With her signature “silly sausage woman” brand, Ginger Johnson steamrolled the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. After winning the disaster class with her fellow Northerners (and finalists) Tomara Thomas and Michael Marouli, the County Durham comedian conquered the series’ first-ever panto challenge and the coveted Snatch Game as the ‘Queen of Romance’ novels Barbara Cartland. (Her track record will go down in history.)
In the season five finale, the three aforementioned queens wrote and recorded lyrics to a remix of RuPaul’s runway banger ‘Spotlight’, before starring in the British spin-off’s first-ever music video. Although her “inner saboteur” (as a RuPaul has said once or twice, maybe more – not sure) made a special guest appearance in the finale, Ginger defeated Michael in the lip-sync smackdown to Erasure’s classic ‘A Little Respect’, usurping Danny Beard as the ‘UK’s Next Drag Superstar’ in the process.
“It was one of those moments in life where time stops,” Ginger tells GAY TIMES the morning after the finale party. “I turned to give Michael a hug and one of the giant gold spikes on his shoulders went straight up my nostril. I was like, ‘Nothing shows what my life is quite like than winning Drag Race and having a giant metal spike shoved up my nose. That brought me back to reality a little bit.”
Read ahead for our interview with Ginger Johnson, the newest inductee into Drag Race UK’s winner circle. The star discusses her Mission Impossible slash Wallace and Gromit-inspired performance in the music video, her plans to “take over the world” and whether she’s interested in appearing on the next winners’ season.
Ginger… How are you?
I’m good. Do you like my new microphone? [Holds up sceptre.] Good morning! Listen, I’m gonna be carrying this around with me everywhere I go for the next 12 months.
At Tesco… Sainsbury’s… Iceland.
In the shower. In the bath. All of it.
Congratulations on winning, I’m so ecstatic for you. How are you feeling after last night? Are you hungover too?
Not really! It all moved so fast last night. Sometimes when you’re in drag, you can have four glasses of wine and it doesn’t touch the sides because you’re not a real person. This is what I like to think: anything that happens in drag isn’t real, so it can’t affect you the next day. Also, I know this is really miserable, but I was just so tired when I got home. I managed to get the makeup off. I didn’t wake up with the clown face pressed onto the pillow, where it looks like a ghost of a clown. Maybe you don’t know that, but some people out there will know what that is! I just feel amazing. I can’t believe it. I thought they put the wrong tape in last night when we watched it. I was like, ‘Is this a clerical error?’
When you were announced as the winner, the room erupted in applause and joy. Take me back to when you were sitting there with Tomara and Michael and RuPaul said your name?
It was just so surreal. It was one of those moments in life where time stops. You just cannot fathom what is happening. I turned to give Michael a hug and one of the giant gold spikes on his shoulders went straight up my nostril. I was like, ‘Nothing shows what my life is quite like than winning Drag Race and having a giant metal spike shoved up my nose.’ That brought me back to reality a little bit. I’m still on a high, obviously.
I fell victim to those spikes too.
I don’t know if Michael has problems with pigeons landing on him when he stands still too long, and that’s why he loves a spike, but it works.
I assume you’ve heard from RuPaul? She’s text you congratulations?
Oh yeah! We FaceTime’d this morning while we were both putting our makeup on in the mirror.
How did Ben react?
Aww. To be honest, I think they were more emotional than I was! I was so on another planet. No, I think they’re very proud of me.
When the finalists’ loved ones appeared during the Tic Tac lunch… Maybe it was because I mixed rosé, red and white last night, but I was crying.
When you’re on the set, you get used to lots of people moving around in the background because there’s about a hundred people in that room most of the time, shoving things around. When Ben was walking out, I just thought it was the sound lady coming to fix my microphone or something. It wasn’t until they were two feet away from me that I was like, ‘WHAT?!’ That was crazy. Trying to get your head back in the game, though, that was a lot. And doing that dance routine… I’ve never danced like that before in my life and I never will again.
I know you were in your head during the music video but that was one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of someone excelling, simply because they were themselves.
I was so lucky that our choreographer, Claud, just let me do it. He was like, ‘Let’s just be silly and lean into it.’ We’d never seen the music video either! So that was the first time. We saw a little version of it on the day but it was the first time seeing it in all its glory. How fab is that? First music video on Drag Race UK!
You and those lasers… I was cackling.
Listen, I thought I was being a real smooth criminal when we were filming that. I was like, ‘Wow! I’ve never bent like this before. I could be in Mission Impossible right now!’ and then I watched it like, ‘Oh no… This is the penguin in Wallace and Gromit.’
That was what the music video needed. Drag queens as cat burglars to a RuPaul song? It needed some camp.
Well, I think my tail was bringing the camp more than anything. I wish you could’ve seen the back view of the choreography because that thing was springy and bouncing around behind me. In the rehearsal, Michael and Tomara kept cracking up because I was slightly in front of them and they could just see this thing wiggling away behind me.
Your signature “silly sausage woman” self.
Even when I’m trying to be sexy and serious… It’s just not in me.
Not all of us can be Tomara. If I tried to be sexy…
Tomara’s doing it for all the rest of us. She’s got the sexiness for the entire UK.
You also killed that final runway. That look, Ginger. That motherfucking look was stunning. And the lip-sync, that Erasure song gives me shivers anyway…
It came on in a club when I was out recently. We obviously learn all the lip-sync songs and when I hear one of them, it’s a bit tricky. One came on in Greggs the other day when I was waiting for me pasty. I just had to leave. I was like, ‘This is too much, I’m not doing this.’ [‘A Little Respect’ is] going to be part of my life forever now. I’m glad it’s that one. It’s an absolute banger. It’s the one they play in the club at the end of the night to send everyone off on a high, so that felt great.
And it was your first lip-sync of the entire series!
No, first lip-sync [ever]! I’ve never lip-synced. That’s not what I do. I’m a singer. I was stood there thinking, ‘God, is this really the first time I’m gonna do this?’
You’ve unlocked a new talent.
I’ve surprised myself, to be honest.
What was it like on that stage, lip-syncing opposite Michael?
I was just trying to Judi Dench my way through it. I know Michael has the moves and she had that huge gown on. I was like, ‘I’m just gonna act the song and go for it.’ I had me suit on, I felt very shiny.
The entire top three consisted of Northern queens and The Vivienne and Danny Beard previously won, so that’s three out of five Northerners who have taken home the crown. Why do you think Northern queens excel at Drag Race?
If I knew that, I’d be a very rich woman. I don’t know, I think there’s something about Northern drag that is irreverent. It’s part of the culture, especially in the North East. Everything’s about having a good time, making the best of any situation. Sometimes, that’s about being as silly as you possibly can. That’s what all three of the Northern winners have in common as well: we’re all a little bit daft! And if there’s anything that RuPaul likes, it’s daft.
RuPaul loved this entire top three so it was like, ‘Who the fuck is she going to crown?’
Wasn’t it nice seeing her sweat a little bit, having to choose?
Ginger, at last night’s event you revealed to the room what happened after you swallowed those pins…
I need you to repeat it for me please because I was pissing myself.
So, there were three pins that I swallowed by accident. They just vanished. I was like, ‘They’re not on the floor… They’re not in my hands… They’re not in the mannequin.’ I called my mum, first of all, and asked her what to do and she was like, ‘Just eat some bread and it’ll do its thing.’ My friend who was with me at the time said, ‘You need to call 111 and ask them what to do.’ I called 111 and they told me to go to the hospital immediately. So anyway, went [to the hospital], had an x-ray and they knew where they were. I had to go to rehearsals next day. I was rehearsing for a kid’s theatre show, Hansel and Gretel, and I was playing Hansel. I had to check myself out of the hospital and they gave me a packet of paper plates and a box of latex gloves. They said, ‘Count them on the way out and let us know when they’ve all gone.’ On the last day when they’d all… run their course, let’s say, I went back to have my final appointment. You know how a pin has a little plastic ball on the top? She said, ‘What colour was the last pin?’ and I went, ‘Oh it was green.’ She turned around and went, ‘Sharon! You’ve won the kitty!’ They’d had a sweepstakes going of what colour this pin would be. Isn’t that ridiculous?
I love that. You are embarking on the Angels of the North Tour next year with Tomara and Michael. Can you tease what that’s going to look like?
I can say that we’re gonna pick up all our favourite – and your favourite – bits from the series. The ladies of the disaster class will definitely be returning, perhaps in a slightly more souped up form. We’ll probably do ‘Spotlight’, although I’ll hopefully have more time to learn the choreography! It’s just going to be a camp old time. I don’t want to tell you too much. Our group chat is buzzing with ideas about what’s going to happen. Tickets are available right now, the pre-sale started today.
Ginger, you are a comedy giant. A giant! What have you got planned for the future? What are you going to do with your signature brand of “silly sausage woman”?
I’ve always been someone who’s had big, ridiculous ideas, even since I was a child. Like, stupidly ridiculous ideas. Some of them, I’ve managed to make happen along the way. But now, there’s absolutely nothing stopping me. I really want to do another puppet project soon because I love puppets and I’ve always wanted to do something that’s a bit like Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but with a cast of puppets around me. I’m gonna be out on the road. We’ve got the Angels of the North Tour. I’ll be on tour later in the year – there’ll be news about that eventually, I’m sure. I’m gonna take over the world. I can’t wait to get out and meet people. I started in drag because it was a way to go and exist in nightclubs and meet people and feel like I had a job to be there so that I didn’t feel anxious, basically. Drag is still about that for me. I got over that anxiety of meeting people and now it’s one of the biggest joys of my life. So, I can’t wait to get out there and meet amazing performers and the fans and everybody. It’s going to be a hoot!
I have a final question for you… The next Drag Race winners’ season: are you in?
Oh… Let us have a break, man! I need to lie down in a dark room for six months before I do anything. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. I mean, can you possibly say no? I don’t think so. Imagine what a terrifying series of people that will be? Think of the people that are in there…
Who would you like to compete against?
All of them! I just wanna meet all of them. It would be a lovely meet and greet for me. I could just come in on the first day, say hello to everybody, get them to sign me bra, off I go!
Ginger, I’m so excited for what you do next. Also, I think you need to invest in a line of shoplifting coats.
Yes, available on the Dark Web now! Tin foil-lined so the beepers don’t go off.
Drag Race UK season five is streaming now on BBC iPlayer.
You can watch our entire interview with Ginger Johnson here or below.