Bianca Del Rio is arguably the most successful performer to emerge from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Since winning the zeitgeist-grabbing reality show in 2014, she’s starred in two of her own Netflix movies, written a book and built a huge following for her tack-sharp, salty stand-up shows. Next year, she’ll become the first drag queen ever to headline the SSE Arena, Wembley as part of her 13-date UK and Ireland tour, a genuinely incredible achievement.
In person, Bianca – or Roy, as she’s known out of drag – is both warm and abrasive, a bit like a scourer soaking in a washing-up bowl. But unlike a scourer, she’s also terrific company who talks at mile-a-minute pace and fires out zinger after zinger. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a (fabulously) bumpy interview.
“I don’t think anything should be off limits. I’m a man in a fucking wig – really, what do you want from me? Look at someone like Kathy Griffin who spoke her mind – she knew what she was doing by pulling out [Trump’s severed] head. And then she backtracked and said: ‘I apologise, I didn’t realise.’ But then months later, when you run out of money, it becomes: ‘Yeah, this is what I really meant.’ No, no, no, no, no. If she wouldn’t have apologised, I would probably have a little more respect. I come from the Joan Rivers school of comedy where you say your thoughts and don’t apologise. I’m not your role model, I’m not your guru, I’m not your messiah, I’m not your President, you didn’t elect me. I owe nothing to you and if you don’t like it, move on. And if you think I can do no wrong, you’re gonna be disappointed because there’s gonna be something that sets you off. As a performer, you should never think you’re untouchable. I mean, look at Mariah Carey – ha! She thought she was untouchable and her fat ass can’t even get across the stage, much less sing.”
On playing Wembley Arena
“I was just there doing some photos and out in the hallway they had all these pictures of people who’ve played there. It was Whitney Houston, Madonna, Kylie… I was like, ‘Okay, I’m at the wrong theatre.’ To say it’s not overwhelming mentally would be a lie, because it is. I come from a place where I worked at a club in New York City on Monday nights for about four people, so this is a daunting thing. But it makes me want to rise to the challenge. At the same time, you have to stay authentic to what you’re doing. So when I come on stage, it’s not gonna be a circus set and 12 dancers, because that’s not what I do. It’s about doing what I do while upping my game and realising how lucky I am to get this amazing opportunity. I hope I can stay alive till it happens!”
On online stans
“If someone you don’t know says to you, ‘You’re my God, you’re the best thing in the world’, that’s kind of disturbing. It’s a weird responsibility and a lot of pressure and a lot of what I don’t believe drag is. Drag is against a lot of this so-called ‘greatness’; we’re entertainers, not the Pope. You know, I love Madonna, but I don’t love every album. I favour certain Madonna moments, phases, hair colours even. That doesn’t mean I spend my day on Madonna’s Instagram writing: ‘Stop taking selfies!’ Although she should stop taking selfies – if you’re reading this Madonna, stop with that angle, it’s not flattering! She could pay someone to sit in that bathroom and take pictures of her all day. I would do that if I was Madonna. I’m looking at some of the angles and thinking, ‘Girrrrrl, what are you doing?’ This is not how you go down, Madonna!”
On online trolls
“Nothing gets solved in the comments section. There’s lots of things I don’t think are funny and lots of people I don’t like. But I don’t spend my day on Twitter writing ‘you’re a fat bitch with no talent’, then send it to Kim Kardashian. Because then someone comes in with a comment saying, ‘Yeah, but she’s rich.’ I didn’t say she wasn’t rich – I said she had no talent. Where do we go with that? And how many hours do I lose doing having this argument?”
On the upcoming UK version of RuPaul’s Drag Race
“I don’t know specifically what they’ve got planned. But what you’ve got to remember with Drag Race is: no season has been a duplicate of any other season, so there are no rules. In America, the show has just got bigger and bigger. And even if I personally don’t like a particular challenge or format or girl, it’s still all working in the show’s favour, so who am I complain? I think it’s a great opportunity for the girls here in the UK. I’ve been over here many times and there are so many talented queens. And obviously people in the UK have this hunger for drag, so it’s great to have the show celebrating it here. Why not? Let them enjoy the fabulousness and misery of our lives. I’ll warn them now: it’s wonderful… till you read the comments.”
On how to succeed on Drag Race
“Some of the most successful people from the show didn’t even win it. It’s a competition, sure, but first and foremost it’s television. They don’t write content for us – they create challenges for us, put us in a room and see what happens. The audience can find the truth in it. You see Latrice Royale: that is Latrice. You see Shangela: that is Shangela. That’s not to say other people [from the show] are phoney, but I think some queens are aware that there’s a camera on them, or have a narrative in their own head that they’re trying to portray. And that never works. And truly, it’s what you do after the show that counts. Some of the best queens are the ones who handle it like a business. They go out and hustle and build that audience. Look at Alaska – she’d built her audience even before she won All Stars. You have to want it and you have to be somewhat authentic. I hate to say ‘be yourself’ because, well, we’re men in wigs. Also, remember they’re making a television show here. You should take it seriously in terms of the challenges, but come on, never forget that you’re a bunch of men in a room talking shit about each other. That’s why we watch it!”
“I think if I was in Justin Bieber’s world, it would be different. But I actually enjoy my meet-and-greets. The fact somebody paid extra to meet me is a fucking great compliment. Even if I’ve had a bad day and my feet are hurting in my heels, once you get there, it’s like, ‘This is fucking unbelievable – they’re bringing me gifts!’ There’s always some straight girl who brings her husband who’s nervous as shit to meet me. Which makes me cackle. I have to say: ‘I’m not recruiting, it’s okay, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s fun! But I’ve seen some other Drag Race queens let it become about their erratic, selfish, egotistical behaviour. Queens like that don’t work that much anyway. Because they’re assholes. Seriously, how hard is it to put on drag and go out there and meet people that like you? Come on, it’s not like we’re asking them to put on full drag and perform open heart surgery. These other bitches… I just can’t with them them. You’ve got one job: put on your ugly mug and dirty wig and say hello to people.”
On her favourite ever fan experience
“This young boy of about 13 came up to me with his grandmother, who must have been like 76, I’d guess. I saw them walking towards me at the meet-and-greet and thought, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if either of these people can handle the material I’m gonna be performing on stage tonight.’ He had a pair of heels on and he was adorable. He was like, ‘I just want you to know that I love you, and I brought my grandmother with me.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So grandma, do you know this show is going to be a little racy?’ And she just said right back: ‘What the fuck did you think I came for?’ So I was like, ‘at your age, you can still come?’ And she just went ‘ah ha ha ha ha!’ She was my favourite in the world. To be in your seventies and take your grandson to see a drag queen, now that is fucking fabulous.”
Bianca Del Rio tours the UK and Ireland from September 1-24, 2019.