Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK – Season 2, Episode 1
Thursday evening saw RuPaul’s Drag Race UK return to our screens — and not a moment too soon. In fact, we have two concurrent seasons of Drag Race to keep us going through lockdown three: US Season 13 and UK Season 2. Truly, this is the lockdown escapism we need.
This year’s cast of twelve are:
Tayce, 26; Tia Kofi, 30; Veronica Green, 34; Sister Sister, 32; Ginny Lemon, 31; A’Whora, 23; Bimini Bon Boulash, 26; Joe Black, 30; Cherry Valentine, 26; Lawrence Chaney, 23; Ellie Diamond; Asttina Mandella, 27. The lineup showcases the breadth and variety of British drag, a stark contrast to the American show.
We have the first Welsh queen, Tayce, now a London-based performer, and two Scottish contestants, Lawrence and Ellie, from Glasgow and Dundee, respectively. We have polished fashion from designer A’Whora and thoroughly British humour from Ginny Lemon, who seems fixated on coining their catchphrase, “Fancy a slice?”
As a Hackney resident, I have a soft spot for East London’s bendiest vegan, Bimini Bon Boulash. She is permanently stunning and wonderfully chaotic in an endearing way, I also love Asttina Mandella, a veteran performer and backup dancer for the likes of Little Mix.
Filming started pre-pandemic but was interrupted by the UK lockdown last spring. Within a few weeks, we’ll undoubtedly see how this affected the contestants and the production. Sister was oddly prophetic, though, announcing: “Honestly, it’s just nice to be out of the house.” “It was devastating for the entire cast,” Veronica Green told the BBC. “We didn’t know if it was going to finish. We’d had this amazing opportunity come our way and it was dead in its tracks.”
The first mini-challenge saw the queens take part in a chaotic Wimbledon-themed shoot alongside two members of the Brit Crew. For the maxi challenge, the queens took to the main stage in two runway looks, the first celebrating a British queer icon and the second derived from each queen’s hometown. On no other show would you see salutes to Freddie Mercury, Alan Turing, Kate Bush and David Bowie in the span of ten minutes.
The judges were critical of Joe Black’s Brighton Pavilion inspired outfit, and Bimini’s tribute to Princess Julia, an often overlook icon of queer London. The two lip-synced to Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Joe, a veteran performer on the Brighton scene, was eliminated first. This disappointed many, myself included, who were excited to see what they would bring to the competition.
Truth be told, I didn’t want to see anyone sent home, but the whole judging of this episode seemed off — with the exception of guest judge Elizabeth Hurley. They slept on Tayce, who was stunning in her celebration of her Welsh heritage and chose a homage to Naomi Campbell. Asttina also chose to pay homage to Naomi Campbell and won the challenge and a “coveted” Ru Peter Badge. An interesting conversation in the werk room saw both queens lamenting their lack of black British queer role models. Otamere Guobadia has since shared his thoughts on the UK’s black gay icons.
Watching Drag Race, as any avid viewer will know, is a wonderfully communal experience. Usually, there’d be weekly viewing parties up and down the country at any good — and many bad — gay bars. Restricted as we are to our homes, there’s still a wonderful sense of community, that everyone is watching together — although this is difficult, as the BBC Three show drops online at roughly seven o’clock rather than being broadcast on television. Avoiding spoilers becomes immediately impossible, as thousands tweet along and memes are born immediately. #DragRaceUK inevitably trends on Twitter and it feels like you’re a part of something bigger, a sense of connection that is incredibly heartening in these challenging times.
Drag Race is, somewhat ironically, a marathon not a sprint: queens need to show versatility and persistence. The legendary Snatch Game sees each queen impersonate a celebrity: last season, we saw Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher and David Attenborough. Next week, the contestants will perform in Rats, a musical parody of Cats. Already, I can’t wait — Thursday can’t come soon enough.
Louis Shankar will be summing up each episode and sharing their thoughts throughout the season.
Images from Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Tayce and Asttina