Format: BBC 3 Reality Competition Series
Genre: Reality Competition
Writer: Christian Manley
Cast: Lawrence Chaney, Bimini Bon-Boulash, Tayce, Ellie Diamond, A’Whora, Sister Sister, Tia Kofi, Joe Black, Veronica Green, Ginny Lemon, Asstina Mandella, Cherry Valentine
Judges: RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Alan Carr, Graham Norton (plus guest judges)
Series Director: Tony Grech-Smith
Series Producer: Matt Green
Production Company: World of Wonder
Duration: 10 Episodes (Approx. 60-70 Mins Long)
Age Rating: 12
Last Thursday marked the highly-anticipated final of the fiercely popular reality competition and I am not even exaggerating when I say that I was pretty much a nervous wreck from start to finish — in a good way, of course. Not a joke, just a fact.
The cheeky sister of the original and wildly popular American ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, the show combines a series of challenges involving creating runway looks, singing, dancing and acting to find a winning drag queen. Each episode, Ru decides on a winner of the week, with the bottom two having to face off in a lip-sync. The winner of the lip-sync is told to “Shantay” meaning that they are safely back in the race, and the bottom queen is told to “Sashay away”, meaning that they have been eliminated.
Whittled down to four queens from the 12-member cast, finalists Lawrence Chaney, Bimini Bon Boulash, Tayce and Ellie Diamond battled it out for the crown in true Drag Race fashion — an all-star performance of one of Ru’s original songs (this time it was ‘A Little Bit of Love’) complete with the finalists’ own verses, killer choreography, and the return of the other queens for the performance. The verses were empowering, with the four finalists imprinting their own signature styles into their lyrics, and the runway looks were sickening — Bimini’s punk-bimbo spin on a white wedding, Ellie’s Glinda the Good Witch gown, Lawrence’s form-fitting purple racer dress, and Tayce’s skin tone feathered bodysuit. The final four then gave some advice to their younger selves, an emotional yet empowering part of the finale in which the queens highlight their struggles, but their ability to overcome these setbacks, proudly display their accomplishments and reflect on how far they’ve come. Ru then granted the final three Lawrence, Bimini and Tayce (Ellie was eliminated, securing her fourth place position) one final lip-sync to prove their worthiness as the UK’s next Drag Queen Superstar, with the competition culminating in a three-way lip-sync battle to Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ — which is a true testament to the trials and challenges that the season has faced to even make it to filming.
As fans discovered at the end of episode four, the pandemic stopped filming in its tracks in early 2020, forcing the queens on a seven-month hiatus only part way through the competition. Unfortunately, the charismatic Veronica Green was forced to step down from the show after testing positive for Covid-19 (although she has received an invitation to return to season 3!). The one-off special, ‘Queens on Lockdown’, showed the impacts that the dramatic halting of the entertainment industry had on the contestants, financially and emotionally. This made returning to the Werk Room even more special and cherished later on in the year, cementing it as a season to remember.
But what else made this series such a success? With so many memorable moments, it’s hard to even know where to start. Maybe with Tia Kofi’s iconic self-deprecating humour, particularly the now infamous green dress and its tagline: “an adequate dress, made of material, that is on my body. Vintage? Nooo. Elegance? Nooo. Still stuck on me? Just about.” Or even the now-infamous H&M-gate. Following a comment from judge Michelle Visage about a disappointingly average dress, campy-spooky Brighton queen Joe Black attempted a respond with a lighthearted comment, informing the judges that it was from H&M, to which Ru erupted in a fury. This led to the now-widely quoted, “I don’t wanna see any fucking H&M.” When I tell you that it was a ground-please-swallow-me-up moment, I mean it in every way. Meanwhile, we had Ginny Lemon’s self-sashay, which was just…iconic. And then of course, who can forget the brilliantly-infectious ear-worm that was ‘UK Hun?’ for the RuRu-Vision challenge, and the conception of a girl group that could rival ABBA — the United Kingdolls, comprising of Lawrence Chaney, Bimini Bon Boulash, Tayce, and A’Whora.
Listening to the judges’ critiques, it was clear that the winner had been whittled down to two queens: Lawrence Chaney and Bimini Bon Boulash. Both queens had proven their skills and are powerful players in the drag world: Lawrence with her infectious whit, effortless commandeering of the stage and powerful runway looks, and Bimini with her mastering of the runway, boundary-pushing, non-conformist looks and irresistibly likeable, funny character. Both queens truly excelled but it was Glasgow queen Lawrence Chaney who snatched the crown in the end. This win marked the first Scottish winner of Drag Race, as well as the first plus-sized winner, a real stamp of success and empowerment for diversity. Empowerment and diversity ran right through the series; there were important talks of gender identity and self-love, with Ginny Lemon and Bimini discussing their experiences being non-binary. Furthermore, ‘Queens on Lockdown’ documented Darlington queen Cherry Valentine’s job as a mental health nurse during the pandemic, highlighting that these queens are real advocates for a society that says you can be whatever you want to be and more.
The final episode was bittersweet — it was exciting to see a queen crowned after a year of intermittent filming, but it was sad to see the series come to an end.
Like it or not, this series was difficult to avoid. The true charisma and passion each of the queens have for their craft made it so enjoyable. Their enthusiasm was infectious, their determination in addressing personal trials showed the adversity the LGBTQ society have faced yet their continuous pushing forward. What I enjoy particularly about the UK show is that despite Drag Race being an initially American show, the British queens secure their identities proudly and unapologetically with traditional British grit and sarcastic humour. Furthermore, the fact that they aren’t afraid to show this quintessential Britishness — think Ginny Lemon’s signature “IYA BABS” or Tayce’s comedy sketch on her love of baked beans — guarantees them love and adoration nationwide (and worldwide!).
This series pushes boundaries and reminds us that after a year of Covid restrictions, the place that the entertainment industries hold in society is irreplaceable and should never be under-valued, and that we will warmly welcome live performances as soon as we can.