Mamma mia! It’s Bianca Del Rio!

Leopard print dress, Roy Haylock. Earrings, Vicki Sarge
Leopard print dress, Roy Haylock. Earrings, Vicki Sarge

If I didn’t wear make-up, they’d call me a nasty fag

I’m mildly petrified of meeting Bianca Del Rio. Petrified because she’s the terrifying, silver-tongued dragon-lady that stalked Ru Paul’s Drag Race (season six) like a cheetah roaming the Veldt, cutting down contestants – and, sometimes, the judges – with her savage wit. Del Rio is also on tour right now, where she’s undertaking the same task – lashing audiences nightly with her verbose verbiage, no minority, majority or extremity safe from her wicked humour.

Humour is the important point: Del Rio is a savage comic, but a very, very funny one. During the eighth episode of the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, “Drag Queens of Comedy,” the queens were required to write and perform a stand-up routine. Bianca was, Ru herself acknowledged, “the one to beat.” Actress Jaime Pressly summed up the general reaction: “I wanted her to come after me – I was sat here like ‘Do me! Do me!'” Del Rio walked away with the challenge – as she did with three across the competition as a whole, before finally being crowned winner. No laughing matter.

Our paths cross in London, where Del Rio – real name Roy Haylock- is engaged to play a clutch of dates (he does so twice during the course of the same month). In person – and out of drag – Del Rio is softer, somehow. Well, first of all, she isn’t painted for filth. Her nails are shellacked black. And in fact, there’s no she – Roy is decidedly masculine. Of Bianca, he says, simply, “It’s me in a dress.”

Here then, is Roy – out of Bianca’s trademark cinched showstoppers – on life before and after winning the Race.

Off the shoulder black dress in sequins, Roy Haylock. Earrings, Vicki Sarge
Off the shoulder black dress in sequins, Roy Haylock. Earrings, Vicki Sarge
Fishtail dress in maxi leopard print and pink, Darren Allard. Earrings, Vicki Sarge.
Fishtail dress in maxi leopard print and pink, Darren Allard. Earrings, Vicki Sarge.

Presumably you were a fan of Drag Race before you went into it? 

Of course I watched the show and in America it’s everywhere. Basically what had happened is, over the past six years that it’s been on, lots of people would ask “oh, are you gonna do it?” as a compliment. I didn’t necessarily want to do it. I’m one of those people where, if everybody likes it, I hate it. Everybody likes Glee, I hate it.

I’m a little older, I don’t know if they’d get me. I’m a little set in my ways. Initially it was a no, no, no situation. All of my friends who are drag queens were auditioning, countless times. I never did. Then, in New York I was able – and fortunate enough – to host the premiere parties, and the finale parties – because the producer in New York knew me, and needed someone who could move the show on while all of these queens were coming in. It’s fourteen queens at a time. So I would host it.

I had the experience of being there and seeing all these people, and seeing the mass appeal of the show. So it was in that moment when I thought: well, why not give it a try? So I auditioned, and it happened.

So you auditioned, and that was first time. 

Yep. Last season was the first season I auditioned. It was crazy.

You touched on it then – you’re more seasoned than a lot of the queens on the show. You’ve been doing drag for about twenty years? 

Actually, nineteen in January. That’s the thing. This season I was grateful because they had four of us over thirty-five. Which really hasn’t happened. For someone like Chad Michaels, who was older, in his season he was the only one. After six seasons, they’ve got to spice things up. There are a lot of queens now who do drag because of Drag Race, and who emulate people who have been on there before. So sometimes it becomes one big… cesspool of ‘this’ type of drag. I was grateful they included some other types.

I think there was a very interesting thing in the show, that you ended up becoming a mother figure to a number of people. Which wasn’t something I imagined, immediately. You’re quite hard, at times! In a Mommie Dearest way. 

That was something I experienced immediately, once the word was out that I was on the show. I’m judged by what I do, and what I have done for many years – my shows, my YouTube videos – are me being caustic and bitchy and cunty. Being fearless. Because that’s all anyone ever asked of me. My friends know what I do in my daily life, but no-one really cared. As soon as they announced that I was on the show, in the cyberworld, social media, everyone’s an expert. So everyone’s googling and figuring out who I am. Of course, they pegged me as the one that’s not going to win, that I’m a cunt, that I’ll be the first to go home. Before they even knew anything about me. All bets were on Courtney, because she’s beautiful and fishy which no- one is denying, at all. But what’s funny to me is that we had already filmed up to top four at that point. So, I’m sitting on information, I can’t respond to it, I’m new to all this social media madness… It was kind of insane. Everyone was so strong about it. But with each episode, they changed their minds, which I find quite fascinating. Things started to shift. So when people said things like “Oh, you were being motherly” – I was doing exactly what I would do in real life. But normally cameras aren’t around me. The moment with Adore, giving her a corset, it’s not like I’m Mother Teresa. I had an extra one, she needed one. I liked Adore as a person and I thought… you think that corset’s going to kill me? I didn’t even think about it, on the grand scale. That’s three minutes of a fourteen hour day. Most people don’t realise: we don’t do the show week-to-week, we do the show day-to-day. So for us, it’s just a clusterfuck! And because of my ‘advanced age,’ over the period of time, I’d forgotten a lot of stuff had happened!

Were you like: ‘That bitch has still got my corset?!’ 

She does! She’s a whore, she still has it! It wasn’t an intentional thing, it’s something I do in my real life. I have several friends of mine who are younger who do drag. You share ideas. You share wigs. You help them out.

Embellished evening gown, Darren Allard. Crystal collier and earrings, Vicki Sarge

Can you watch the show? Because… I mean I can’t listen to my voice. Writing this will be torture [it was]. 

Well, I was paid to watch the show! I was in New York, and I was hosting a night at a bar that I’ve worked at for many years and they had a big viewing party and tonnes of people turned up. It’s one thing to watch yourself, but it’s another thing to watch yourself in front of that number of people. It’s like watching porn of yourself. You’re uncomfortable, you kind of know what’s going to happen, but you then realise other people have input. Or that, they were saying some shit about you; or that you actually said that out loud….

Untucked, for me, is the bit where people perhaps forget there are cameras. 

You’re watching ten minutes of Untucked, where we were sitting there for three hours. You do forget. For me, after the first hour…! You have to get so much shit done in a short period of time. It’s very quick. It’s TV.

I’m interested in the structure of it – is it literally day to day? 

I’m not sure how much I can say – we have contracts – but it’s much tighter. We don’t have the liberty of a week in between. It’s TV. Time is money. Everything is done in order. But it is balls-to-the-wall.

When you’re watching it back you do have these moments of: oh shit. That happened? I said that? Argh! There’s a lot of that!

Did you watch it and think any of the other contestants seemed skewed? She’s the villain? She’s the dumbo? 

I think… this is the basis of it all. I’ve said this before to other people – I’m friends with quite a few of them, and I’ve gotten to become friends with them since the show: it’s a reality show. It’s 12-14 hour days. You signed up for this. They’re going to edit it. If you cry, they’re going to use it. If you have a fight, they’re going to use it. If you kill someone, they’re going to use it. That’s the fact of the matter. To bitch about it, is kind of foolish.

Some of the other queens talked about it, going oh, it’s the way they edited it. Well you shouldn’t have said it! I think instead of blaming the editing, some people should have edited themselves…

I wanted to talk about your background, and your upbringing. Generally, when I interview fashion designers I ask them if they always wanted to be a fashion designer when they were growing up. So did you always want to be a girl? 

No, not at all. It was never a question in my mind. I don’t relate doing drag to being a girl, for me in particular. I think that’s the magic of drag: everybody does it for different reasons. Some people do it because they do want to be a girl; some people do it because they get attention they don’t get as a boy; some people find it’s their calling; some people do it as a business. For me, it’s more of a business slash artist. Only because of the fact that I grew up in theatre and was an actor, did costume work and wigs and make-up. I had all the packaging for it. It just happened. I was doing a theatrical production of a show called Pageant, and they needed someone to play a certain role. I was there already, so I said sure. For me it was really no big deal. It was like coming out. Eh. Whatever.

What I liked about it more so than theatre was that it was more spontaneous, more in the moment, but if you had told me eighteen years ago that I’d still be doing it, I would’ve laughed.

Off the shoulder black dress in sequins, Roy Haylock. Earrings, Vicki Sarge. Tights, Wolford. Shoes, Bianca's own.
Off the shoulder black dress in sequins, Roy Haylock. Earrings, Vicki Sarge. Tights, Wolford. Shoes, Bianca’s own.

After Drag Race, is it now your primary occupation? 

I’m one of those people that likes to work. During the day, in New York, for the past nine years, I’ve worked for a Broadway costume company. That was my day job, and I’d work in the bars at night.

That’s a tough rhythm – I work all day, then I come home and do the costumes I did on everyone else on me and then I work until 3am…

They’re both unpredictable jobs, especially in a place like New York. I’m grateful that it was two things that were my passion. And I got it down pat: I could get ready in an hour, I could go to dinner with friends after work if I wanted to. My life didn’t have to stop for me to get into drag. It’s like people with a job, and kids, and a gym – you figure it out!

Bianca’s your child? 

Yes. Oh girl, she’s a lot!

How do you see Bianca? Is she a character, is she an extension of your subconscious. Or is it just you in a dress? 

It’s me in a dress. Yeah. There are some people who do characters – Ben de la Crème is a perfect example. She lives by this character. And it’s genius… but it can also be annoying! Sometimes when you’re in it, you can’t help but act a certain way. Some people feel very sexual when they’re in drag. Not me. It’s like going to work and wearing a uniform… for me, it’s just the packaging to get away with murder. If I didn’t wear make-up, they’d call me a nasty fag. If I wear it, they call me hysterical.

Does being Bianca enable you to say things Roy could never say? 

I say it. I say it all the time! But I think it’s the key to being accepted. The great thing about doing Drag Race was that a lot of the show I’m out of drag. I was kind of shocked to see people’s reactions to things I was saying, whether they thought it was hysterical or completely rude because I don’t normally do that, except with my friends. It was funny to see that reaction.

Are things drastically different post-Drag Race. 

Totally. Oh totally. It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m grateful it happened to me at 38 because if not it would be wasted.

It can also really fuck you up – this amount of visibility. And also the weird online judgement… 

Everyone’s an expert. There’s always someone to offend. I’ve known that my entire life. By no means am I curing cancer, but if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not your cup of tea. Some bitter Twitter is not going to bring me down. I know better. If I were 20, I would probably think I was Mariah Carey and lose my mind.

Were you blown away by the support? The fans? 

It’s fascinating to hear the support you get. But you also get some douchebags. For everyone that likes you, there’s a million that don’t. It comes with the territory. Then, in a couple of months they’ll have another bitch to hate!

There’s that great statistic that you were never in the bottom – not just the bottom two, but the bottom. At all. Did you realise that? 

I hadn’t realised. I knew I didn’t lip-synch, but I also knew Courtney didn’t lip-sych as well. You can be the best dancer, you can be the best singer, you can be the best actress – but that’s not what they’re there to pick. It’s their opinion of you, in that moment… It’s mind-fucking because a lot of people there think ‘Oh I have to be the star of everything.’ It doesn’t work that way. Know your strengths, and know your weaknesses. But a lot of people fail when they don’t realise that if you can’t sing, act, dance, sew and do comedy…

Like when people don’t know who they’re going to be for Snatch Game. I mean, really? You know it’s coming. 

You have to audition with a Snatch Game character!

Did you audition with Judy? 

No, I auditioned with Dora the Explorer! There’s a video somewhere…. There was a copyright law, so I couldn’t do it. But it came to me, because I love Judge Judy. I was unaware, because previously I didn’t have twitter, that Ru was a huge Judge Judy fan. I didn’t know! I didn’t follow Ru’s life!

But we should always have sense of humour about ourselves. We’re men in wigs. Some better wigs than others…

Black dress, Bianca's own. Necklace, Vicki Sarge.
Black dress, Bianca’s own. Necklace, Vicki Sarge.
Interview by Alexander Fury
Photography by Julia Kennedy
Project by Oleg Mitrofanov
Styling by Matteo Sarti
Hair Styling by Anna Cofone
Set Design by Laura Timmons
Make-Up by Saint Warren
Thanks to Louis Romanus and Gareth Wrighton
Originally published on Lujon Issue 2
Copyright of Lujon Magazine

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