re sensitive, I think they want to be sensitive because it makes them look better, and I think it’s all about image, that’s what Instagram and Twitter is all about, ‘How can I project something that’s going to make me liked?’ I think older generations come from a view of, ‘I don’t need to be liked, you either get me or you don’t’. Nowadays, everyone’s so desperate to be liked, to get a like on a photo or to get numbers, which doesn’t resonate for me because as with many of us there was no internet growing up, you lived your daily life, and you called your friends on your home phone and said, ‘I’ll meet you at 10 o’clock’, and then you had to actually meet them at 10 o’clock because that was no other option. It’s very different now. I’m just grateful that I don’t care enough to be in that headspace, because if I had to worry about that I would lose my mind.
In the current political climate, with trials like Trump and Brexit, do you ever feel like you have a responsibility to use your platform to speak out?
No, I think it’s important to laugh; that’s my platform. I don’t think anyone cares about my serious political views, I’m not an activist, I’m a man in a wig, and how dare anybody put me on this platform where they just assume that I need to always do and say the right thing – that’s not what my life’s about. There are queens who do that, and do that well, but my thing is that I bring humour and I don’t bring my personal views into it, because that’s what I choose to do. There are so many people who put all of their business on social media, and you know everything about them, and they’re constantly fighting a battle and talking endlessly – look, I’m an entertainer, I do what I do, and it’s either gonna be someone’s cup of tea or not. But how I personally feel, and what charitable work I do, that’s my business, and I think that’s important. Going back to those likes, I think a lot of people want to put that out there, like, ‘I’m so knowledgable about politics, I care so much about that’, and I’m like, ‘Great! Good for you!’ But my life is my life. You’re gonna piss off someone, no matter what you do. Someone’s gonna be bothered by this interview as I’m telling you right now! But if you know that you can’t win over people, why try? So for me, I take things seriously that matter, and I do what I need to do on my level, but I don’t spend my life telling people how to live their lives, because I’ve gotta live my own. You just can’t win with some people. Especially in the comments section.
We have Drag Race UK coming up this year – having spent a lot of time here, what do you think international audiences are going to find unique about our drag?
Oh it’s completely different! It’s completely different from America, and I think that’s great. I know a lot of queens that have been here in the UK that I think are genius, but it’s a completely different take. Actually, I consider it more of what I do, or what we older drag queens do – you have to have an act, you have to have something to perform, it’s not just some Instagram beauty who watched Drag Race and decided to be a drag queen. Here you have to deliver, you have to do something on stage, which is what we did back in the day. So it’s exciting to see what they have to offer and it’s gonna be great to shake things up. I mean, we’re on season 43 in America, why not bring it to the UK? And also I think it’s great for them to have the exposure.
Are there any UK queens you’d like to see on the show?
Well, I know several who are on it. So yeah… I don’t know what to say. Next question! [Laughs] No, it’s tricky because I know certain things but I also don’t know how it’s going to be presented. I have facts, but I don’t have the formula, so I’m not necessarily sure how it’s going to translate. I’m just excited to see what’s gonna happen.
What advice would you have for the contestants, especially as this is the first UK season?
The one piece of advice that I give everyone is that despite the fact you’re wearing a wig, be yourself. Don’t think about what other people are going to think or like about you. It’s the same advice I give for social media, just don’t try so hard. If you say something that’s going to piss somebody off, then however you feel about it, discuss it. But you don’t have to apologise, you don’t have to make up stories. And for God’s sake, don’t mention any ailments. I’m so sick of everybody saying, ‘I’m ill, I’m dying!’ Just be a drag queen for Christ’s sake, not a patient!
It’s now the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the face of Pride has changed so much since then. What do you think Pride stands for in 2019?
The fact that I’m on the phone with a gay publication that’s asking me about my drag career, that’s huge! I mean, that’s insane. Even though we live in this world now where we have so much access to information through computers – we can Google everything, there’s so much information out there – I am amazed at how ignorant people are. I’m amazed at how ignorant the young people are, where if it’s not a picture on Instagram then they don’t know anything about it, and it blows my mind, because obviously you can only learn from history, but gay history is extremely important. There are people who sacrificed quite a lot, there was a time where you could go to jail for being in drag, and I don’t think people realise that as they’re drawing on their ombre eyebrows in their makeup tutorials on YouTube. They’re very lucky sons of bitches! So I think it’s important to sit back and find out about the history, appreciate it, relish in it, talk to someone who was there. I was lucky enough to have a lot of older friends growing up, so the stories they told, and the books I’ve read, and the movies I’ve watched – all of that was pivotal to my career, and I feel it’s important to share that with other people. Because the world has changed, but we really need to find out where that came from. In America right now we have someone who’s openly gay running for president, which is amazing to think about, but how did we get there? That’s what I think is most important. Never forget how we got here, because that only makes the narrative better. It’s a different world!
Bianca Del Rio will star in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie until Saturday 29 June, 2019. For more information and to purchase tickets visit here.