An Interview with a Drag Queen
Wayne Wright (left) is Benidorm’s longest serving British Drag Queen, better known as Miss Levi. I got the opportunity for a chinwag with Wayne about how Miss Levi was born, what she’s like, what she’s up to and her future.
For those of you who’ve never seen Miss Levi’s show, it features elegant dancing, good lip-syncing, a dazzling array of costumes and laugh-out-loud comedy. People who’ve seen the show describe is as a highlight in their holiday. He definitely leaves his audience wanting more, as many return to see his show again, year after year.
Let’s start with the most important question of all: How did you end up working a frock for a living?
Well…I was a Red Coat and I used to do the comparing. I was playing Jack in Jack and the Bean Stalk, and one night after the show the boss came back stage and said:
‘Wayne, you have to compare tonight in Stardust.’
I said: ‘I can’t it’s ladies night.’
He said: ‘I know. You’re wearing this.” And handed me a cushy velvet dress, a stupid big red wig and some shoes that were three sizes too small and that was the start of Miss Levi.
Was this when Miss Levi was born?
Yeah…I suppose it was. It went down very well so they asked me to do it every week. Well they didn’t ask you when you were a Red Coat they told ya.
So you were forced into it? Against your will?
Wayne laughs before explaining:
When you were a Red Coat in those days you didn’t question it. There were twelve Red Coat staff and five thousand people who wanted to be them. It was like having the winning lottery ticket.
How did you come up with the name Levi?
My great granddad’s name was Thomas Levi Griffin. I thought Levi’s universal; it’s male and female.
How would you describe Miss Levi to somebody that’s never met her?
Levi’s down to earth, up for fun, very proud of her roots and a bit of a flirt.
OK she’s a tart… Wayne laughs, before asking: Isn’t she?
Then Wayne adds:
Someone once said to me: she’s wittier than Simon Cowell and sharper than Judge Judy.
How did you and Miss. Levi end up in Benidorm?
Well…I did it as a Red Coat and then I became Levi The One Man Show, warming up for the big acts. Then I got offered major work by this big agent in Bradford, but needless to say I never got an ounce of work. All false promises but I was young and naive.
So I ended up working in a nursing home in Bradford with a woman called Philly. I reported this Nurse abusing patients and a lot of the workforce wouldn’t speak to me. I didn’t care as I did the right thing. Philly still did and she said to me:
‘Oh Levi, Wayne, get to Benidorm. There’s people like you there, you’ll have a better life there.’
So one day, I walked out of my job, booked a ticket and here I am.
When you’re getting ready for a show, at what point do you transform and become Miss Levi?
Only when I hit the stage, Wayne answers instantly before adding: Never before. Never after. She comes to life literally on stage that night.
Do you ever worry that she’s not going to turn up or that the transformation won’t happen?
Oh no… she’s a professional. She’s old school, she’ll always turn up.
I don’t ever even think about the show until I’m on stage, because when you’re doing live comedy, you’ve got to go with the room. The secret to good comedy is to turn it around. Make a beautiful person ugly, and an ugly person beautiful.
Where do you get Miss Levi’s costumes?
I make a lot and then buy a lot in Thailand.
How long does it take you to make a dress?
Oh…weeks and weeks and weeks. If I wasn’t working it would probably take me about a week to make one dress.
We’ve got everything at the Showboat. Downstairs we’ve got two restaurants, a big terrace (for sitting outside and enjoying the sun), take away food and a cabaret room that seats two hundred and eighty three people. You can come and have a meal with a show, then there’s disco and karaoke afterwards.
Upstairs in the top bar we’ve got a pool table, a dartboard, big screen televisions and even a Jacuzzi! The Showboat can also be booked for private parties like gay weddings, straight weddings, birthdays.
What’s Benidorm got to offer visitors?
Benidorm’s absolutely wonderful, there’s something for everybody. You’ve got your gay section, your straight section – which a lot of the gays go to. Gay people don’t have to go to gay bars in Benidorm, they can go anywhere.
There’s so much entertainment, Wayne says before counting on his fingers: you’ve got beaches, British restaurants, French restaurants, Italian restaurants. You’ve got fast food, bingo halls, you’ve got everything in Benidorm. It’s cheap too.
Well it’s free entertainment, wherever you go. There are no door charges. It’s the cheapest lager in Europe, Wayne adds.
What’s the future for Miss Levi?
Erm…to keep going. I have no plans to retire.
What do you think will happen in Benidorm in the future?
It’s going from strength to strength at the moment. It’s just hours away from the UK and it’s so cheap, you can get a breakfast for two euro. So I think it will continue to do well with the Brits.
Here is what I learnt from writing this article:
- The format of an interview article.
- How to use Vod Burner (available on both Mac & Windows) to record Skype calls (both video and audio), meaning I didn’t have to write copious amounts of notes.
- That the important thing for the writer is interesting and open questions.
- That the interviewee does most of the work for you, very little imagination needed to write up an interview.
- That editors occasionally change their mind. This was due to be published this month under the theme of Pride & Drag. But the Drag element has been dropped and instead will be published in August.
NEWS: Hope for a HIV Vaccine
The International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) announced last week that they are starting a clinical trial for a HIV vaccine, based in London and two centres in Africa.
Laboratories in London – UK, Kigali – Rwanda and Nairobi – Kenya will recruit 64 healthy HIV-free adults for phase one of the trial that is expected to last for two years. Volunteers will receive two vaccines and not be at risk of catching HIV.
HIV affects 34 million people worldwide, of which there are 96,000-100,000 in the UK. HIV is found in bodily fluids and people are usually infected by: unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive, reusing injecting equipment that has been used by someone who is HIV positive or transmission from mother to baby.
HIV attacks the immune system in the affected individual, weakening the body’s ability to fight other infections and diseases. You can find out more about HIV on the NHS Choices Website. Over the last few decades there have been massive advances in treatment; that have focused around slowing down the damage HIV causes to the immune system.
IAVI have admitted that the clinical trials are in their early stages. Clinical trials usually take at least 10 years and usually cost billions of pounds. There are many on-going research projects focused on trying to create a HIV vaccine. So it’s likely that there wont be an effective HIV vaccination for at least a decade.
Jason Warriner, Clinical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, when asked about IVAI’s clinical trial said:
‘We welcome investment in the search for a vaccine against HIV. This research is in its very earliest stages. Clinical trials take several years to complete and, even if the vaccine passes this first stage of tests, more research will be needed over the course of many years.’
‘Although an HIV vaccine has so far remained stubbornly out of reach, we now understand how to prevent transmission better than ever before. A combination of widespread condom use, regular testing for HIV, and getting those with the virus onto the right treatment, could drastically reduce HIV within a generation.’
A HIV vaccine would protect people from catching HIV and would most likely be administered to those in high risk groups including gay men. The ability to prevent people from catching HIV would be a significant step forward in the fight against HIV; as it would stem the number of people becoming infected.
For those that are already HIV positive, the vaccine will not be a cure. It is likely that they will have to continue with their treatment. However people who are HIV positive should take hope from the fact that there’s a number of on-going research projects looking into potential cures for HIV, and ways to reverse some of the damage HIV causes to the immune system.
While we wait for a HIV vaccine, health professionals continue to recommend that gay people use condoms when having sex and that they are regularly tested for HIV at least once a year.
Here is what I learnt from writing this article:
- Formatting of a news article.
- Writing to a tight deadline.
- Creating my own angle, especially when the topic’s been written about before in other press outlets.
HIV Campaign: ‘It Starts With Me’
Health Protection Agency has given two years of funding to the Terrence Higgins Trust to deliver the ‘It Starts With Me’ HIV Campaign. This campaign focuses on three aspects: Test, Treat and Protect.
Did you know that 8 out of 10 gay men get HIV from a man that doesn’t know that he’s got it? Or that 100,000 people in the UK have HIV but don’t know it? If these aren’t good enough reasons to encourage you to get a HIV test here are some more: regular testing gives you piece of mind, it’s free, confidential and convenient.
You can arrange an appointment at your local sexual health clinic or even do a test through a postal kit. Jake Simpson recently reviewed the home testing kit. ‘It Starts With Me’ campaign even has a ‘Do I need an HIV test?’ Questionnaire, answer five quick and easy questions to establish if you need a HIV test. Earlier testing helps get quicker access to treatment for those that are HIV positive.
A better understanding of HIV has led to treatment that gives a HIV positive person a feeling of better health and a longer life. According to ‘It Starts With Me,’ earlier treatment can extend your life expectancy by about 10 years; equally delaying testing and starting treatment can cost you 10 years of your life.
The Campaign video (below) says that treatment stop the spread of HIV by reducing amount of HIV in a HIV positive person’s blood stream to an ‘undectable level’ meaning that they are unlikely to pass on HIV. Watch the video here:
The Department for Health, Terrence Higgins Trust and all other sexual health organisations recommend the use of condoms when having sex. Condoms are the best way to Protect against HIV, especially when 8 out of 10 gay men get HIV from a man who doesn’t know that he’s got it.
Gay men 25-29 years old are most likely to test HIV positive, but HIV doesn’t discriminate on age, gender, race, sexuality or for any other reason. If you’re worried about HIV you can speak to your GP, local sexual health clinic, or call Terrence Higgins Trust on 0808 802 1221. If you’ve got a sexual health question, visit TheGayUK sexual health section: http://www.sexualhealth.thegayuk.com/.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed HIV positive, the forums on: http://www.myhiv.org.uk/ are said to be helpful along with Terrence Higgins Trust Website. There are also several bloggers who share their experience living with HIV; here are just a few of them:
Remember to get tested regularly, if you’re HIV positive to get treatment and always protect yourself using condoms when having sex. Together we can and will stop the spread of HIV.
Here is what I learnt from writing this article:
- That HIV treatment can reduce the amount of HIV in a HIV positive person’s blood stream to an ‘undectable level’ meaning that the spread of HIV can be stopped.
- Sources of support for a person with HIV.
- Discovery of several HIV blogs (added to my sidebar under ‘Blogs of Interest’).
The Pride Survival Kit
Pride season is upon us once again. Here’s a list of 13 essential items to help you to have a safe and enjoyable pride.
Pop these items in your man-bag and call it: The Pride Survival Kit.
1. Pride Map / Guide – Most offer Pride organisers offer a Pride map and guide, whether it be printed when you buy tickets or on their website online. Pop a copy in your Survival Kit and you’ll never be lost in the world of Pride or miss any of the big events.
2. Mobile / Smart Phone – These are great to keep in contact with your friends, partner or significant others at Pride. But should something go horribly wrong, in an emergency you can dial 999 and ask for the Police, an Ambulance or Fire and Rescue Services to attend.
3. Emergency Mobile / Smart Phone Charger – Your mobile’s no good if the battery has gone flat, so carry an Emergency Mobile Phone Charger. There are a variety of these devices on the market and they all have different features, such as: solar panel charging, disposable – one use only, super fast charging, etc.
4. A 24-Hour Supply of Any Medication You Take – Your transport home might be delayed or you might not get home at all. Take a 24-hour supply of any medication you take, so that you don’t miss a dose.
If you’re planning to have a drink of the alcoholic variety, check beforehand that it’s OK to mix your medication with alcohol. If you’re unsure speak to your GP or prescribing health care professional who will be able to tell you.
5. Painkillers – There’s nothing worse than being in pain to spoil your Pride mood. Take some painkillers and avoid being the member of the group who’s not in the mood because of pain.
6. Emergency Money – It’s always good to be prepared for the unexpected. Emergency money will cover costs because of an unexpected event at Pride. How much emergency money you put to one side is up to you and depends up on your circumstances.
7. Sun Protection Lotion – In the UK we have ever-changing weather; it can be pouring down with rain one minute and the next the sun is cracking flags. Taking sun protection will stop you burning and protect against potential UV damage when the sun comes out at Pride.
8. Condoms & Lube – At Pride you may meet someone and hook up with them. Whether or not you’re planning to hook up, take condoms and lube. Then if something happens you wont have to worry about the unprotected sex the morning after.
Some pubs and clubs do provide safer sex packs, but don’t rely on these. The pub may have stopped providing them since the last time you were there, or there may have been a rush and are out of stock.
Condoms & lube are provided free at your local sexual health clinic. If you are worried because you’ve had unprotected sex, the sexual health clinic can also undertake testing and offer support. For more information visit The Gay UK Sexual Health Site.
9. Bottle of Water – Staying well hydrated will protect against sunstroke (along with sun protection lotion) and will also lessen or prevent alcohol-related hangovers.
10. Safety Clips & A Spare Pair of Pants – If you’re in the Pride Parade safety clips are essential, as costumes don’t always stay together. Even if you’re not taking part in the Pride Parade safety clips are still useful to have.
We’ve all had wardrobe malfunctions at the most inconvenient of times and a safety clip or a spare pair of pants can prevent that ground-open-up-and-swallow-me-now moment.
11. Alcohol Hand Rub – Toilets, especially outdoor ones soon become unclean. Alcohol hand rub used after a visit to the toilet will keep your hands hygienic.
12. Lollipops / Sweets / Other Snacks – Keeping your sugar-levels up with lollipops, sweets and other snacks will provide your body with plenty of energy. This will mean that you can enjoy Pride to the fullest.
13. Ear Plugs – These are great if the music gets too much. They also prevent your ears from ringing or buzzing the day after Pride.
Pride is a celebratory event where we come together to celebrate our sexuality as part of who we are. Gay people throw a great party, but there’s always a potential for things to go wrong. The Pride Survival Kit if carried in full or part is likely to reduce the risk of something going wrong for you. We hope that you have a safe and truly fantastic Pride.
Here is what I learnt from writing this article:
- Being relaxed let’s my brain be creative and come up with ideas. The idea for this article popped into my head as I was about to step in the bath.
- I need to allow more time to be relaxed to let my creativity flow.
- It’s good to share an idea with others and to get listen to their suggestions. I shared my initial list of survival items with some of the other TheGayUK writers and they came back with items to add to my list. Without doubt, their suggestions have enhanced the article.