WHEN you hear drag, what is the first thought that comes into your head? RuPaul’s Drag Race? Gay bars? Top-quality make up? These three things are a part of drag culture, but drag is so much more.

Many think drag is only for gay men - but anyone of any gender or sexual identity can get involved. Drag is a story of self-acceptance. A celebration of self-love.

Speaking to The National, international drag artiste Amber Dextrous said South Wales not only has a rich drag history with performers who have been treading the boards for over 30 years, but it is more diverse than ever with people of all genders, ages, nationalities and colour finding their way into the colourful scene.

The National Wales: Amber Dextrous

Amber Dextrous

South Wales drag queen Diana D said: "The South Wales drag scene is a hub of culture and diversity. With drag queens, drag kings (women performing as men) and Afab queens (performers who were assigned as female at birth) taking the centre stage on the regular. It is primarily Cabaret (which is the best kind) but there are a few 'lip-sync assassins' who are insanely talented.

The National Wales: Diana D at Dorothy's Showbar Swansea

Diana D at Dorothy's Showbar Swansea

"But most of all, what you don't see much of on the telly is the sense of community between us all, we are all there for each other, to help each other grow to be our best selves!"

Drag queens are sisters, all part of a sisterhood. South Wales’s drag scene has talented queens such as Lucy Fur, Dr Bev, AIDA H Dee and many more.

The National Wales: Newport drag artist, Lucy Fur, created a costume of Pippa Bartolotti, deputy leader of the Green Party to show her support for environmental issues.

Newport drag artist, Lucy Fur, created a costume of Pippa Bartolotti, deputy leader of the Green Party to show her support for environmental issues.

Drag has been around for hundreds of years. In the 1880s, the first known person to self-identify as a “queen of drag” was born into slavery. William Dorsey Swann organised balls for men who were formerly enslaved, they would dance in their satin and silk dresses at the ball.

Fast forward to the UK in the late 1880s to the mid 1900s, comedy pantomime dames became popular: the dame was a contrast from the previous serious Shakespearean tragedies and Italian operas. Nowadays drag is apart of mainstream culture.

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TV has played a big part in this. It has given people a chance to express themselves in a variety of ways. If someone is shy or reclusive, drag can be the armour for those we need to gain confidence and become a person they never thought they would become.

One of South Wales' top drag queens, Tayce, was a runner-up on the second series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, stealing Welsh people's hearts in the process. Tayne is now a South Wales queen icon. They started their career performing in Revolution Newport, and now they are touring around the UK, an ambassador for Coca-Cola’s “Open That Cola!” campaign in the UK and even featured in Little Mix’s Confetti music video alongside other Drag Race favourites Bimini Bon-Boulash and A’Whora.

The National Wales: Tayce in her iconic Welsh dragon outfit

Tayce

Miss Tina Sparkle, a South Wales drag queen, has been working as a full-time professional drag queen for 21 years. When she first started out there was just a handful of queens in South Wales, but since the growth in popularity of programmes such as Ru Paul Drag Race, this has encouraged more LGBTQI+ people to have a go themselves.

The National Wales: Miss Tina Sparkle

Miss Tina Sparkle

The National Wales: Miss Tina Sparkle

Miss Tina Sparkle

“I know many of the clubs in the early days were behind closed doors, so I am sure many drag queens were faced with the same position," she said. "They would not be as mainstream and part of gay culture as much as they are today. The drag scene in South Wales is very crowded!

“It is a rollercoaster being self-employed and doing something such as drag. I am very fortunate being a fluent Welsh speaker that it is given me opportunities to work in both languages. I have had a great relationship with S4C and the BBC over the years, with a lot of Welsh interviews and chance to speak about South Wales drag queens,” said Miss Tina.

The National Wales: Miss Tina Sparkle

Miss Tina Sparkle

The National Wales: Miss Tina Sparkle

Miss Tina Sparkle

Many drag and LGBTQI+ venues open and close fairly quickly, especially in the current climate - which Miss Tina says can mean she has a busy diary one week, then nothing the next. However, Tina said if you are a good artist, then a door will always open - there is a place for all drag acts in South Wales.

When asked about what advice she would give to those who are interested in starting drag, Miss Tina said: “Don’t!

"Only joking - make sure you have plenty of practice. There is nothing wrong with trying out a few ideas at home, work on your look, your personality and have a back story about your culture.

"It is not all about the singing and lip syncing, it is about confidence on stage. This grows over time. Enter as many open microphones drag competitions as you can and take constructive feedback on board.”

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Most importantly, she wants to highlight that it does not matter how you are born, it is how you become that person. All ages and sexualities love drag queens if they have the right balance of cheekiness and fun. For Miss Tina, she said it has taken her 21 years of hard work and she would not change a thing - expect perhaps just her figure after a year of lockdown.

“Hard work pays off," she said. "I’ve been lucky to perform all over the UK, and summer seasons in Spain and Turkey. Be prepared for long drives, overnight stays, and lots of preparation. It is not just about an hour on stage, but everything else that goes with it.

“Don’t run before you can walk, listen to us oldies when it comes to advice, we have been there, done that, and learnt along the way what makes a good or bad drag queen. Not everyone makes it in the world of drag, but like I say, nothing ventured nothing gained. Make sure you find your own personality.”

South Wales is known for its loud and proud LGBTQI+ and drag scene. The drag queens are all supportive of one another and represent Wales all around the world and the UK.

What makes drag fabulous is the people. Their creativity, craftpersonship, charm, never fails to entertain the audience.

Drag is an art form. An art form with a political statement. A political statement to love yourself. As the popular RuPaul saying goes, if you don't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anyone else?

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