Shock in a Frock: Interview with Manchester Drag Queen Anna Phylactic
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High fashion meets historic couture meets your wildest dreams, Anna Phylactic defies definition and is renowned as one of the UK’s most iconic queens. Anna was amongst the final 21 of RuPaul’s search for a UK ambassador in 2015 and earlier this year performed at Sasha Velour’s ‘Nightgowns’ show in London. With her unique blend of gender-bending Club Kid and feminine drag, Anna has made a name for herself in the UK and further afield, helping to put Manchester on the map as an epicentre of drag entertainment. The National Student had the pleasure of talking to Anna about the Trump protests, life lessons, Club Kids and Family Gorgeous. You attended the Trump protests in London a few weeks ago – what was that like and why was marching important to you? It was a great atmosphere and wonderful to see so many people coming together and uniting against hate. I thought it was a positive and electrifying atmosphere and it was really nice to see people from all walks of life supporting each other. I think it’s important that we stand up for each other, for all minorities, within and outside of my own community, and say we don’t agree with what’s coming out of your [Trump’s] mouth. I don’t want history to repeat itself and its scary thing to see everything happening in the world at the moment and think ‘this isn’t what’s supposed to happen’, so it was really important to be there.Can you tell us about Family Gorgeous? Family Gorgeous was originally Sisters Gorgeous: myself, Cheddar, Grace Oni Smith and Sheila Blige. Then Sheila disappeared from the drag scene and we started Cha Cha Boudoir [a monthly night Cheddar and Anna hosted in Manchester’s Canal Street]. Before the 3rd event, all the performers were new to drag and so we decided to be mentors and take someone under our wing for a month before the performance. I worked with Liquorice Black. We had a similar aesthetic and got on really well, so she became my drag daughter and the family just started to grow. Grace took Violet Blonde under her wing, Violet and Liquorice started doing stuff together and we basically created this bonkers family tree. Why do you think having a drag family is important? We’re very lucky in Manchester there is a strong community, but I think people forget how important it is to have a group of people you can work with and support each other in what you’re doing. We call ourselves a family and Cheddar and I get labelled as the mum and dad, basically because we’re older [laughs], but we’re very much all on a level playing field. We all have skills we can bring to the table and help each other in different ways.
Your outfits in drag are always very conceptual and graphic, for you what are the key elements of a really good drag outfit? I’m inspired by a lot of different things. I come from a theatrical background, so I’m very attracted to different period costumes and fashion through the ages. It fascinates me how what is classed as ‘masculine’ in one time period isn’t masculine in another era. What’s feminine and masculine changes all the time so it is interesting how society upholds these ideals of ‘that’s for girls’ and ‘that’s for boys’. If you look back in time everything changes. I’m inspired by anything that’s a bit dark and Tim Burton-esque but I enjoy the opposite end of the spectrum, neon colours and the 80s. Could you talk about what being a Club Kid means to you? Growing up I was always inspired by Party Monster, also known as Disco Bloodbath, by James St James, the whole 90s New York Club Kids scene and the 80s Blitzkids in the UK. When I first hit the gay scene in Manchester there wasn’t much of that happening. Femme drag was very in vogue at the time and I didn’t really feel like I fit in, it felt like trying to act straight to me, whereas I wanted to do the things I’d seen in films and read in books. For me, it took off when I’d just moved back from Cardiff and a friend promoting a night called Aftershock in Manchester was looking for someone to be a door host. They asked me to host for the first couple of nights in looks, I got a bit carried away every week and it snowballed. My looks started less feminine. Imagine a yellow face and Tina Turner wig, a kind of hazard tape wasp look, a bit bizarre. Now I still have a mix of Club Kid, but Anna is more feminine and drag-y. What life lessons would you say doing drag has taught you? Cable ties are very handy, they literally hold everything everywhere. Not to take myself too seriously. Don’t forget that drag is fun because sometimes you can get caught up in trying to be perfect in your journey of drag. Don’t forget why you started doing it in the first place. It is quite difficult when you’re told by people you look fabulous and you’re this or that, it’s easy to fall into that diva attitude and suddenly you think you’re Mariah Carey.
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If you had to describe who Anna Phylactic is in one sentence? Oh, that’s difficult! Well, I get called a ‘shock in a frock’ quite a lot – that’s probably got to be in there. I think she’s a bit mad, a bit manic but very sweet. I got misquoted recently in an article, they said I related myself to Helena Bottom Carter, but I am a bit Tim Burton Bonkers, so I quite like the comparison. I grew up with a mix of horror and Disney films, I definitely think my personality is a bizarre mix of the two. Head to dragworld.co.uk to buy Anna Phylactic’s Meet and Greet tickets for the UK’s biggest drag convention, taking place at London’s Olympia on the 18th-19th of August.