A brief history of drag kings in the UK
With lots of great photos, yes! Lada Gaga stepping out as Joe Calderone was the tip of the iceberg. We check out Drag Kings in the UK from their historical beginnings to their thriving Now.
A Brief History of Drag Kings in the UK
When Lady Gaga made every LGBT question her sexuality by taking to the stage as Joe Calderone she was one in a long line of awesome chicks sticking two fingers up at the misogynistic female idyll by donning boys’ clothes, adopting a casual swagger and drawing (or sticking) on facial hair.
Ancient History and Victorian Male Impersonators
History has been repeating itself since the 16th Century. Back then in the time of Shakespeare, women were known to bind their breasts in order to appear on stage at a time when such behavior was considered reproachable.
Fast forward a few centuries to the next female monarch, and there was an explosion of performance for the masses. Victorian Variety theatre and Music Hall altered the face of England’s theatres. Female performers at this time were looking to stand out by doing something a little out of the ordinary. Performers like Vesta Tilley, Ella Shields and Hetty King began performing in drag, shocking and thrilling audiences across England. Ella Shields’ most famous character, Burlington Bertie from Bow was a caricature of a certain kind of London man about town.
They didn’t have the vote and they weren’t allowed to own property in their own right, but they could dress up F2M and mock the patriarchy (well, as long they were funny!)
The Eighties and Nineties
By the end of the 20th Century, Drag had gone underground and found a new following in the Lesbian community. In 1985 in London, Annie Toone met Della Discrase, Sophie Moorcock and Billie Goodfellow and from ’87 they all performed as part of the Chain Reaction Collective for LGBT-only audience. From 1989, the amazing Diane Torr pioneered Man For A Day workshops all over the world.
In the early 90s, the burgeoning UK scene simmered under the surface of queer culture. Kings were performing in the gay clubs of Soho (London), but the scene was still dominated by Drag Queens. This was a time when Lipstick Lesbian Chic was in, and being a Butch Babe was only ok if you were KD Lang. In 1996, Cherry Smyth published Damn Fine Art by New Lesbian Artists and held London’s first Drag King contest and three years later in 1999 The Drag King Book was published, showcasing Kings from across Europe, the UK and the states.
Brighton and the South
In 2006, the Hot Frollick Drag Collective formed in Brighton. With their exquisite costumes, convincing facial hair, they were the toast of the Lesbian Scene modeling and performing in the south. For a long while they were the only UK online Drag King presence.
In London 2008, the first King of the Castle competition took place at the Purple Turtle in Camden. The winner Stevie Wonderful (Fiona King) now runs the annual competition which in 2011 celebrated its fourth year.
Valentino Kings and The Manchester Connection
The following year in a small North West Village, Gizell Timpani, who was already known throughout Europe as a female vocalist, decided that she wanted to do something different. Over the course of the next year, Gizell became Valentino King, the UK’s best known Drag King. Like the traditional Victorian kings, Valentino sings live with a smooth baritone and has been wowing audiences ever since.
A year later in 2010, Vanilla bar held the first HRH Manchester Pride Drag King competition for Manchester Pride. Hosted by Valentino King, the first heat attracted seasoned Drag King Jack The Lad (JTL) and newcomer Our Kelly, both of whom are still performing today. Following this first heat, the Drag Kings of Manchester Facebook page was set up by Drag Model Boi Wonder.
The three finalists chosen to perform live at Manchester Pride’s Women’s Stage were Don Dick Realis, Our Kelly and the eventual winner of the competition The Dyke Kings.
In addition, in a first for Manchester Pride, a Drag King was chosen to lead the parade in front of tens of thousands of people through the streets of Manchester. Our Kelly, representing VIA performed live and was crowned King of the Manchester Pride Parade.
The Scene Grows and Grows
Within months the Facebook Group had attracted over 200 members and performers from all over the UK were looking to Manchester for information about King Culture. Flirty Bertie, inspired by Valentino and the Manchester Kings began performing in London and across the South in late 2010 and The Gloucestershire Drag Kings formed in early 2011.
Today there are active Drag performers, both troupes and individuals all over the UK.
If you would like more info about King Culture, keep your eye on Mookychick for the next in this Gender Bending Series!
Lada Gaga as Joe Calderone
Ella Shields in drag, with thanks
Anderson Toone (left), with thanks
Stevie Wonderful, with thanks
Valentino King, photo by Tony Cooper
The Dyke Kings Alex and Jack The Lad, with thanks
Our Kelly Leads the Manchester Pride Parade, with thanks
Flirty Bertie, photo by Will Brooker