‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ judge and former ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ housemate Michelle Visage is the latest star to get the WISE WORDS treatment, where we ask a range stars from all across the entertainment industry to reflect on the lessons they’ve learned over the years.
Michelle opens up about the importance of working hard to achieve whatever it is you want, the struggles we all face with loving ourselves, and the gay bar in the sky that she hopes is waiting for all of us when we die, ahead of the release of her first book…
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What do you do to switch off from the world?
The minute I enter my house or a hotel room on the road, wherever I am, the first thing I do is light a candle, that’s my favourite thing. I love candles. Another favourite thing of mine is to soak in a bath.
Those are my moments to myself, because don’t forget that although the world stops when I enter my house, I’m then a mum, and I have two teenage daughters and a husband who need me. So, do I ever get to switch off, apart from those 20 minutes in the bath? I don’t know if I ever really get to switch off, but I definitely get to turn it all down.
How do you deal with negativity?
It’s taken me a long, long time to figure out how to deal with negativity, because it used to really upset me. I was always that girl that, if I was performing in the club and there was one person not paying attention or not liking me, the whole club could be packed with people loving me, but I’d be obsessed with that one person.
Eventually, I realised that was getting me nowhere, and I learned that I need to focus on the positive and not the negative. But it’s a struggle every day. If you post a photo, the first comment could say ‘Michelle looks so beautiful’, but if the second one says, ‘she looks fat and old’ - how do you get over someone being so rude? But that has nothing to do with me. It has to do with that person and their negativity.
So I deal with it by saying, ‘obviously this person doesn’t know me, they don’t know anything about me, they’re just hateful and rude’. It doesn’t have anything to do with me, it’s all to do with them.
When and where are you happiest?
I try to be happy as much as I can. I’m really not a downer, I hate victims, I hate needy people, I’m that person who always tries to make the best of any situation. I’m probably happiest when I’m with my kids, or with a gaggle of gays. Being around love in the gay community, because it’s so easy for me just to be, when I’m with them. You don’t have to be “on”, you’re not putting on a show, you’re just being, around people who get you, and who make you laugh.
Literally, when I’m with RuPaul, I don’t have to think, I just am. He knows everything about me and I know everything about him, and yet we still love each other, and we’re still there for each other. There’s nothing like that feeling where you can just breathe, because you’re not sucking it in, you’re not putting on a front, and there’s something beautiful about that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Well, there’s been a lot along the way. But the most recent was actually from RuPaul, probably about two years ago, and that was his mantra of ‘never read the comments’.
I was getting caught up in a moment of, ‘why are they saying that? Maybe they’re right, maybe I’m not good enough…’, and he just said to me, ‘Wait a minute… you read the comments?’ He said to me: ‘Don’t read what people say! Those comments, they’ve got nothing to do with your life.’
And that’s sound advice, because it’s the comments that follow us throughout life, not just on social media. The comments that people say about us have nothing to do with us, which kind of relates to his mantra, ‘what people have to say about me is none of my damn business’. That’s true, so it’s a matter of not reading the comments in life in general. If it’s negative, I don’t hear you.
Werrrrrrrrrrrrk! Michelle making her grand 'CBB' entrance, back in January
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve ever had to learn?
Well, my thing in life is that you have to pay your dues, no matter what that is. Whether you’re a CEO, whether you’re an entertainer, whether you’re a stripper… whatever your chosen vocation, you have to pay your dues, otherwise it’s not yours to keep. If something’s just dropped in your lap, that means you didn’t work for it, and you can guarantee, it might be there for a minute, but it’s not going to last.
When I was a kid I used to have a problem with stealing things from toy stores. I used to steal Barbie clothes and stuff like that, and when I was a little bit older, I realised that I would constantly lose the things that I’d stolen. And that kind of imitates life, if something’s handed to you or you steal it, it goes away. And that’s so true. Everything that’s just been given to me, has gone away, and that’s a lesson that I’ve had to learn the hard way.
Some of these kids today think that they don’t have to work for shit, but it takes a while - you can be fierce and fabulous, but when you work hard for something that you really, really want, it makes it that much sweeter when you get it.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Oh my God, 13 is the hardest year for a girl. I don’t know if it’s the same for boys, but 13 is terrible for girls, because that’s the time when their bodies start changing, their hormones are going crazy, and for me, it was a pivotal year. I was chubby, I was starting to like boys, and none of them liked me, and they told me to my face! That’s when my eating disorder started.
I was so tough on myself at 13, with what I did to myself, with the eating disorders, the anorexia, and just striving to be skinny and wanting to be loved. And the truth of the matter is, I was loved by everybody around me, more than I could handle... except for myself. I was the one who didn’t love myself. And to this day, I still struggle with it, but I’m much more aware of when I’m being mean to myself, versus when I was 13.
So to my 13-year-old self, I would say: ‘You are so beautiful, and wait till you see what the world has to offer. You’re going to make people happy, you’re going to make people laugh… you just have to be kinder to yourself.’
What three things are still on your bucket list?
Broadway, or the West End. Broadway has been a dream of mine since I was eight years old, so that’s a dream that has to happen. Being in a sitcom on television would be lovely. And to meet Madonna.
What do you think happens when we die?
Well, I’d like to think that there is a space that we go to. I hate to think that when we’re dead, we’re just dead. I believe in some sort of afterlife, because I believe in spirits. I believe that souls are eternal, that they can’t just die. So I think that there is some great gay bar in heaven that I’m just going to go and hang out in, and do what I do best. Sing show-tunes and watch over the young gays that swing by.
I do believe in an afterlife, I’m just not sure what it is. I don’t think we’ll all be hanging out on clouds and playing harps, but I don’t believe that souls can die either.
When do you feel that we’re in the presence bigger than ourselves?
When I meditate, there are moments of that. Meditation is new for me, so I don’t feel I’m enlightened enough to have that last just yet, so when that feeling of inner peace comes, it’s very fleeting. The more I do it, the more I’ll get it. It’s a very light, euphoric feeling, and you know when you’ve hit it… I just wish it would last longer. Like an orgasm, I wish it would last longer!
Michelle at the season seven finale of 'RuPaul's Drag Race', earlier this year
What keeps you grounded?
I’ve always been a grounded person. I’ll never not be grounded - even when I have Kardashian money, even when I have my own show, even when I’m on Broadway, I’ll always be grounded, because I am a human. I’m no different from anybody else, so why wouldn’t I be grounded? The difference between me and somebody else is that my job is public, that’s all.
What do you try to bring to your relationships?
To me, authenticity is the most important thing to bring to a relationship. When we start out in a relationship, we start out false. And a lot of us do, whether we’re drunk, and that’s not the person we are, or we’re making believe we’re somebody else just to look good, all that stuff is fake. It’s a lie.
When I would meet a boy back in the day, and we’d eventually go home together because I was a really easy slag, for me, it was really important to take my make-up off. That was the first thing I’d do when I’d walk into my apartment, so he could see me without make-up. And if he stuck around, then we could go to the next stage.
What was the last good deed or act of kindness you received?
People showing up to my book signings! I was in New York, where there a lot of celebrity appearances going on everywhere, and the fact that people showed up and took time out of their day just for me, I felt really lucky and really special.
Michelle Visage’s new book, ‘The Diva Rules’, is released on the UK on 10 November, published by Chronicle Books.