Drag artists Michael Jones and Billie Henry from Stonehouse talked to Stroud-based editorial photographer Simon Pizzey at the first over-18 ‘Dragsey’ event held at The Chantry Centre in Dursley this month.
Neon – Michael Jones
“What triggered me to become a drag artist was that I was really struggling with my mental health. Makeup gave me an outlet, so I originally pursued that, I then saw a show called RuPaul’s Drag Race and I was on the Stroud Pride committee which allowed me to start the drag nights at The Little Vic in town as a safe space and an opportunity for people to show their creativity. I was originally hosting a lot of drag but decided to give it a go – it has definitely helped me combat my anxiety. Before, I used to have panic attacks when all eyes were on me, but now I’m a lot more comfortable as drag provides a kind of mask.
Stroud is where I grew up so it will always be important to me; when I was growing up around here there was no ‘safe space’ to go which is why I wanted to change that and why I continue to do that. I also work for a local youth charity delivering mental health support to young people so it’s an absolute delight to help young people in the daytime and bring happiness to people at night! Drag can bring so much joy to people so why not start where I live?
Is it too cheesy to say my mum Kate is my greatest influence? She is always unapologetically herself which I now embody too.
I love a lot of things about Stroud district, the people can be incredibly kind and accepting for a small town. There are so many small businesses which I’ve always adored about this area. You can usually see me at The Sweet Peach in the daytime when I am out of drag.
My hope for the future is that anybody can walk down the street wearing whatever makes them happy without the fear of persecution. Everyone should be happy in their own skin as well.
The biggest difficulty when performing are heels. They’re really uncomfortable. Another serious challenge is always coming up with new outfits and routines because sometimes I just hit a mental block. I also have to overcome my nerves. You’d never notice it but when I’m holding a microphone I’m terrified, though when I get going it’s quite fun.
My makeup is made up of such a huge range of products, from ABH to Revolution. I have it all, my makeup collection is very large, if anyone is wanting to learn drag makeup my advice is to just wing it and see what things work for you because everyone does it differently. For my outfits they come from a variety of places, some outfits are custom made from Instagram: Danicabringsthelight, whereas others I have put together myself and some I’ve just bought from Wish, usually the ones you’ll see me in are the ones I’ve customised myself.
My upcoming shows: 26th November – A night at the Maggies at The Magpies in Stonehouse, 7:30pm, and 10th December – Cheryl Hole at The Sub Rooms, 8pm. Follow me and Cake on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with events.
There are so many drag artists in Stroud and Stonehouse that are worth following, Lilly Love, Vanilla Fuzion and Greta Grip are amazing. Sofira, Manly Mannington, Salt and Cake are like my drag family, so they definitely deserve following, and I can’t forget Pandy LeRoux and Eva Fliction.”
Cake – Billie Henry
“I have always loved watching drag and grew up doing dance, so taking to the stage was natural for me. Out of drag I’ve recently come out as transgender, so being able to dress up and perform is a big interest to me.
Stroud and Stonehouse are both important to me, I love this area and want to give people what I would have wanted growing up. There wasn’t much of a queer scene until people like me and Neon arrived. We’re creating new spaces and events for more people like ourselves and we’re hoping to reach many more in the area.
My influences? Honestly, mostly the kings and queens I work with always inspire me, but I try not to compare, more admire them and their individuality and that’s how I do my drag, different, bold, sharp tongued and most importantly fun!
While a lot of small towns like Stonehouse and Stroud might be small-minded, I’ve always found living here (whilst not perfect) inclusive towards people like myself, more than other places of a similar population. The area has a unique charm which I will always cherish.
In the future I hope that what we do is so normal nobody bats an eyelid, that everyone can be their authentic selves and not have to worry about what others may think or do, pure acceptance and happiness. Personally, I’d love to be a trans activist and scene member for the community, I want people to hear my message and see what I do everywhere.
Regarding make up and outfits, I am THE cheap queen! I love a good charity shop or cheap online shopping. Then getting a needle and adding some gems or lace. Makeup wise I studied it at university and money doesn’t always equal quality. I’ve done makeup classes and the one thing I tell people to take away is cheap can be incredible. Brands like Revolution have been fabulous for me and other drugstore products can do wonders, just try and see what works for you. Everyone’s face and skin is so different, so don’t follow the herd – use what works well for you and try, try, try.
My biggest challenge performing is touching. Drag etiquette is sometimes hard for people to understand – we are performers, but that doesn’t mean you get to touch. Hands off, people! Also, I’m so sweaty after performing trying to keep the makeup on is always hard.
I hope in the future to take part in TV shows, to get more bookings and more events and performances in the local area, the scene is really taking off around here and we want to keep that ball rolling.”