Evoking a sense of empowerment through impersonation and playing on the idea of gender, the London drag scene has been around for many years. Although, when broaching the subject more often than not ‘Queen’ is probably the first word that comes to mind. To find out a little bit more about drag’s other half we spoke to one of London’s leading Drag Kings who goes by the stage name Flirty Bertie.
Let’s start from the beginning… When did you first start dressing in drag?
I started dressing in drag about four years ago. I had spoken to the top drag king in Manchester who invited me up for a week and after spending time with the Manchester Drag Kings Bertie was born. Although, my interest started many years ago when I lived with a drag queen. I was fascinated by how he could change his persona through the way he dressed and by the use of make up.
Who is the top Manchester Drag King? And how did they become such a major influence in your life?
The top Manchester drag king is Valentino King. Valentino King has been a total inspiration to many drag kings. He holds a special once a month drag king get together in a bar down Canal Street and performs all over England and the world for various festivals, pride events and clubs. The fact that he is so welcoming and helpful is a great inspiration to me, the way he is willing to show others how to drag up and the advice he will give to someone struggling. He helped me immensely when I first started out and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
For someone who has never heard of Drag Kings could you give some insight into a typical performance?
Performing is all about having fun and not taking yourself too seriously. Most drag kings sing live while others do stand up but it is all about owning the stage and giving the crowds a good time.
Can you tell me how you put together a typical Drag King outfit?
I have a certain way that I dress which tends to be white shirt, black tie and black waistcoat but I also have a vicar and a New York cops costume.
Do you have any interesting Drag King stories ie a funny memory or certain strong character in the drag scene?
The first time I ever went out in drag I used a water-soluble spirit gum to put my beard and moustache on. I was meeting up with a lady who I was trying to impress. I bought us a round of drinks and took a large nervous gulp from my pint. As I put the pint down I noticed what looked like a hairy caterpillar floating on the top… The beer had actually dissolved the glue that was holding my moustache on.
How did you come up with the name Flirty Bertie?
Vesta Tilley sang the song Burlington Bertie and it’s a song that’s stuck in my head. I’ve always liked the name Bertie and wanted something that went with it. All my friends kept telling me that when I was in drag I became flirtatious and in turn Flirty Bertie was born.
Boi’s Night Out is a monthly night that you started. When did you first start Boi’s Night Out and why?
Boi’s Night Out was started in February this year with the idea to provide a safe space for cross dressers, gender queer, transsexuals and drag kings to meet once a month. We have a special guest once a month and an open mic competition whereby the winner is then invited back to perform the following month. Our night also offers tips on how to dress and how to beard up.
What are some of the other shows you are involved in? Can you tell me a little bit about them?
I tend to do more workshops than performances but I was also part of LFest last month, which is the Lesbian Music, Arts and Comedy Festival. I want to show others that drag is about having fun and I know from feedback that many have found it an inspiration.
Can you tell me a bit about what you think it means to be a Drag King?
Personally, it is about playing with my gender. When I first started as Bertie I was quite shy but I have gained so much confidence that I have changed as a person. I also use Bertie to show others that it is acceptable to be different.
Do you think Drag Kings are recognised in the general public? Is this something you would like more people to become aware of?
Drag kings used to be recognised with the likes of Vesta Tilley who used to perform as a gentleman in the old music halls. Today, drag kings in England are not as well known. Whereas, in America drag kings are huge and there are pageants and regular performances. I would love for drag kings to be on the same scale as drag queens, which is why I travel across England doing workshops.
You said you travel England doing Drag King workshops… What elements make up your workshop?
Within my workshops I teach people the basics of being a drag king. I show them how to ‘bind’ so that it gives the appearance of a flat chest. I show them how to ‘pack’ to give the realistic bulge in the trousers, how to apply facial hair to give a realistic beard and moustache. I also show them how to dress and give them ideas on how to come up with a drag name.
Fashion has long played with the idea of gender, do you have any thoughts on this? Do you think this has helped with informing people in some way?
I think that is more about androgyny rather than drag kings. In some ways I believe it does help as women see these big names dressing more masculine and being accepted and in turn it gives others the confidence to give it a go.
Have you seen any films based on drag kings and what were your thoughts?
I haven’t seen any films about drag kings per se but I have seen films with women dressed as men. My personal favourite is Orlando with Tilda Swinton and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. I thought Tilda Swinton played the part of Orlando extremely well and went from being the male Orlando to the female Orlando seamlessly. Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Brandon Teena, a transgendered teenager, was emotionally powerful and the film still sends cold shivers down my spine. There have been films such as The Year of Living Dangerously with Linda Hunt, Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews, Kate Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett, Robyn Douglass in Her Life as a Man and Judy Garland in Easter Parade.
Do you have any icons that have inspired your style of drag or influenced you in any way?
For me it was KD Lang and the wonderful suits she used to wear. I wanted those suits and that confidence to look good.
Do you think the Drag King scene has grown/changed over the years and what would you like to see happen over the next 10 years?
It is definitely growing; with new up and coming drag kings are always contacting me. Social media has also certainly played a huge part. I would love to see a drag king on television on a regular basis and for the scene to become much bigger so that we have the same exposure as drag queens.
To read my original post from Not So Popular please click here.