Stuart Wood investigates how DragWorld UK’s fabulously inclusive philosophy is the key to its success.
Donna Trump, wearing a walrus mask and a bright blue quaffed wig, is giving some pointers about self-care on the main stage of DragWorld UK.
Joining Donna on stage for the ‘Coping Fiercely’ panel are RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Shea Couleé and Latrice Royale, as well as Mean Girls actor Daniel Franzese. Their moderator is wearing a midnight purple robe, and goes by the name Crystal Lubrikunt.
“Even if you don’t have support from your family, remember that your friends are there to support you,” Royale tells the crowd. “Sometimes, you might need to switch off from social media – if you read enough negative comments, you’ll start to believe it. When that happens, I remind myself I’ve been doing this for 26 years with love and support from those around me.”
The audience for Royale and Trump’s panel is completely packed out, with every available seat taken. It is also filled by a surprisingly young audience, many of whom are themselves in drag.
Nathan Stone, director of non-traditional touring at The MJR Group, says the idea for DragWorld came about when he noticed the audience for MJR’s existing drag events was much younger than anticipated. The company organised RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons and Bianca Del Rio’s Not Today Satan, which took place in all ages venues and were particularly successful.
MJR researched existing consumer exhibition models with the likes of Comic Con, and then took the plunge to launch the convention in 2017. “After three years we have doubled in size, attracting over 12,000 attendees per year,” says Stone. “We have multiple pre and after-parties to ensure that the nightlife artform is fully represented whilst still produced, promoted and showcased for an all ages audience.”
As DragWorld has grown, MJR has also been careful to pick sponsors which align with its values. Stone adds: “We live in a world where, for one month of every year, brands try to cash in on Pride by changing their logo to a rainbow and chucking money at events for brand exposure. We are very lucky that we have had support of large sponsors which match our values and morals at DragWorld. Throughout the years we’ve had GHD, NYX Cosmetics, TikTok, Sally Beauty and GlamCor.”
Creating an inclusive events space is also at the top of the agenda. For many of the young LGBT+ attendees and aspiring drag queens, DragWorld is more than just an exhibition – it is a safe space where they can be themselves.
That inclusivity might just be the key to the event’s success, too. Stone says: “This year, we had a fantastic collection of queens, kings, AFAB queens and transgender artists representing the UK and the US. Each year we learn so much from the audience about what we are lacking, and where our focus needs to be. That allows our show to constantly evolve.”