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Sitting at a table in a central London hotel, Bianca Del Rio (AKA Roy Haylock) is as sharp tongued as her reputation suggests. Taking digs at Theresa May’s dancing and Trump’s credibility, there’s no holding back. It’s this that has propelled Del Rio from drag royalty to mainstream success, a far cry from winning the crown on season six of the increasingly iconic RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Conversation jumps from social media fame (“we can’t all make a sex tape like Kim Kardashian”) to American Idol (“everyone is yodelling or doing karaoke”), as Del Rio’s honesty manifests itself with great humour and genuine compassion. “It’s the only semi-serious thing I do,” she says when speaking of her film franchise Hurricane Bianca. “You can still get fired for being gay in 29 states.”
This isolated moment of seriousness is quickly followed with a healthy dose of satire. “I find it insane,” she smiles. “Who’s going to do your flowers, or cut your hair?”
In September 2019, Bianca Del Rio will be returning to the UK for her biggest headline tour to date. The run includes a much-celebrated appearance at London’s vast SSE Arena Wembley, the biggest headline show by a drag queen this side of the Atlantic. It’s testament to her quick observation and her wit.
“You can be great TV,” she points out when speaking of her RuPaul springboard, “but that doesn’t guarantee you a career or followers, acceptance or an audience.” Making a sly jab at unnamed contestants on recent series, there’s an undeniable truth in her message. Bianca Del Rio deserves more than 15 minutes of fame.
It’s her tenacity that drives her forward. “I’m not going to change who I am because of a phantom tweet, or a random person I’ve never met,” she says, explaining that nothing is off limits when it comes to her material. Ultimately, unpredictability is queen.
Read our full interview with Bianca Del Rio, AKA Roy Haylock, below ahead of her September 2019 headline dates.
How are you finding your time in the UK so far?
It’s always a whirlwind when you’re here, and just when you think you’re going to have a day off you don’t. I haven’t even gone to Primark yet, which is always my big moment. I don’t know why, but probably just because everything is cheap. I put things in my basket I don’t necessarily need and then I have to pay to get it back to America, but it does excite me.
It’s also nice to experience the seasons. Now I live in Los Angeles everything is sunny all the time, we have no concept of Christmas, Thanksgiving or Fall even. It’s all the same.
Where do you get all of this energy from?
I think that just the idea that there’s always a challenge. What else am I going to do, sit home and complain? There’s always something to do. With drag there’s wigs, there’s clothes, there’s always something to plot and plan. When you’re dealing with comedy there’s things that are always formulating in your head.
Also, I have this obsession of buying everything on Amazon, so when I’m at home I have to open all of these boxes, and to see what I purchased when I was drunk online. You drink a little bit and you order some more, and the next day you’re wondering what the f**k the pony is doing on your doorstep.
Is that where you draw the show’s material from?
Yeah, that and what’s going on in the world. Because I’m a drag queen you can’t get “too gay”. You can’t get “too drag race”. You can’t get too obscure. It’s like dealing with inside jokes, you have to deal with objective funny things that exist in the world. And in the current climate of our world, everything from Donald Trump to Theresa May dancing, it’s insane. That stuff is topical.
But also, you don’t want to alienate your audience, so you have to keep things that they can relate to. A lot of people wonder what a drag queen knows about real life, but there’s a lot. Really you want to keep it fun without having to change too much.
Have you notice your audience change much as you’ve adapted?
In the 23 years I’ve done drag I’ve noticed a huge change. Now I actually have an audience. In the beginning you’re just filler in a club and that’s where you hone your skills, being the one person to keep the show moving or to fill in while the girls are changing costumes. To be doing a show at Wembley now is kind of wild.
I’m always fascinated by the fact that people are interested in what I’m doing. That blows my mind. On social media it’s sometimes all just numbers, but when you see them all in a room physically, it makes sense to you. Especially in London, half way across the world. That’s when it’s impactful. That’s why I always try to take a photo with the audience at every show, so I know it happened and I’m not completely f**king crazy.
So how are you feeling about doing the shows next year?
Well, I’ve started drinking again… Who am I kidding, I’ve always drank, but now I can up my dosage. I think the word I’ve used 600 times today is that it’s daunting, but in a good way. You have to treat it as though it’s an audience of four people, which I’ve definitely performed to. You still have to work as hard.
It’s not like I’m sitting back eating bonbons, going “I got this”. It should be exciting and challenging and you should work through it.
But the production must be different.
I might have bigger screens, and more than one opening act. There might be a prettier curtain. But I don’t want to stray too far from what I normally do.
What’s known as a drag show is more about a performance of somebody lip-syncing and dancing and twirling, but this is a stand-up show. What made me feel balanced is that I know other comedians have performed in these venues. It’s not like I’m in the Sydney Opera House.
The show evolves every night with the audience. Somebody might be wearing a Trump shirt which will lead me to the Trump section first or might give me three more jokes about Trump. You’re always balancing what’s going on.
Your audience now must be far wider than only drag fans now.
You can’t spend an hour talking about RuPaul, and you shouldn’t. With each show that I’ve done I have slowly got rid of more of it. I give everyone a bit of it, because of things like Netflix the series comes out a year or two later. If I didn’t acknowledge it I’d look like a bitch, but I do find myself talking about it less on stage because it’s been done and you have to move on.
But RuPaul’s Drag Race is obviously massively influential in the scene.
TV is a powerful thing. The reason why it’s successful is because people want to be entertained. Whether its some b*tch crying, or some b*tch being funny, or somebody in a fabulous outfit, I think Drag Race is a recipe for all of that fun stuff. Some people love the stories, some people love one particular person or season. It’s like fantasy football for gays and young straight girls.
What advice do you think you’d give yourself, knowing what you know now?
Oh, don’t do drag. It’s a trap. It’s not going to end well…
No, I think just to stay focussed. I wouldn’t change anything. You just have to roll with the punches. I never knew what I wanted. I didn’t exactly figure all of this out. It was just knowing what I didn’t want and trusting my instinct. If something’s going to go wrong it’s going to go wrong, it what you do after the fact that matters. Just be fearless. Don’t doubt yourself too much but don’t think of yourself as fabulous. You have to stay grounded.
I keep a**holes around me that never tell me I’m good.
Bianca Del Rio will be touring the UK on the following dates:
1 September 2019 – Empire, Liverpool
3 September 2019 – Brighton Centre, Brighton
5 September 2019 – B1 Arena, Birmingham
6 September 2019 – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow
7 September 2019 – Playhouse, Edinburgh
10 September 2019 – City Hall, Newcastle
11 September 2019 – Bonus Arena, Hull
13 September 2019 – O2 Apollo, Manchester
17 September 2019 – Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
18 September 2019 – Pavilions, Plymouth
21 September 2019 – SSE Arena Wembley, London
23 September 2019 – Olympia, Dublin
24 September 2019 – SSE Arena, Belfast
Tickets for Bianca Del Rio’s UK tour are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.
Photos by Corinne Cumming