“Probably the two biggest Drag Queen names in the UK come from Liverpool, Lily Savage and The Vivienne. But now it feels as though we’ve been cast aside.”
These are the words of legendary Liverpool performer, Linda Gold, speaking to the ECHO at a time when the Drag industry has been brought to its knees.
Unable to work for a year with no audience to perform to or venues to attend, Liverpool’s Drag community has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Unlike some workers, Drag Queens, performers and actors have not been able to use the Government’s furlough scheme as many entertainers are self-employed.
This means many Drag Queens in Liverpool have “not seen a penny” in the last year, Linda said, at a time when the popularity and interest in drag is soaring and reaching new audiences, thanks to Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Linda, 49, said: “We were totally the forgotten industry, and what’s sad about it is that we are so in the public eye now. Ru Paul’s [Drag Race] is one of the biggest shows on the BBC, one of the biggest shows since the X Factor.
“And everyone knows what Drag is, but we were just disregarded. I’d say not far off 30,000 Drag performers (in the UK) were just completely disregarded without any consideration.
‘I’ve had to spend all my savings’
Linda has been entertaining crowds for nearly two decades and she said she’s watched Drag’s popularity boom in the last few years.
She said the rising popularity of Drag has brought thousands of new faces and styles on the scene, and this led to a prosperous time for many entertainers.
She said: “There’s nothing bigger, three-year-old kids know what a Drag Queen is now. Everyone knows what one is now, but before that people would say ‘What’s that?’
“Now the whole world knows what it is, we went overnight from having it as our side job to our main job. The wave [Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK] had on our industry, my fees were doubling overnight.
“I went out and bought five clubs and then the lockdown came, you couldn’t make it up.”
As well as working as a Drag Queen, Linda owns clubs across the county, and one in Benidorm.
Linda opened Funny Boyz, on Stanley Street, on the night Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the lockdown.
She said: “The night we opened we got locked down, literally that day.
“I’ve got a chain of Drag clubs called Funny Boyz, I’ve not had a penny, not a single penny.
“But because I don’t fall into the remit of being self-employed, because I don’t have 12 months’ worth of accounts, my staff haven’t had a penny, I’ve not had a penny, we’ve had no rent reduction.
“I’ve had to spend every bean of nearly £100,000 worth of savings. I’ve not had one single penny.”
She added: “No one seems to give a damn about the industry, it’s like we’ve been left aside. That’s the way it’s come across.
“It feels like we’ve been left out by the Government and it’s terrible, it’s absolutely terrible.”
‘You feel safe in your community, but that’s been taken from us’
Before the lockdown, Lady Seanne would perform to crowds up to five times a week and has been making audiences smile for years.
The 55-year-old said she “loves” what she does, but as the pandemic hit she said her mental health suffered and she was claiming Universal Credit to make ends meet.
Also self-employed, she said all of her earnings came from performing.
She said: “It’s been a nightmare. I lost my dad as well when we first went into lockdown too. I’ve been self-employed as an entertainer and then the whole thing stopped.
“I was suicidal to be honest, our industry suffered the worst through all this, I really think that.
“You go into such a dark place, it’s been really hard because I’ve always worked. When I come to claim benefits, I filled in the form wrong and I had to use what savings I had just to stay in my flat.
“You come to a lifestyle of earning a certain amount of money to live the way you live, and once that was taken away from me you just think what am I going to do here? I’ve always been this [an entertainer].”
As well the financial struggle of being unable to work, Lady Seanne said the emotional impact of the LGBT community being unable to be with each other has been extremely difficult.
She said: “We were night creatures and we feel safe in our community. Outside that community, it’s like we don’t exist really. There’s still a lot of homophobia in Liverpool unfortunately.
“I know it’s better now than it’s ever been, but it’s still so sad that you’re so used to living what you’ve worked for and all that’s gone.
“It’s not just your work, it’s a lifestyle and your life. You feel so safe in your own community and you work towards making people feel happy and all that’s been taken from us.”
Lady Seanne said she’s lost 12 friends in the last year due to coronavirus, which she said brought back painful memories of the HIV/AIDS pandemic she also lived through in the 1980s, which devastated the LGBT community.
Helplines and support groups
The following are helplines and support networks for people to talk to, mostly listed on the NHS Choices website
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected].
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
- Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
Amparo provides emotional and practical support for anyone who has been affected by a suicide. This includes dealing with police and coroners; helping with media enquiries; preparing for and attending an inquest and helping to access other, appropriate, local support services. Call 0330 088 9255 or visit www.amparo.org.uk for more details.
- Hub of Hope is the UK’s most comprehensive national mental health support database. Download the free app, visit hubofhope.co.uk or text HOPE to 85258 to find relevant services near you.
- Young Persons Advisory Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services for Liverpool’s children, young people and families. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: [email protected]
- Paul’s Place – providing free counselling and group sessions to anyone living in Merseyside who has lost a family member or friend to suicide. Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: [email protected]
She said: “Growing up in the ’80s in Liverpool, under Margaret Thatcher, if you were very gay and were outspoken you were put in a minority in case you had AIDS and it was just horrendous.
“We were all so scared and the clubs were shut down, no one was going to gay bars. We got through that, but it was unbelievable what happened.
“But this epidemic reminds me of that, without the sexual element. Last year I lost 12 friends to Covid. It’s just so sad.”
‘I feel sorry for the young people’
Like Lady Seanne, Shania Pain said she also claimed Universal Credit during the lockdown.
This only left Shania, who would perform up to five times a week, with £80 to pay her bills, rent and living costs.
Shania, who’s been working as a Drag Queen for four years, said: “It’s been probably the worst time of my life. I know I can speak for the other queens when I say it’s been really, really difficult.
“How are you going to live? We’ve gone from earning whatever we earn to, in the space of a day, earning nothing.
“I applied for Universal Credit and was promised a certain amount, so I didn’t apply for the self-employment grant. But how can you survive on that?”
Many Drag Queens throughout the pandemic have showcased their talents online, offering shows to entertain people during the difficult months indoors.
Shania said: “We decided we should do some sort of live thing. If we were working normally in a pub, people would maybe come to buy us a drink or a tip, so we treated it like that.
“If people wanted to tip us, they could. So we had a four-week line-up of shows, but by the end you’re thinking ‘I just want to go back to work’.”
Agreeing with Lady Seanne, Shania said the impact of the LGBT community not being together has been difficult, particularly for the younger generation.
She said: “It’s affecting people’s mental health, massively. I’m not talking about performers, you’ve got a whole group of 18-year-olds who could be from a really small town, who could have just moved to Liverpool for university, or away.
“Their small town might make them think that they’re isolated and they’re on their own if they’re an LGBTQ+ person. They’re not getting the opportunity to be in an environment, or even being in the same room as someone talking to someone knowing you’re not the odd one out.
“I think that’s so important. These young people aren’t getting the opportunity to meet people who could help them, or answer any questions.”
Appealing to younger Drag Queens who may dream of performing too, Shania added: “For any people wanting to start Drag or any younger queens, please be careful as people are using the fact that we’re all out of work to take advantage and exploit people for work when things go back to normal’
‘Performing is more than just a job and a way to pay the bills’
Andi Herring, CEO of LCR Pride Foundation, said: “The impact of the UK’s lockdowns on the LGBT+ community has been widely documented over the past 12 months, with many facing isolation in unsafe situations, with people to who they may not be out to, or simply away from their safe spaces where they feel comfortable to be themselves.
“For the city’s Drag Queens and other LGBT+ artists, technicians and creatives this has been further exacerbated by the fact that those spaces where they feel most comfortable are also the places where they make a living. For many on the scene, performing is far more than just a job and a way to pay the bills. It is an expression of self-identity.
“To not be able to perform has the potential to have a serious effect on mental health, as well as financial implications.
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“That said, we have seen some fantastic and innovative responses from the city’s drag community, with online events that have introduced many who may not have been familiar with it, to the art.
“It has undoubtedly been a devastating 12 months for Liverpool’s Drag Queens and the venues where they perform, but we hope that interest in online events, paired with the impact of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and current competitor and Scouse Queen, Sister Sister, will give the scene a boost when entertainment venues are allowed to re-open.”
Linda, Lady Seanne and Shania said they are all hopeful for the future and can see a time when live performances will take place again.
Shania holds a weekly Facebook Live show with fellow queens Miss Tiara and Brenda LaBeau where they talk all things Ru Paul’s Drag Race, on Fridays.
And Linda said: “You just have to live in hope that we’ll be able to open again.”
Lady Seanne added: “You’ve got to still believe in yourself and carry on doing what you do. Making people smile is more important than anything right now.”
A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are providing unprecedented support to the UK’s world-class cultural sector and will do all we can so it bounces back strongly.
“Our £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund has already seen more than £1 billion offered to arts, heritage and performance organisations to support them through the impact of the pandemic, supporting more than 75,000 jobs, with many more freelancers and jobs in vital supply chain industries also benefitting.”
-- to www.liverpoolecho.co.uk