All that glitters: Inside new drag show The Gold Rush
Ever since Dame Edna Everage and Lily Savage tottered onto eighties TV in their high heels and fancy wigs, drag has become a mainstream entertainment favourite.
Fast forward three decades and the genre well and truly exploded on our screens when Ru Paul took the globe by storm in 2009 with the first series of the Drag Race, which has since seen spin offs and live shows around the world.
There’s no doubt about it, drag today is big business in TV terms.
However, as we know, away from the screen it’s far more than the wigs, the glitz and the glamour. While drag is big, bold and brash, it is also about community.
Ever since the 1970s, when the drag balls of New York became second families to gay youngsters who weren’t accepted at home, the scene has an important role to play in LGBTQI+ inclusivity. Something Indy Niles, one of the contestants in the new weekly elimination drag competition The Gold Rush, will attest.
The hybrid docuseries and reality TV show follows the journey of 12 performers as they race to win the drag crown, while being judged by industry professionals including RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Veronica Green and Jonbers Blonde, and Glow Up makeup artist MAC.
Indy, a self-confessed ‘male comedienne’, played by 24-year old Gabriel Harris, explains how the welcoming environment of the drag scene encouraged him to come out as a trans man on the show.
Gabriel had already told his friends and family that he wanted to live as a man in 2019, (‘the soft launch’, he calls it) and a few weeks later, he came out.
‘There’s the idea that drag is purely cross dressing,’ he tells metro.co.uk. ‘I didn’t want people to think that I was a woman dressing up as a man – because that would have been very dysphoria inducing. So in week three, I quite publicly came out during the performance.’
It marked a happy ending for Gabriel, who had experienced gender dysphoria for much of his teens.
While at drama school in London, he went through a gender identity crisis, so used the time to explore his masculine side, dressing up as Indy Niles, a working mens club comedian who ‘takes away all the queerphobia and racism and turns it into queer joy’.
Gabriel says: ‘That’s what’s so beautiful about drag. At the heart of it, it’s just taking away any layers of shame that, especially as queer people, we’re told to carry. It was a sort of letting go and discovering who I really was and not hiding. Because you wouldn’t believe it, but before transitioning, I was incredibly feminine.
‘I’d wear cocktail dresses to the pub and had long wavy hair. It wasn’t me at all. Honestly – I felt like I was a drag queen then. I became the inverse of that. [Indy Niles] is basically my way of shedding all the shame I had over my masculine side.’
So dressed in a blue romper, as if it was a baby gender reveal party, he happily announced that he was a boy. ‘I definitely threw myself in at the deep end,’ Gabirel admits.
‘I wouldn’t advise trans people to come out so quickly, but I have no regrets – although looking back you could definitely see the fear in my eyes.
‘But, that was easier than [coming out to] friends and family, because I knew it would be celebrated. When I knew the environment that Taylor [Trash – the show’s creator] had created with The Gold Rush, I knew I’d be very held and supported by the audience,’ he says.
It was this welcoming and inclusive space that the show’s founder, Taylor Trash, a self-confessed ‘bearded barbie come to life’, wanted to create.
Taylor, real name John Brock, set up the show out of frustration that the drag scene wasn’t challenging performers creatively enough. The 39-year-old from London says: ‘All we’re doing is churning out acts that are going to be very similar and not really challenging audiences in any way and everything was becoming quite stale. So I decided to set up my own.’
Building the series was a real labour of love; completely self-funded, the show took John and his boyfriend Sammy Harkin years of their own time; with Sammy staying up until three in the morning every night working on the edits.
‘We wanted to create a platform where the wider queer community can see representations of themselves that are accurate to who they are, and not necessarily catering to a majority straight audience,’ John explains.
‘There’s a lot of space for different bodies and different identities in drag. We’re able to celebrate the work of performers that have different gender identities; we’ve got two trans performers competing in this season – one is trans femme, the other is trans masc – another performer who is a drag king and two non binary performers. We’re not asking anyone to fit in a box.’
Growing up under Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in published or teaching materials, John pays tribute to the queer performers that went before him, including Ru Paul and the Drag Race, of which he is keen to point out is a ‘huge fan’ of, and he says ‘massively changed the lives of so many of us’.
He talks about how he used to blow up balloons as a child, stick them down his top and strut around with a tea towel on his head as a wig. He would sing, which would drive his parents nuts, but, John adds, it’s his influences that enabled him to feel free to be who he was.
Now he has given up his work in advertising to perform and create the show full time. ‘Drag is escapism, and it’s fun, and it’s relatable, It’s bold, bright and entertaining and it belongs to us. It’s a queer art form,’ John adds.
Female Drag Queen Nancy Brabin-Platt loved the Gold Rush as a viewer, and when she was asked to audition for series three, she jumped at the chance. Her character Platapussy is inspired by her name, but also the fact that she is like a platypus, ‘because no one ever knows what they are and they look f***ing random.’
Whether women can perform in drag has been contested. Ru Paul originally banned female artists from the show, stating ‘drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once its not men doing it’. However, Victoria Scone, the first cis female drag queen was invited onto the show in 2021 on Drag Race UK and is now a guest judge on The Gold Rush.
As Nancy explains: ‘At its core, drag is a metronome swinging between cynical rejection and satirical embrace of gender stereotypes and the belief that only men have the right to explore themselves and their own contradictions in this way is misogyny in its plainest form.’
As a female drag queen, Nancy describes her drag experience as a ‘second puberty’.
‘Drag brought me a lot more gender euphoria as a woman,’ she explains. ‘You realise how much of your gender expression is actually geared towards the male gaze. So when you start wearing heels and corsets and you’re really hyper feminine in a space free from that straight male gaze, it’s really amazing.
‘And then it becomes more noticeable on the street – you’re like: “Who am I doing this for?”
‘I do this on the weekend and get paid in front of an amazing crowd of people who are really supportive. So then on the street, it feels a bit more like, “I’m just gonna wear my tracksuit”. Once you have the space to perform your gender ideals, you kind of stop having to feel like you have to do it every day.’
It was this gender euphoria that brought contestant Kyran Thrax into drag.
He considers himself one of the hardest working queens in London, and fresh from his West End debut appearing in Gals Aloud, Kyran has fallen head over heels in love with a career that helped him recover from a period of traumatic abuse.
25-year-old Kyran discovered drag while playing around with makeup at drama school. He put his first act together with season three of the Gold Rush and became an overnight success.
‘I genuinely think I work more than any other drag artist in the UK,’ he says. I just love it; I’m a work horse and there’s nothing that brings me more joy than being on stage.’
Drag has been an important part of his recovery after Kyran was a victim of child sexual exploitation. When he was 13, an older man, claiming to be a teenager, befriended him on Facebook and groomed him.
They met up and embarked on a sexual and romantic relationship, until Kyran found out his abuser’s real age and realised he’d been exploited.
Kyran bravely spoke to the police, the case went to court, and his abuser was jailed. However the young man was left to deal with the scars caused by months of sexual and psychological abuse.
‘It was a very long, traumatic process that went on for some of the most important years of my high school life,’ Kyran explains. ‘It really affected my development and growth. It was just an impossible time. My mental health suffered a lot. I didn’t really want to see people. I didn’t really have any friends. I got myself in a very bad state.
‘I was quite depressed and quite confused, and I didn’t really understand what was happening – it was just kind of a whirlwind. It took me a long time to feel like I was coming out the other side of that.’
It was performing that helped Kyran turn his life around.
He went on to raise awareness around sexual exploitation and works with charities to support other survivors.
‘I look back, and it was difficult to see a point of recovery,’ he adds. ‘That was a completely different world and a completely different reality. And it just makes me really, really proud to look at where I am now.’
Now Kyran is working harder than ever. And like Taylor Trash, Platapussy and Indy Niles, he wants to act as an ambassador and inspiration for any drag babies coming up through the ranks. Performing saved him, and he believes it can help others too.
‘I came from zero money. Literally nothing,’ he says. ‘If I saw that little boy, I would think – there’s not a chance that this kid is going to be successful.
‘And now I’m making my dreams a reality and doing the things I’ve always wanted to do.’
The Gold Rush is now streaming on Froot TV.
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