Hackney People: pancake-wielding drag queen, The Fabulous Russella
The Fabulous Russella is due to perform in the New Act of the Year final this Sunday January 29
Russell David warned me he’d be “incognito” when I met him in The Haggerston pub, and not dressed up with glittery lips and false eyelashes as his alterego, The Fabulous Russella.
With his piercing blue eyes and high cheek bones it’s easy to see how the Yorkshire-born lad dressed in jeans and T-shirt can look so stunning in drag – plus his legs are good he tells me, thanks to his mum.
Russell has reached the final 14 in the prestigious New Act of the Year comedy show, with his absurd act cooking up a pancake from scratch, whilst running around screaming and lip-syncing to a Christina Aguilera track.
“I’ve got a little burner on stage, I can make it in three and a half minutes now and then I flip into the splits, that’s my dance training, ha,” he said.
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“I just shout bonkers stuff, the first thing that comes into my head. It’s always gone quite well when I do that.
“It wasn’t good when I was at school because I was always an idiot, but now I put it to professional use,” he joked.
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Russella entered the limelight after putting on a dress for the first time four years ago.
His best-buddy, singer Paloma Faith helped him put on his make-up and style his hair when he entered a lip-synching drag competition in Mare Street’s Bistrotech – which kicked off a career in cabaret once he won.
Russell had met the Hackney songstress when he was studying contemporary dance in Leeds, and had slept on her couch when he first moved to London.
The 28-year old was branded one of 200 top culture icons in i-D fashion magazine in a photo shoot by Nick Knight last year, and is now down to the last 600 in ITV’s popular Britain’s Got Talent.
He sang his single I’m Too Fabulous at last summer’s LoveBox festival in Victoria Park and has also appeared on the Jonathan Ross chat show and Anne Robinson’s quiz show, the Weakest Link Drag Queen Special.
“The question I got wrong was, “What do you use to take water off a cricket pitch with?” Isn’t that odd - the others were all getting questions about the Wizard Of Oz.”.
Russell found a fetish for dressing in women’s clothes when he worked in fashion PR in the vintage clothing store Beyond Retro in Kingsland Road, where he found the array of dresses surrounding him too amazing to resist.
“All the 80s vintage clothing is quite draggy really, the big sparkly dresses, so I think that ignited something,” he said.
“And then I just looked good when I was wearing them.
“I can say I know I look amazing - but I don’t know why,” he said laughing.
He feels that everything changes once he’s dressed up – the way he walks, and his Northern accent becomes stronger.
“It’s all to do with putting on my make up and here I am.
“I’m a showgirl really and I do it on the stage, I come off the stage and I’ve got a whole other life.
“Weirdly when I worked at Beyond Retro I used to dress up as a boy, I used to put a little hat on, but now I’m doing drag stuff I dress down, I just put on a t shirt and jeans, and I’ll be Russell.
“At first I did it because it was a lot of fun but now I have to do it as a job. It’s only when I get paid that I dress up.”
Russell’s ever expanding repertoire includes performance art, modelling, hosting, compering, and acting, and most recently he played a cameo road in director Sean Mclusky’s film based in Shoreditch, A Riot on Redchurch Street.
He also performed at Little Britain’s Matt Lucas’ wedding reception as an ugly step-sister.
“There was Dawn French and celebrities everywhere, it was just amazing,” he said.
“It was fancy dress, Elton John was Captain Hook and everyone was dressed up so you weren’t sure who they were, I just think celebrities are funny.
“I like all the sheen though, I’d like it to be back in the 50s when it was glamour and you didn’t know much about them and it as sparkly - now it’s a bit too much but I find it amusing.”
Russell does a bit of gardening on the side, and has a blog, The Glamorous Gardener, where he promises to “drop as many names as he does seeds.”
“Actually I like knocking stuff down, but my muscles get too big and at one point I looked ridiculous in a dress.
“I like the idea of home stuff and cooking and baking and gardening - like that woman in America who got arrested for fraud, Martha Stuart, I’d like to be like that, like a drag queen into home and fashion.”
More than anything Russell would love to present his own TV show.
“I thought once about doing a show on how to dress like a drag queen for girls, because when I go out dressed up everyone is like, “Oh you look fabulous,” he said.
“Girls don’t always dress up as much as they could. I think they kind of tone themselves down a lot because they feel like it’s hard to be too fabulous - whereas drag queens are the epitomy of fabulous.
“They say I love your shoes and things and I’m like, “Well get some.”
“It’s being political but if you have a woman who comes out in high heels, fabulous hair, long eyelashes, and people react differently to how they would otherwise, but I think you can still be classy but fabulous.
“Sometimes people are too obsessed about what you look like inside, you know at the moment it’s like it doesn’t matter what you look like, but I think it reflects what you are like inside.”
To make ends meet Russell does a Tranny Tarot act at corporate events.
“I tell people’s fortunes, turn over the cards and read what they say, yes I know all the meanings of the cards.
“I think it’s a load of rubbish and I tell people that but they believe me anyway,” he smiled.
But being the centre of attention on stage is Russell’s true love, and he is keen to break into comedy - which is why he’s thrilled to have reached the NATY finals, where the likes of Russell Brand and Matt Lucas have tread before him.
“It’s really good to be in the final, it puts me more in the comedy category, rather than cabaret.
“See that’s the thing with comedy is if you’re a good comedian you can be a good presenter, Elena De Generis and Chris Roc, they started as stand up comedians - because if you think about it, it’s so frightening to be on stage and be yourself and make everybody laugh, and you can transfer that skill to anything.
“I’d like to be Ellen or Oprah.
“I’ve got my act down to a fine art, I’ll probably improvise on the day a little bit as well - but it’s more or less down.”
The final takes place at Stratford Circus theatre on Sunday January 29 at 7pm.
Tickets cost �14, or �12.50 concession, see www.stratford-circus.com