Frances Winston interviews the Queen of Ballymun, Dame Stuffy, ahead of her drag-show, C’Mere ‘Till I Tell Ya, coming up in Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin, on 29th November.
Thanks in no small part to RuPaul and a little TV show, drag has never been more mainstream and popular. But long before those lip syncing queens were sashaying away, there was an old-school collective who actually (shock horror) sang the songs rather than miming them, and who were all-round entertainers underneath their fabulous frocks. This is the school of drag that Dublin diva, Dame Stuffy (aka The Queen of Ballymun) comes from.
“I’m more cabaret than sashay,” she announces.
“You see all that sashay on RuPaul, but if I can belt out a tune I will. That’s what the likes of Danny la Rue and Dame Edna Everage did. They were entertainers. They were comedians. They didn’t lip-sync.”
Having been born on Garda High Vis outside the Towers pub in Ballymun, on the night Ireland won the Eurovision (she won’t give her age away but says it was one of our good wins!) Stuffy really came into her own when she started appearing in the annual panto in the Axis, and after ten years there (she recently celebrated the decade milestone with two sold-out shows) and having performed for many years in different shows, including the Red Cow Sunday night bingo, she is taking her extravaganza, called C’Mere ‘Till I Tell Ya, to the Liberty Hall Theatre next month. And although it’s hard to believe, she wasn’t always the glamorous creation you see on stage nowadays.
“I call this Stuffy 2.0,” she announces. “When I started out years ago, I just opened a box of Penney’s make-up and blew into it and wherever it landed was grand. I think my style has evolved a lot!
You see some of the younger drag-queens now and they think you just pick a name like Stormy Windows or Patio Doors or something, and put on a dress, and that’s it. But in my case I started 10 years ago as a Panto Dame, and that’s where my look comes from. And I’ve worked at it.”
Admitting that she likes to “make people laugh” Stuffy has a wicked sense of humour – I can’t tell you how many times I laughed during our chat – but she’s not exactly PC. However, she’s not worried about offending the audience. Oh no she isn’t!
“Absolutely, the audience do take offence at times. But I think we’ve gone far too PC,” she says in her finest Dublin drawl. “If you go to see a drag-show and you take offence, well you shouldn’t have gone then should you? You know what to expect.”
Thankfully, Stuffy’s audiences are usually up for a laugh, which is just as well, as her forthcoming show is somewhat unrehearsed – it’s not that she’s lazy you understand. Rather, she likes the spontaneity that goes with that kind of show.
“Obviously I have songs that I will sing,” she explains, “but a lot of it will be ad-libbing with the audience. I like to be able to throw stuff out to them that they can recognise.
Like if I’ve seen a soap or something on the telly I know that a lot of them will have seen it too, and it can start a great banter. I like the audience to feel part of it.”
And although she may be old-school (not old – just old-school, she insisted I point that out) in an era of viral stars and virtual celebrity, this true-blue queen isn’t averse to modern technology when it comes to spreading “laughter and happiness”.
“I do post my Bingo Blogs on YouTube and they’re getting a lot of views. The problem with doing the online stuff is that you’re trying to get people to share it. People need to be watching it or there’s no point.
It’s like they’ll watch all the drag-queens from RuPaul online, and then go and see their shows. And they get huge crowds. But I do think you should be supporting your own home-grown drag-queens,” she exclaims in a not so subtle hint, before disappearing in a puff of Penney’s hairspray!
Dame Stuffy’s C’Mere ‘Till I Tell Ya is in the Liberty Hall Theatre on Friday November 29th.