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DragCon UK is about to sashay back to London for its biggest and best lineup ever, which includes none other than Drag Race royalty Vanity Milan and Cheryl Hole. As two of the more than 180 drag performers in attendance, they’ll help bring “love, light and campery” to thousands of fans at the ExCeL on 13 and 14 January. “DragCon is so crucial in a time like it is now, purely because of the fight that we’re having against the negativity out there in the world,” Cheryl tells GAY TIMES, referring to the many attacks drag is currently facing. As a family-friendly event that people of all ages can attend, Vanity highlights that DragCon is a powerful way for children to see and learn about people different from themselves. “If I had a child, I would want them to see the world for what it is and we all come in all shapes, sizes, different forms, colours, ages, and that’s what you see at DragCon,” she explains, adding: “It’s just a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

Here, Cheryl and Vanity speak to GAY TIMES about the importance of unity within the LGBTQIA+ community and why DragCon is more “crucial” than ever before.

Okay, let’s talk DragCon. What are you looking forward to?

CH: Do you know what? I’m so excited for next year’s DragCon because it is the biggest DragCon that there has ever been. 180 queens under one roof, it’s insane. 

VM: From different franchises internationally and it’s going to be a great time, a great party where you just get to see all of your favourite queens!

Do either of you ever get starstruck by anyone you see there? 

CH: I think the only times I ever get starstruck are just whenever I see Ru or Michelle mincing past, I’m like, ‘You alright, Mich? How’s it going?’ But other than that, I think, look, in the words of High School Musical, we’re all in this together and we’ve all done this world of Drag Race in some variety or another and I think it’s more not starstruck, but more admiration. Actually, I tell a lie. I did get starstruck when I saw Sasha Colby at DragCon LA. 

VM: Stop, because I got really starstruck at Valentina. 

CH: I mean, how could you not? So there’s the answer. Sasha Colby and Valentina!

When you’re planning what to do at DragCon, do you ever try to incorporate what you did on the show into things like your looks or booths or do you try to do something totally new instead?

VM: I feel like when you think about a booth, you want to think about something that’s inviting to the audience, the fans. People want to come in and take pictures with you, so I start off with that. How the booth is going to look, I don’t take any inspiration, but there are little nods to season three Vanity with something orange.

CH: Wait, you wore orange? 

VM: Yeah, I think I did, didn’t I? Orange is the colour! But yeah, I try to make sure I incorporate just maybe little tiny nods to the past because what you see now is definitely not what you saw in season three.

CH: Well, you’re Pokémon evolution number three now! But no, I agree. You want the people and the fans to have that thing that they loved and latched on to from Drag Race, but in a new setting. I always love to do a theme with my booth. I’ve done Cheryl’s living room, I’ve done Cheryl’s disco house, I’ve also done my ‘60s salon – and this next theme is the campest thing that I’ve done yet.

On a more serious note, we are seeing a big rise in anti-drag rhetoric from people trying to weaponise the artform into something that it’s not. With that in mind, why is it so important that we have something like DragCon that brings people together in a safe space where they can just enjoy drag?

CH: I think for me, DragCon is so crucial in a time like it is now, purely because of the fight that we’re having against the negativity out there in the world. To have such a safe space and a haven for people, whether they’re fans of drag, part of the LGBTQIA+ community, or starting out in drag, that is the safe haven to go, explore, find your peers, find your family and feel safe, even if it is for two days in January, because we’ve got to remember that when we come together, we are safer, more powerful and our voices aren’t going anywhere. So I think having platforms and opportunities like DragCon are so crucial and beneficial right here, right now.

VM: You took the words right out of my mouth. DragCon is very much a safe haven for our community and what’s currently going on negatively about the drag community, but also the community as a whole – the LGBTQIA+ community – DragCon is definitely something where we can all come together as one and celebrate just being who we are, because I’ve seen so many fans come to DragCon over the years and just express themselves in a way that they don’t usually express themselves. Costumes, makeup, hair, it’s so incredible. This is something that we do on a day-to-day basis, but the fans don’t do on a day-to-day basis. So when they’re allowed to come to this space and just be themselves and be as free as possible, it’s incredible and the atmosphere at DragCon, if you haven’t got tickets yet, please get your tickets because it’s on the 13th and 14th of January and it’s a nice safe space for you all to be. 

CH: I think one thing I would love to add as well is, I’ve been very fortunate to do quite a few DragCons now and getting to meet people again and again and see the growth and evolution in themselves, seeing them blossom as human beings, as artists, as queer people, it’s just been so beautiful to watch. And for me, that is the biggest takeaway from DragCon, just seeing how joyous and happy people are and to be a part of that and to be a reason for the happiness and joy in that room makes me so happy.

VM: But also adding on to yours, it’s also the people who wanted to come to DragCon for years and years but haven’t had the opportunity to do so, and they are there for the first time and you’re meeting them for the first time or they’re meeting their favourites for the first time, and they’re able to tell their favourites how much they inspired them and how much they’ve got them through certain things. I love hearing stuff like that, because I don’t know how many people I touch emotionally when they watch Drag Race and they see the struggles or, you know, the trials and tribulations of what we go through and go, ‘You’ve pulled me out of that’. So, I get very emotional about that side of DragCon as well and hearing the fan’s stories and, again, such a beautiful place.

You both just touched on the sense of community at the heart of DragCon, which is a sober space that allows those who are under 18 or don’t drink a chance to meet their favourite artists outside of venues like bars and clubs. Why do you think that’s so important? 

CH: I think the ideology of DragCon being a day event, an all-ages event, something for everybody, it’s just so joyous. It’s like one big Pride parade from start to finish and it is such a safe space of celebration and partying without the need for the nightlife, the crazy cocktails – partake if you like, I’m never going to stop that – but it’s just a day to hit pause, enjoy drag and celebrate and be exactly who you want to be.

VM: Yeah! Again, you took the words right out of my mouth.

CH: Sorry. I’ll let you start speaking first!

VM: Again, it’s just a beautiful thing to be a part of. It’s very incredible just to see people not intoxicated, not being belligerently just rude – you get those in the clubs. As a drag queen, we see it often. But just see kids enjoying that space with their parents, it’s something that I love. I remember the last DragCon, I had a child come into the booth and it was just the most beautiful thing because the parents were just like, ‘They watched your season and they loved you so much’ and the kid was just so open and loving and wanting to hug me all the time. And I was like, ‘This is just so beautiful’ and, you know, if you want to partake in the drinking, you can.

CH: There are after parties for a reason!

VM: There are after parties for a reason, but the day is for celebrating and being part of that community without the need for an alcoholic beverage.

CH: Without the cocky tees!

The family-friendly aspect of DragCon feels more important than ever given that there are people trying to spin drag into being something that’s not appropriate for children to see or be around. Why is it so essential that an event like this be accessible to as many people as possible? 

VM: It’s accessible to everybody because again, we are a community of human beings and nothing should be shut off from a human being. We all feel, we all express in different ways shapes and forms, and this is how we do it. And if I had a child, I would want them to see the world for what it is and we all come in all shapes, sizes, different forms, colours, ages, and that’s what you see at DragCon. Period. 

CH: Yeah, DragCon is one of those places where you can be exactly who you want to be without fear of judgement, without fear of shame and without fear of anybody ridiculing who you are. You can just walk in through those doors of the ExCeL and just be unashamedly yourself and just embrace everything that is exactly who you want to be and that’s what I love, is getting to meet people, hear their stories, gossip, have a laugh, have a giggle and just put light and love back out into the world. Because in a wealth of darkness and scary moments in life, let’s have two days of love, light and campery!

Cheryl Hole and Vanity Milan alongside over 180 other drag queens from across the Drag Race franchsie will be attending RuPaul’s DragCon UK 2024. Taking place at ExCeL London from 12-14 January 2024; Tickets are available here