This weekend, the quest to find TNA's next breakthrough British star begins on Challenge TV. As many will know TNA has a huge British following and in light of this, designed a reality show in which wrestlers compete for a contract with the company. Series one winner, Rockstar Spud is now a familiar face on television screens across the world and series two starts on Sunday. One of the hopefuls looking to make an impact is Ollie Burns, by day. By night, he is better known to many as Priscilla, Queen of the Ring.
Trained as a grappler from a young age and an identifying bisexual by his teens, Ollie was wrestling at only 17 but without any industry role models from the LGBT community. So it was that Priscilla was crowned and her path to stardom begun. The opportunity to impress the big leagues was one she might have missed out on if it weren't for a link through a friend to one of the Bootcamp crew members. "I had no real ideas that I'd be in Boot Camp until about two weeks beforehand" Ollie told us. With only a few pounds to his name, bags of enthusiasm but feeling "really nervous", Ollie made the long trip up to Glasgow for his audition, which wasn't what he was expecting. "I'm used to milling about and chatting with people off the cuff but this was so intense, it was all systems go".
It was only upon seeing TNA's front man Jeremy Borash that Ollie was struck by "how real this was" but the intensity did not wane in the locker-room. "There were a lot of us trying to get through and as the less successful contestants returned looking dejected, we realised all the more that we had to get it right first time". "The atmosphere could swing from jokes and smiles to complete silence. It would be a case of tapping your feet and looking at the wall if someone got a bad response" he explained. Eventually it was Ollie's turn to face the judges and whilst he was tight lipped about the outcome of his showdown, he was grateful for the opportunity to impress them. "These are people I've looked up to since I started wrestling and it was fantastic getting honest feedback from them. More than anything else it was exciting to have a taste of what the future could hold".
It will take something different to make it through the boot camp process and although she's no joke, Priscilla uses humour to good effect in her matches. "It's a hard balance to strike and it's a skill I'm working on" Ollie told us. "With my persona some people expect comedy from start to finish and of course I play up to expectations but I try to turn people around". And turn them around Priscilla does, with many audiences making a point of telling her how impressed they were by her in-ring ability. This is important to Ollie, as he put it "I represent a community and I have a responsibility not to make my persona a joke". Thankfully, the TNA team fully embraced Priscilla's character. "They appeared to be thankful to me for bringing this to them and I believe they were proud of me for doing it".
The road to TNA has not always been easy. A move north and the metamorphosis from Ollie to Priscilla meant having to start all over again with new audiences and different challenges. Asked about homophobic abuse or prejudice, Ollie was frank, "It's happened, don't get me wrong" he said. "There have been occasions, in a rugby club or a working men's club, when you're in the ring for 20 minutes and risking your body to entertain people but you get silence and go straight back to the locker room". However, Priscilla's reception has been warmer than others predicted. "People warned me that I would be attacked backstage and that fans would turn their backs on me and that I wouldn't get work but that appears to have been a huge exaggeration". Things have sometimes been so good for Ollie that even when in character as a heel (villain) he ends up being cheered "which is both frustrating and great!"
With a supportive fan base, Ollie will likely land on his feet whatever the result at boot camp. He hopes that the TNA limelight will help to raise further awareness of his talent, but Ollie sees himself as part of a wider community in this respect. "Boot Camp can help to make stars out of those people struggling to get name recognition" he said.
Reflecting on the burgeoning UK indie scene that so many struggle to break into, he explained that "When I started, I was in FWA and that was it. I was lucky to start there as it opened lots of doors but now there are some fantastic promotions in the UK, each major city has at least one or more and it's usually well worth the modest ticket price". For Ollie, he would like to see more people in the UK buying those tickets and embracing the "pantomime" of wrestling. "There's heroes, there's villains, there's action and you're encouraged to shout abuse or shower love without repercussions".
Speaking to Ollie, we could not but be struck by his genuine love for the wrestling profession and his determination which shone through. "If TNA don't offer me the contract I'll hope to take Priscilla to new audiences and will certainly get stuck in to whatever comes my way" he said, and we wholeheartedly believe him. Tearing down barriers and facing stereotypes head on, Ollie is not just battling in the ring but fighting people's preconceptions. Whether it's in a TNA ring or not, it looks like he'll overcome any and all challengers.
You can follow Priscilla, the Queen of the Ring on twitter @Priscillaqotr or like him on Facebook. TNA's British Bootcamp 2 begins on Challenge TV Sunday 19 October. TNA will be on tour in the UK in January and tickets are available here.