“Le Gateau Chocolat was born out of necessity”, he says. “There were things that I wanted to talk about. The inception was not the study or pursuit of drag. It was about the need to say something.”
And so it has continued. His latest show is Liminal for the Brighton Festival.
The black-bearded diva comes to the Brighton Dome after a year in absentia with his one-night-only treat on May 30 at 8pm. He is promising a specially curated song cycle, a meditation on a forced untethering; where do we go and who do we become when we lose our anchor?
It will be, he says, a portrait of the undressed artist as man, shaped by experience, made by art, rendered anew as he tries to articulate a year of turmoil and change.
“It is a meditation on isolation and what we have been through without making it explicit that it is the pandemic. What we have been through has been immensely problematic, and we are still going through it now. I am wanting to make a comment on how difficult it has been for all of us.
“It relates to myself and to family members that I have lost and to people that I know literally at the top of the pandemic who found themselves isolated without any support at all.
“It feels like these past 15 months have been so anti-habit, so anti-human… This is the first time, I believe, that the entire planet has been going through exactly the same thing. We had the world wars but it was not the whole world. And you think Ebola and HIV, but HIV to a certain degree was discriminatory. It targeted certain types of people. This virus does not discriminate at all.”
But there have been silver linings to the blackness of it all: “Last week was children’s book week, and I got a commission to read children’s books every day last week. And I was just thinking ‘yes, this looks like a job.’”
But the reality was far greater than he had ever dared hope: “Those days of reading those five books were absolutely magical. It was absolutely brilliant. Everything that I did was in pursuit of curating the imagination of the children, and it just got bigger and sillier and bigger and sillier. It was strange the way it was so incredibly life-enhancing. It was the most extraordinary time of contact and connection.
“I have never taken my access to this platform for granted. I stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before. I take that responsibility very, very seriously. But in terms the work I make myself it is autobiographical, my own experiences, and I know that the stage has provided a platform to have difficult conversations.”
And he believes the arts must embrace those difficult conversations: “I think art is a way to curate identity that might not be yours. It is a way that we can get people to understand a reality that might not be theirs. In times of difficulty it is a race for everyone to turn to the arts. (A few weeks ago) we were all gathering around virtual watering holes to talk about the latest Line of Duty. At your wedding, your first dance is to a song. Arts are absolutely intrinsic to how we capture who we are. So yes, it is important to have those difficult conversations that can help us understand vocabulary around issues that we might not otherwise engage with.”