Thursday, 15 April 2010

I’m the Drag King of the Castle and you’re the Dirty Rascal

It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve never heard of the Drag King outbreak that is becoming hugely popular on the underground lesbian scene as, until a few days ago, nor had I.

Keeping a pretty low profile in comparison to their
more flamboyant friends (Drag Queens), Lenna Cumberbatch, founder of and organiser of King of the Castle, is making sure they’re on everyone’s radar.

Thanks to Lenna’s annual drag competition in London, Kings are now getting their chance to shine after a small revival in the 1990s that saw an influx of popularity, featuring in Sarah Waters’ novel Tipping the Velvet (‘Nan’ Astley) and of course Ivan on the L Word.

But that’s not where it all began. Way back in the early 1900s, British music hall performer Vesta Tilley said: “I felt that I could express myself better if I were d
ressed as a boy” and went on to impersonate men along with Ella Shields and Hetty King, to adoring crowds.

With a nod towards these popular music hall performers we spoke to Lenna (a.k.a Leon DaLuva and Uncle Lenny), about why she set up the King of the Castle event: “I was Dragging in the states where there’s quite a big Drag King community. When I came over to the UK, there wasn’t m
uch going on and I really missed the environment of it.”

Now in its third year, King of the Castle is making a name for itself. With three Kings in its first
year, and four in its second, popularity in the competition is always rising. Contestants must compete in three events; Evening/Club wear, Sleep/Swim wear and Performance, which are judged by the always welcoming, and consistently sell-out audience.

The audience also has the chance to win an award, the crown for ‘Dirty Rascal’, which, as Lenna fondly remembers, saw 20 people run on stage the first time round.

As the name would suggest, Elvis is a popular choice for Kings to impersonate, though past competitions have seen Otis Blue and Stevie Wonderful take to the stage. However, performers don’t just do impersonations. Singing, dancing, comedy routines and lip-synching are all common amongst the competitors.

Wonderful was a big hit having won the 2008 event and will be returning to host this year’s competition at the Oak Bar, London, in May (see our online listings). After winning the event Stevie, real name Fiona King, went on to perform at UK Black Pride and York Lesbian Arts Festival.

If you reach these levels of success, Ingo from has a warning for you: “you will get a lot of fans and groupies, so you might need help in keeping them at a distance…I recommend bodyguards.”

Fiona was a first time Drag King when she belted out ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ to take the crown so who exactly can be a Drag King? Surely its not as simple as pulling on a suit and pencilling in some facial hair? “Really anyone can be a King, it’s simple” said Lenna: “It tends to be women and lesbians but some men who identify as women do it as well – it’s just something completely different.”

As well as Lenna’s ventures there’s Bar Wotever, that often has Kings on stage, and Transfabulous, two London-based social groups that are making a name for the ever-growing community.

So has there been a change in attitude towards Drag Kings over the past years? “There’s definitely been a lot more interest, especially since our article in the Metro. I’m just really enjoying the visibility we’re getting,” said Lenna.

With the scene growing bigger by the minute, we’ve asked Lenna and the people from Wotever and Transfabulous to give us their top tips for you budding Kings, and who knows, maybe some of you will even be crowned King of the Castle in future years.



1. Have a reason for going up on stage and performing.

2. Think about the way gender is represented. Really study men, all the little details are important.

3. For being a King, facial hair is good, but swagger is better!

4. Attitude - you can do it!

5. A sense of humour always helps. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
thanks to Cleo Lang and AbsolutQueer for the photos

In order to compete in or watch King of the Castle, visit:

Other trans-friendly websites:

By Rosie Blackwell-Sutton

1 comment:

  1. HEY! That's me photographed at the start. How very cool. *flattered*