top of page

‘Let’s celebrate love’: RuPaul’s DragCon UK – a photo essay

A spectacular drag queen convention saw thousands flock to the ExCeL London this weekend, with events showcasing a world of vibrance, acceptance, love and positive energy

There are a few theories of the origin of “drag”. One being that it came from theatre, before women were allowed to be on stage. It is reported that DRAG was written as a direction for the male actors, standing for “dress as girl”. Others say that male actors would complain when wearing the women’s frocks, saying that the women’s dresses would “drag” across the floor. Or if you look it up on Wikipedia, another theory is that the word may have been based on the term “grand rag”, which was historically used for a masquerade ball.

Whatever its origin, drag has certainly come a long way. And there is no better place to see the advancement and growth in popularity than at the world’s biggest drag event: RuPaul’s DragCon UK, presented by World of Wonder.

The exuberant three-day event, held at ExCeL London this weekend, saw thousands flock to the convention, celebrating the art of drag, queer culture and self-expression for all.

“Everyone loves a dress-up party!” says Maxi Shield.

The Australian drag queen, who featured on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, is on a flying visit for the convention and for a few gigs in London. And as someone who has been doing drag for 26 years, she has certainly seen it grow. “People are less hung up on gender now. And what better way to celebrate that than by looking glamorous and making everyone laugh.”

The event starts with the ribbon cutting by the world’s most famous drag queen, RuPaul, the producer and presenter of Rupaul’s Drag Race. This is swiftly followed by the most colourful and flamboyant catwalk to have ever existed, where drag queens from far and wide strut down the pink carpet in front of thousands of excited fans and enthusiasts.

Drag queens are flanked by fans and the media as they make their way down the popular Queen Walk on the pink carpet as the DragCon gets under way at the start of day one.

Stalls stretch along the three avenues, allowing photo opportunities and autographs from your favourite drag queen, as well as a plethora of merchandise. Drag queens, bearded queens, drag kings and even drag monsters are all here to enjoy three days of partying and having fun with friends and colleagues.

The main stage plays host to a wide variety of performers and drag artists. Lip-syncing seems to be the popular choice (an event that often appears on RuPaul’s Drag Race) but real singing and lots of dancing feature too, even by a group of drag artists with Down’s syndrome, who are fittingly named Drag Syndrome.

There is no rest for the wicked here. Doors open at 9am, but getting ready can take up to three hours for some. Attention to detail for makeup and costume is outstanding. The effort (and pain) that goes into looking so glamorous should not be ignored. Many entered the world of drag born from a fascination in costume design, dress-making or theatre. And while some have been fortunate enough to perform as a drag queen as a career, others just do it for the enjoyment.

Demi Point and Anne Spank (Harry Yardley, 26, and Opal, 20s) host a weekly show in Scotland called Bingo Wings. They consider themselves very lucky to have a career in performing. Although it has its ups and downs. Harry was peeing blood for almost a month while performing before finding out he had a serious case of kidney stones. They have each other though, which gets them through it. “Sometimes if I’m struggling with my mental health, or I’m crying before going on stage, Demi will hold my hand and say “you’ve got this” or “you’re going to be OK”, which helps me battle on and get through it,” Opal says.

Another group of queens travelled from Oxfordshire just to enjoy the weekend and see their heroes. They too had an early start, getting up at 6am to start their makeup. While they enjoy drag as a hobby, their professions range from medical lawyer to probation officer. There’s no real “plan of action” to the three days for them, just walk around and meet a couple of their favourite queens (once they have braved the windy wintery elements on their walk from the hotel to the convention).

A group of drag queens look on at a younger group of visitors on day two.

In a world that is commonly misunderstood, it may be shocking to some to see so many children at such an event. Ruben, 10, and Theo, eight, watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and enjoy the costumes and humour of the show.

Their mum thought they were now old enough to watch it, and have been hooked ever since. “They watch it with pure joy. It encourages children to be who they want to be, and act how they want to act,” the mum said.

The common feeling is that it allows children an open dialogue. “We should be providing an environment for the children to be inquisitive, and to have conversations at a time where they might be too scared to normally ask.”

Ruben, 10, and Theo, eight, pose for a picture on day one of the convention. They are huge fans of the costumes and humour of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Sisters Ella, eight, and Brooke Wilkinson, 12, enjoy their lunch while Empyrea touches up her makeup as they all take a break on day two.

The sense of community is something special. The belonging, the careless attitude, and the joy of performance no matter what you look like, is infectious. In a world where divisive attitudes still run thick, RuPaul’s DragCon UK provides another world where everyone is celebrated for expressing who they want to be and how they want to show it. A world where there is no need to hide or be shy and where honest expression is encouraged. Words such as “escapism” and “freedom” are often banded about, giving an insight into the world that many of these wonderful characters often have to live. As RuPaul exclaimed before starting his DJ set: “Let’s celebrate LOVE.”

Drag queens and visitors to the convention make their way home on the Elizabeth Line at the end of the first day


bottom of page