Editor-In-Chief Chris Ahjem retrospectively reviews Season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
First conceptualised in 2014, Drag Race UK has been a long-awaited cultural phenomenon that has recently concluded after an iconic first season on BBC Three. Full of gobbiness, British references and brilliant queens, Drag Race UK has managed to reignite an energy that the American mother show has missed for the last few seasons. Be aware that this article contains Season 1 spoilers!
After 5 years in production purgatory, 2019 finally saw the birth of Drag Race UK helmed by the familiar RuPaul and Michelle Visage alongside British entertainment legends Alan Carr and Graham Norton. With initial audience concerns regarding the relatively unknown BBC Three, an oversaturation of Drag Race seasons, and fears that the American judges will miss out on British references. Audiences were excited but nervous.
These anxieties were blown away with the start of the show’s promotion. Despite an uncoordinated group photo confirming a more camp than fashion aesthetic, the cast were all clearly hugely charismatic and, most importantly, British. From Blu Hydrangea’s Northern Irish accent to The Vivienne’s Liverpudlian intonation, the British audience immediately formed a connection with the cast. Early cast stand outs included Baga Chipz the self-proclaimed “gobshite” and drag newcomer Scaredy Kat who at 19 is the youngest contestant on the RuPaul helmed Drag Race franchises.
The show finally premiered on October 3 and blew audiences away. The Britishness was apparent from the show’s opening with Vinegar Strokes quoting Eastenders icon Kat Slater as her entrance quote and Baga Chipz cackling the word ‘tuppence’ about twelve times. The mini-challenge was a photoshoot referencing the beheading of Henry VIII’s wives and the main challenge had the queens presenting a runway look based off of their hometowns – from Baga’s Amy Winehouse to Sum Ting Wong as the Birmingham Bullring – and Elizabeth II inspired outfits – including Blu as a £2 coin and Sum Ting as a stamp.
Beyond the first episode, the season continuously provided memorable and entertaining moments that revelled in the Britishness, a culture that the American version hasn’t tapped into. Challenges ranged from a car boot sewing challenge, a Downton Abbey inspired acting challenge and a girl group performance challenge with prizes being a RuPeter badge.
Some of the best cultural references included The Vivienne impersonating Queen of Clean Kim Woodburn, Baga Chipz’s innuendos about “daddy’s sauce” and Blu, Divina De Campo and Cheryl Hole forming The Frock Destroyers for their girl group rendition of ‘Break Up (Bye Bye)’ that not only won the challenge but won the British public’s hearts with the song making #10 in the Official Big Top 40. Even the Snatch Game, one of the American counterparts’ most iconic challenges, proved massively British with queens impersonating Gemma Collins, David Attenborough, Margaret Thatcher and an x-rated Mary Berry.
Beyond the British wit however is a lot of heart. Whether through conversations mid-makeup application or in their talking head interviews, the cast opened up about hugely important and often heart-breaking topics. Divina educated us on the impact of Section 28 which prevented the promotion or education of LGBTQ+ issues at all which impacted schools massively. Blu discussed the emotional impact of marriage inequality in Northern Ireland; an issue that has since been eradicated. Whilst, The Vivienne opened up about the prevalence of drugs in drag and gay culture that led to her spending four years of her life struggling with addiction. The show isn’t just a flashy display of pride and art but is a massively human story allowing audiences to be captivated by the queens and the people behind the makeup.
Obviously, there were some issues. Some questionable judging decisions mirrored the notorious faux pas of the American version; Cheryl Hole was robbed. Whilst, Graham Norton notes in the finale that there was only really one runway which was truly high fashion. And the biggest issue were the oft lacklustre lip syncs… perhaps Charlie Hides was correct back in Season 9?
Despite minor issues it really is “much bettah”, so much so the BBC have already started casting a second series due to its popularity. Here’s to hoping that some local Brighton queens make the cut for Season 2!