Off the back of the Drag Race UK Season 3 tour, featuring all 12 queens from 2021’s series, Chloë Edwards spoke to finalists Ella Vaday and Kitty Scott-Claus about their upcoming Christmas Cracker tour, the changing landscape of British drag, and who caught their eye in the recent series of Drag Race UK.
It’s a delight to be able to speak to any cast member of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, given its impact in both bringing queer culture and identities to the forefront of BBC television. As a testament to its popularity, and indeed, that of the contestants themselves, each series has been followed by a live nationwide tour with the full cast appearing.
The tour for last year’s series has just ended. Still, for Ella Vaday and Kitty Scott-Claus, preparations are well underway for the duo’s festive tour, Kitty & Ella’s Christmas Cracker – a fact that prompts Collier to reflect on a year that has involved numerous tours and other projects.
“It’s been amazing. I’ve done some amazing projects; a film and a musical, and so many award shows and red carpets– it’s been like no other year. I think this Christmas tour will be something like my fourth or fifth tour of the year. We’ve got all of our songs together so we’re just in the process of getting our costumes made and sorting out wigs – it’s all coming together gorgeously!”
Adds Kitty Scott-Claus: “We’ve just come off the back of a Season 3 tour, an experience we’ll never forget, touring the whole country with our entire cast from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Now we’ve trimmed the fat, we’ve got rid of the dead wood and got down to the nitty-gritty – we’re the queens the people want to see! It’s going to be so fun, so chaotic. I think Ella’s sense of humour is so hilarious, and to be able to bounce off that and to bring the audience along on this Christmas journey is going to be incredible.
“Since finishing Drag Race it feels like I’ve been shot out of a cannon and not stopped, but I love everything that’s happening and is yet to happen – there’s some really exciting things coming up, and obviously the last year has been incredible and getting to work so much and to meet the people we meet and do the things we do, it really is the biggest blessing.”
Of course, working together so frequently inevitably leads to particularly close ties, as Ella Vaday explains. “Me and Kitty speak every day – I can’t think of many weeks where we’ve not spoken six or seven days a week. Not many people can relate to the experience we’ve been through, so it’s nice to have your mates around you to whom you don’t have to explain things.”
It’s worth acknowledging the impact of COVID-19 on the production of Drag Race UK. Series two featured a finite break in filming until it could safely be resumed; with series three filmed in lockdown, the presence of the pandemic was dialed down to avoid feeling repetitive or outdated when repeated later. How did the cast balance living through the surrealism of lockdown, its limitations, and anxieties, with the intensities of the competition?
“It was such a strange time, but I think it made us bond even more,” Kitty says. “For us, it was very much the present situation – I’d not seen my family in months, I’d not been able to hug anyone in a year, it was very real. So when we were in the moment and in the workroom with the others, it was like ‘oh my God, I get to hug someone, be near people, and experience all these things that have been illegal for a year!’”
“I think because of the unique experience we went through as a cast; we couldn’t help but just want to be a family unit,” Ella adds. “2020 was so tough for everybody around the world, and to find yourself in Drag Race, the schedule is demanding, there’s so much to deal with, we couldn’t help but look after each other. People always think of drag queens as bitchy and out for themselves, but really, we were just one big family.”
Other bonding moments of the programme lie in the honesty and vulnerability within conversations regarding personal recollections regarding mental health, sexual health, gender identity, coming out, and growing up under Section 28, which allow for more personal experiences to be shared and awareness to be raised in a show that strikes the balance of being both educating and entertaining. What do Ella and Kitty make of this aspect of the show?
“I think that part of Drag Race is great because it’s such a family audience that watches it now,” Ella says. “You only have to come to a meet-and-greet and you’ll see a queer kid with their mum and dad, and the dad loved the show.
“By talking about all these various stories – the HIV story with Charity Kase, River Medway losing her mum to COVID, coming out stories and all sorts – it really does educate the whole family of all different ages, which you kind of forget at the time. When you talk about your own story, it helps a lot of people.
“We still get messages now saying, ‘thanks to you, I could come out to my family’, or ‘thanks to you, I’ve decided I’m going to try and do drag to access that other part of me that I didn’t think I was able to’. When I started doing drag, I had people telling me ‘huh, I never thought that you would do drag’ – why? That makes me more determined to do it.”
Kitty agrees. “I think as well, the thing with Drag Race is that the stories are universal. It doesn’t matter your gender, your sexuality, or your beliefs: the stories are human stories of human experiences and that’s why it relates to everyone. Everyone has a queen that they can relate to, or a story or something, which is what makes it so special.”
As a viewer, watching the uniqueness of British drag, its sense of humour, and subversive potential and witnessing how these are combined and experimented with each week is one of the multiple highlights of the show. I mention the power in this, and what this adds to the characterisation of British drag that skilfully doesn’t take itself too seriously but also captures the realities of British life and popular culture.
“There’s so many different types of drag,” Ella tells me. “The UK is very unique in our humour, our pun names – a lot of our season had names like River Medway, which is literally the place she lives in. I think British drag is so unique, and there are so many different types of drag in the UK, so it’s great to see it showcased.”
Kitty adds to this. “With Drag Race, like everything RuPaul has done over the last 15 years with branching [drag] out over the world, it brings it to the forefront. Drag was so British and went through a dip after Lily Savage hung up her heels, but it’s always been there. It’s always been a part of British culture, and now it’s having a huge resurgence, which is a wonderful thing to be a part of, but it is thanks to the likes of RuPaul who brought it to the mainstream.”
Beyond their own series, has their own time on Drag Race impacted how they watch the programme now? Kitty likens the experience to the moment in The Wizard Of Oz when the curtain is pulled back and Dorothy sees the wizard for what he is.
“You see it through a different lens. I’m loving season four, the girls are brilliant – but you watch it with a different perspective. I feel for the girls because I think ‘I know what you’re going through, I know how hard it is and you’re doing so, so well’”.
With this in mind, I’m curious to hear which looks from this series have been stand-out favourites for the pair.
Kitty: “My favourite look would have to be Danny Beard’s Little Shop Of Horrors look from episode five’s ‘West End Wonders’ category. That was maybe the best thing I’ve seen on the main stage of Drag Race, it was incredible!”
“I’ve loved a lot of Cheddar Gorgeous’ looks,” Ella tells me. “Like episode two’s ‘Neon Nights’ mushroom look, and episode six’s ‘Tickled Pink’ look that was all about HIV awareness [the outfit’s pink triangles and ‘SILENCE=DEATH’ slogans referenced HIV/AIDS activism]. What I love about Cheddar is that she’s got a very unique drag style, which is not only telling a message but is also really fashionable and really cool… she’s a real piece of art.”
A platform such as Drag Race UK has succeeded in being able to showcase the talent of British drag queens and how contemporary drag is often more powerful than it has historically been afforded credit.
“It’s also re-educating people on what drag is,” Ella thinks. “It’s actually an art form and a way of educating, having a laugh, and not taking yourself too seriously. There’s enough serious stuff going on in the world, especially against the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s nice that drag has had this major boost and shows people that it’s not just what we all thought drag was back in the day. I used to think drag was in bars, a bit seedy, a bit old-fashioned, a bit rude – but now drag is just so diverse and we’ve got drag queens, kings.
“Me and Kitty always say we’re looking forward to seeing more diversity because you can always have more. We want to see some drag kings on the show, people of different genders, ethnicities, because there’s still a lack of diversity – we’ve come far but there’s still much further that we can go.”
Kitty sums this up: “Drag is for everyone, it’s to be enjoyed by everyone, there are no rules with drag. It’s not like ‘this is how you must do it’. It’s open to everyone’s interpretation, which is what makes it so special.”
So what’s following Kitty & Ella’s Christmas Cracker in 2023? “In the New Year,” says Ella, “the first thing we’ve got to do is DragCon [in London on Fri 27 and Sat 28 Jan], where you can come and meet all of the Drag Race girls! We’ve got lots planned, potentially a new podcast, so you can listen to me and Kitty witter on and be absolutely silly.”
“DragCon will be a nice spring back into the New Year,” Kitty reckons. “Everyone who gets their Christmas money, don’t go to the Next sale on Boxing Day, it’s not worth it. Come to DragCon and spend your money there. That’s what I say!”
Kitty & Ella’s Christmas Cracker, Tramshed, Cardiff, Mon 19 Dec. Tickets: £30. Info: here
words CHLOË EDWARDS
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