“If I had been a well-adjusted, popular kid at school, there’s no way I’d be a drag queen now.”
Crystal, one of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K.’s inaugural queens, is a 180-degree turn from the last Canadian RuGirl to grace our screens. While Brooke Lynn Hytes, who came in second on the American version’s eleventh season was a pageant queen, Crystal has described herself as “not afraid to look a bit messy or ugly or scary.” Her look is East London grit — punctuated with pops of chest hair or angle grinding, occasionally suspended from the air.
“I never thought in a million years that I would get on,” she says. “And I definitely didn’t think they’d cast a Canadian in the first season.” But they did, and we’re luckier for it. FASHION recently caught up with Crystal, who finished in sixth place, on a day off from the Drag Race UK cast tour.
Finding out that you were born in Newfoundland and Labrador and grew up in Nova Scotia and through those environments eventually turned into Crystal was mindblowing. That doesn’t happen every day.
Yeah. I think it’s because I was such an awkward, weird kid and I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was in my teens. I retreated into comic books and fantasy novels and worlds of imagination.
It wouldn’t have happened otherwise for sure. If I had been a well-adjusted, popular kid at school, there’s no way I’d be a drag queen now.
Did you start drag in Canada or only after moving to the U.K.?
I’d been in the UK for about five years before I really did any drag, but I had run alt- and new burlesque nights when I lived in Montreal. That was back when burlesque was the thing before the drag revival, but I didn’t really do those in drag — it was stripping basically.
Once I felt like I’d established myself in London and felt settled I was looking for something to challenge myself creatively. I was doing circus classes and a friend was like, “why don’t you just do another show?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, I could do that and then I could have a place to perform circus.”
That kind of led me down the road into drag. Gradually drag became a bigger thing and circus became a lesser thing because it’s much easier to perform drag places than it is to do circus.
When it comes to fashion, what are your inspirations?
It’s super cliche to say this, but strong women and particularly strong women of fiction. I think I’m always going back to female characters from my childhood, from sci-fi films, comic books and video games. I was a real geek growing up — I mean, I still am.
I love things like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner or Ripley in Aliens. And then any time there’s a witch in a movie I’m like, “ugh, I want to be her.” As well, X-Men comics and ’90s, hyper-sexualized Jim Lee X-Men illustrations are the kinds of places that I go to when I start thinking about looks and drag.
There are designers that I really like to pull from as well. It’s always really fun to look at Jean Paul Gaultier or Mugler — people who have the same kinds of reference points that I do.
As someone who incorporates aerial acrobatics into your drag, how do you strike a balance between fashion and practicality when you’re up in the air?
To be honest, when you do an aerial performance you have to sacrifice design for sure cause it just needs to be pretty form-fitting and to work. So when I perform aerial it’s generally just a slinky bodysuit of some kind.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a reveal before you get on the rope. A lot of my performance these days isn’t aerial based, so then you can kind of go crazy on those numbers.
Was Drag Race as fun as it looked on TV?
Well, ‘fun’ is a strong word. People always ask, did you have fun? Not really.
It’s such an intense experience and there were moments of it that are amazing and incredible and yeah, fun. But for the most part I was just an anxious, stressed-out person. I was so conscious of how much pressure there was and how much this mattered and — so tired. I don’t think I did actually have that much ‘fun’ when I was on the show.
But now that I know what it’s like, if All Stars ever happens I’d go in not taking it too seriously and ready to have fun. I think that was what really held me back.
Do you have a favourite look that you didn’t get to show on Drag Race?
I really wanted to do the twin makeover challenge (from the second-to-last episode). I had these amazing frothy milkshake costumes. It was going to be me and my sister in pink tulle fantasy, with giant straws and cherries on our heads — very campy. But styled kind of mean, so we’d be like bitchy milkshakes.
What sort of response have you had from Canadian fans?
It’s been lovely. I was a bit worried about that because on the show I did try and distance myself from Canada a little. I wanted the U.K. to be like, “no, he’s British. He’s been here for 10 years, he’s got a British passport — he’s not the Canadian one.” But thankfully that didn’t alienate Canada either.
I’ve got the best of both worlds and I always feel a little bit stuck somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic between the two. I can’t wait to come perform in Canada and meet fans. Recently, I was in Toronto and I didn’t expect to be getting recognized on the street, but I was constantly, and it’s cool.
This interview has been condensed and edited.