It feels like we’ve waited years, but it was finally announced earlier this week that a UK version of Drag Race is coming to our screens. Now casting, the show will air on BBC Three sometime next year, unleashing the United Kingdom’s special brand of drag talent onto a world of fans.
British drag has always been in a league of its own. Queens like Cheryl Hole (“any hole’s a goal”), Divina De Campo, Donna Trump and Jodie Harsh in particular have made names for themselves thanks to their British shtick. So, the potential for this UK version of Drag Race is huge.
But while the news is incredibly exciting, it also brings with it a bit of trepidation. “The fear is that the show will not honour UK drag but impose a very specific type of American drag onto UK viewers, ignoring the different history and drag culture of the UK,” diverse drag collective DragPunk tells Hornet. The Birmingham-based group — made up of performers Amber Cadaverous, Lilith, Paul Aleksandr and Tacky Alex — describe themselves as an “art collective of creative, queer-minded people” who celebrate the art form of genderfucks, drag queens and club kids.
The UK has such an eclectic mix of cabaret, theater, comedy and performance — young and old — and that specific formula might not translate well to the tried-and-tested Drag Race formula that works in America. In fact, the majority of drag performers in the United Kingdom opt to sing live over lip syncing, which already puts in doubt one of the show’s most popular segments, the “Lip Sync for Your Life.”
Honestly if Drag Race UK is filled with young hot Insta queens and there isn't a single ropey old broad from Blackpool with a red feathery wig and blue eye shadow up to her hairline, I shall sue.
— Richard Butler (@rmdbutler) December 5, 2018
It’s impossible to put UK drag into a one-size-fits-all box, something that many UK drag performers are already concerned about. “Drag Race is already incredibly dominant and presents itself as the gateway to LGBTQ culture,” DragPunk says.
“Many young people in the UK already know more references to Stonewall than they do British queer history and artists,” says DragPunk
And Snatch Game! Representations of British celebrities on the regular fan-favorite episode, like BenDeLaCreme’s Dame Maggie Smith and Ginger Minj’s Adele, have done well, but who’s to say it will connect with RuPaul when British queens play British stars, or even American celebs?
Production will be different, too, thanks to the very strict broadcasting rules imposed by the BBC. Product placement is banned altogether, so the UK version of Drag Race might see the girls win nondescript gift vouchers to “a respectable food outlet” as opposed to a British alternative to Hamburger Mary’s. (Remember when Sasha Velour infamously won a year’s worth of hamburgers despite being vegan?) But that’s really one of the lesser issues. It might even be a welcomed bonus, to be honest.
A big concern for many regarding the UK version of Drag Race is inclusivity. Drag queen Ophelia Love tells Hornet, “I know there’s been a fair bit of criticism in terms of other aspects of drag and how they’re represented in the show. I personally believe all drag is valid and will always stand up for other, maybe under-represented, styles of drag.”
The London-based drag queen, makeup artist and singer, who also performs as part of a Girls Aloud tribute drag act, adds the show “should be more inclusive to allow female drag queens to compete,” and Love says they’d “love to see a drag king edition of Drag Race.”
Others, including DragPunk, have even more reason to be concerned. “Drag Race, for over a decade, has never allowed gender diversity — women and transgender people,” the collective tells Hornet. “To think some of DragPunk could not enter because of their non-drag gender is shocking and ignorant of the reality of who is actually doing drag.”
And, yeah, RuPaul doesn’t have the most glowing track-record on the subject. Earlier in the year, the host — who will be playing the same role for the upcoming UK version of Drag Race — made some questionable comments regarding trans contestants. Some think that will be the ultimate test for the host’s planned British invasion.
[Editor’s Note: It bears noting that the first-ever one-off Drag Race Christmas special, airing Dec. 7, features openly trans contestant Sonique, and the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, premiering Dec. 14, features Gia Gunn, also a trans contestant. The queens of the show’s upcoming 11th season have not yet been announced.]
“RuPaul has deflected past discussion of [trans contestants] with jokes, not realising Drag Race is behind the times. In this country, where some of the most talented drag queens and kings are female, this needs addressing,” says DragPunk
There’s of course still a lot to get excited about. If done right, the platform given to the forthcoming British queens on the UK version of Drag Race is priceless and could set them up for life. As Ophelia Love tells Hornet, “It will have a positive impact on the UK drag scene, as I think it’ll make more people go out and appreciate the wonders of UK drag.” And bringing more attention to local British queens is always welcomed — assuming the show will be actually representative of the various aspects of UK drag.
If a UK version of Drag Race is to be successful, it will need to stand on its own merits by picking the right aspects of the show’s American version to keep, and which to replace. It’s entirely possible to create something that incorporates what once made the show fresh and exciting with a British twist — inclusivity and all.
Ok but is miss rupaul gonna let female queens take part because I don't wanna see a representation of UK drag without representing the talented women that are rocking it rn such as @AmberCadaverous @LaceyMcFadyen @MissZodi https://t.co/NHIU2GVx6P
— Failenn Ⓥ 🌈🌿 (@AstrlProjection) December 5, 2018
Asked by Hornet whether the UK version of Drag Race will indeed represent all forms of queer performers, a BBC spokesperson says, “Our application process doesn’t exclude anyone. The only thing we’re looking for is charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.”
So we’ve just got to hope and pray that RuPaul and the show’s producers are up to the challenge of creating an inclusive show that represents every angle of the UK drag scene. Otherwise, the UK version of Drag Race could do more harm than it’s worth.
“Hopefully the show will listen to the excitement people have and their concerns,” DragPunk says. “The result would be a very forward-thinking and relevant show where everyone can benefit.”