LGBT+ CAMDEN: Star of RuPaul's Drag Race ‘wanted to do everybody who has ever loved Camden proud’

It all began in NW1

Friday, 4th February — By Harry Taylor

pics2022feb3 Image 2022-02-04 at 00.14.57 (1)

Lady Camden back in Camden Town

EVERY day after school, a boy would meet his dad where he worked at the Electric Ballroom.

The lights would be thrown up, music would blare from the speakers and he would dance and roller skate around the nightclub to his heart’s content.

Little did he know that years later he would be performing on TV to millions in America, representing the area he grew up, as his drag alter-ego Lady Camden.

Rex Wheeler, who moved to California 11 years ago, has survived three rounds of the US series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race as Lady Camden and is hoping to show the best of Camden to viewers, with the Electric Ballroom as inspiration.

“I have really fond memories of being a kid there and being surrounded by club kids who would wear these crazy looks, all these neon colours, piercings everywhere and crazy hair,” she told the New Journal.

“They were really eccentric and vibrant and I try and embody some sort of vibrancy and colour and craziness when I’m in drag.”

Lady Camden grew up in Camden Town, going to Acland Burghley School, before she got into drag when injured during her time working as a ballet dancer in San Francisco.

She had previously danced for the Slovak National Ballet.

“I got really bored and wanted to just play around with makeup and costumes, and let myself feel a bit more of a kid again, and then I started performing around four years ago,” she said.

Lady Camden on RuPaul’s Drag Race [VH1]

Her first outfit on the series was an attempt to bring Camden Town’s vibe to the drag stage.

“I wanted these big crazy pink pigtails because one of my Mum’s big friends had bright neon hair and big pink funky braids and she would babysit me sometimes,” she added.

“I’d like to think that outfit would be something like you would see in Camden Town back in the day.”

Her name came from enjoying the juxtaposition of Lady with somewhere gritty like Camden Town, with fond memories of its gritty 2000s.

“It feels like it was a special time knowing that there are only a few of us who really remember how popping and how alive it was,” she said.

Drag performance has enjoyed a renaissance in the UK in recent years.

For decades it was the preserve of cabaret and comedy clubs in venues including the Black Cap in Camden High Street, with TV and film appearances mostly limited to Dame Edna Everage and Lily Savage. Paul O’Grady, the comedian behind Ms Savage, worked for Camden Council in the 1970s.

However, shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race on BBC iPlayer, have brought drag back into mainstream contemporary culture.

Lady Camden, who identifies as gay and queer, said she tries to mix US drag trad­ition, centred on beauty pageantry and the club and comedy influences of British drag.

She tries to draw on comedians such as Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French and shows like Absolutely Fabulous and Smack the Pony.

Lady Camden on the catwalk on the show [VH1]

“The US drag tradition is very much more about the presentation of how you look and how you perform as a dancer too,” she said.

“My life goal is to try and enjoy it from both sides, being influenced by British comedy and a Brit’s ability not to take yourself too seriously.”

Despite lasting three weeks into the show, she still finds seeing herself on TV a strange experience.

“It’s so weird watching yourself. I don’t enjoy it, especially watching it out of drag, it’s so jarring,” she said.

“I’m nervous to be representing California, but also nervous to be representing Camden. Every drag queen will be watching me and going ‘Oh I’ll see how she does’.

“The pressure is massive, and I want to do everyone in the UK and everyone who has ever been in love with Camden Town, proud.”

She is hoping to return to Camden and perform for the first time once the show is over.

With her connections to the Electric Ballroom music venue, where her parents Jeanne Pacella and Brian Wheeler met, she said she would love the chance to perform there at some stage.

“That would literally be a full circle moment. I’ve been in the States for 11 years and I’ve not lost my accent,” she said.

“It’s a bit Americanised but I’ve never forgotten who I am or where I’m from.

“I’ve got a show at GAY/Heaven in April, and that’s the first gay club I ever went to. I’m so excited, and it would be so exciting to go home and perform to my friends and family.”

She added: “My mum is wearing my T-shirt, having viewing parties and driving my step-dad up the wall and speculating.

“I’m lucky because a lot of families of queer people aren’t supportive of this sort of thing. I’m lucky I’ve got a mum who’s such a cheerleader.”

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