The Queens Of Drag SOS Discuss The Important Message We Can All Learn From The Show

We spoke to Cheddar Gorgeous and Anna Phylactic about their favourite memories of filming the Channel 4 drag series.

As the UK eagerly awaits the arrival of the British series of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Channel 4 helped bridge the gap by delivering a little dose of fabulous this summer, in the form of Drag SOS.

The show focussed on a group of unique and distinctive drag queens dubbed the Family Gorgeous, who travelled around the UK giving a bit of drag sparkle to those most in need.

However, in reality, Drag SOS was as much about the makeovers as Queer Eye is interior decorating and cooking.

Cheddar Gorgeous and Anna Phylactic
Cheddar Gorgeous and Anna Phylactic
Dave Bennett

Through welcoming drag magic into people’s lives, the Family Gorgeous also helped a lot of them through difficult circumstances, confidence struggles and other crises, with heartwarming (and, quite often, tear-jerking) results.

We were lucky enough to catch up with two of the show’s queens, Cheddar Gorgeous and Anna Phylactic, as they launch cleaning brand method and the LGBT Foundations’ Drag Clean campaign.

Here, they reveal how the show came together, their highlights of filming and what they’ve got planned if they get a second series...

The show wasn’t initially as easy a sell to TV networks as you might think

Channel 4

“Summer Films, the company who made the show, believed in us from the off,” Cheddar explained. “They contacted me probably about three years ago now, and they were like ‘we really love you, we really love what you do, and we really want to think about how we could do something and pitch it to a television channel’.”

She adds: “I think there was skepticism about whether drag could work for the mainstream, and it took the production company just saying ‘look, we’ve been knocked back again for another pitch… so we’re just going to come up and film a taster, so get your gang together’. The angle they wanted to go with was the fact we were a drag family, which they loved.

“They said, ‘we’re going to come up and shoot some stuff with you’. And obviously Summer Films went away, edited it and pitched it to Channel 4, and immediately they commissioned it for a six-part series.”

Similarly, finding people to give drag make-overs was more of a task than you’d expect, too

Channel 4

Cheddar revealed: “I don’t think it was easy to get people involved. Towards the end, we had to move [the Preston episode] because we had two people drop out.

“Because it was a new concept, we genuinely didn’t know whether it was going to work or whether anyone was going to go for it. Obviously, when you’re starting a new show, nobody knows who you are. But actually, there were enough people in each town that we had to whittle it down, and fortunately in Preston, we were able to get people very quickly again. But it was a challenge.”

And there were a few other close calls too

Channel 4

“As you saw on the show, we had two wobbles in Caerphilly,” Anna remembers. “Sian, after the rehearsal, sent a text to the team saying she didn’t want to do the show anymore, and also Georgia had a panic just before the show. And I think Lil was really panicking, because Georgia cried a lot, and all her make-up was coming off.

“Again, you don’t see an awful lot of both of those stories, because there’s only 47 minutes of the show, but those were the two big wobbles. I think we had a few other people being a bit panicky in all of the places.

“You’re putting yourself on display in a way your friends and family have never seen before. And some of these people have never been on the stage before and never even thought about getting into drag, so it can be a scary thing, but also a wonderful thing, and I think everyone has kind of taken something away from the experience.”

The reaction to the show has been far more positive than the queens prepared themselves for

Channel 4

“The reaction] has been universally positive,” Cheddar revealed. “Twitter has been nice. Who thought that was even possible?

“We thought there were going to be death threats! I thought we’d get some love and that’d be really nice, but I prepped the other girls, I was like, ‘I’ve done some high profile stuff and got death threats’, I told them to be ready for dealing with people being against you, and it’s actually just been really lovely!”

Cheddar added that this love extended to viewers from the LGBTQ community, which she noted “is often full of people who are quite happy to naysay, and pick fault, but they’ve been really, really into it as well”.

And that includes the reaction they received while they were filming in the town centres

Channel 4

“I think we all had a bit of a worry, because some of the places we weren’t that familiar with, we didn’t know what kind of reaction we were going to get,” Anna admitted. “But on the whole, everywhere we visited was really warm and welcoming.”

Cheddar agreed: “What an affirming thing around small towns in Britain, to be able to say wherever we went we were absolutely celebrated. People thought it was fun, people thought it was hilarious, people enjoyed the fact we were just walking down the high street, people loved the fact we were doing numbers and applauded us.

“For me, as a person who looks radically different and strange and theatrical and not even a very traditional kind of drag, it was so wonderful to be celebrated by small-town Britain.

Well, apart from that one woman…

Channel 4

“Men are men and women are women!” Cheddar imitates when we bring up one woman who is featured in the opening sequence of every episode of Drag SOS.

“I fucking love her! I wish they’d shown more of that conversation, that was the only antagonistic encounter we had in the entire filming of the show.

Anna recalled: “There was literally that one experience, and they don’t actually show the full exchange with that lady, because it did go on for a little while, but she was the only kind of incident, really. We got an occasional odd look, maybe, but she was the only one that actually went in and had a bit of a go at Cheddar.”

When asked what we didn’t get to see, Cheddar explained: “It was a great conversation we had, and that’s why I wish they’d shown more of it. Because we talked about patriotism, which is hilarious. She felt my blue eyeshadow, as a man, was unpatriotic.

“She felt that my costume was unpatriotic, and the irony was, in that episode, I’m wearing a variation of a Royal Air Force hat, that I made, and I’m wearing a weird Secret Service-esque Air Force uniform, referencing Orford Ness, an old secret military base which is just down the road.

“And so I was able to talk to her about that, and say I represented a part of RAF history and that’s what I was making fabulous, and she didn’t know what to do with that then, because she felt that there was something insulting towards a relative of hers that had died in the war. Interesting… but I remember my PHD supervisor once said to me, conflict is good, because only in conflict can you understand difference, and only in understanding difference can you ever move forward.”

Filming in general was pretty full-on

Channel 4

“We were in drag all of the time!” Anna says. “I don’t know if you’ve ever done drag, it’s a wonderful amazing thing, but it can become quite painful after 15 hours, trying to sew and do wigs. In drag, everything becomes a bit more difficult.

“But the wonderful thing about the show was the effect it had on people, and then the final performance, so that kind of made everything worth it.”

“It was really, really intense,” Cheddar agrees. “We sometimes spent 12 to 14 hours in drag. It was physically demanding, but also emotionally demanding.

Some of it I don’t think we were prepared for, but you kind of just go with it. It was really good, it was just a wonderful thing to be able to share people’s stories and work with them. Hopefully we did a good job!” Anna adds.

And that includes Anna’s emotional moment, which even caught her by surprise

Dave Bennett

“Oh no! Don’t!” she laughs when we bring up the moment in question, which came in the show’s first episode. “That wasn’t actually the first place that we went to, they kind of swapped things about when they put it out. They kind of put in a different order so I do want you to know that I’m not totally emotionally fragile. I didn’t just rock up to Dover and have a breakdown.

“Obviously you don’t get to see everything, but I was interviewing Sean, Owen’s dad, and then all of a sudden, the questions were flipped back on me, and I think it was because it was the third place we’d been to and we were all a bit tired and getting up at 5.30 in the morning. It was thrown on me, and I kind of had a bit of a wobble, and I did get emotional and asked for the camera crew to stop, and then they didn’t, and then I got even more emotional!

“And then they wanted to dig into that a bit later on, and it was all a bit weird for me. But actually on the whole it’s been a positive thing, and probably started a bit of a dialogue between my family and that’s a good thing.

“I’m personally not that au fait with being emotional and stuff, so it was kind of a bit alien and a bit weird for me to experience, but on the whole kind of a positive thing.”

“What a beautiful and magical and important moment that was, to see her connecting with a father figure,” Cheddar notes. “I’ve known Anna for many years, and that was unexpected even for me.”

There was actually quite a lot that didn’t make it into the final edit

Channel 4

Anna admits: “Watching it back it looks very slick and like we knew exactly what we were doing, but I think when we first started out, everyone on the team wasn’t really sure what the kind of format was going to be, so there’s a lot more that you don’t see on the show, because obviously it’s cut right down to 47 minutes.

“We were filming some weeks for about six days a week, filming everything, the making process, a lot of things that you don’t get to see on the show.”

And the queens are still in touch with all of the people they helped (apart from one, for obvious reasons)

Channel 4

Cheddar says: “We’re connected with all of them still through social media. We have a little group on Facebook where we have everyone except Steve, the farmer from Ipswich, because he’s not on Facebook.

“And people tell us that the show has had a profound effect on how they now live their lives. And the level of confidence that they feel. Even if they’ve never done it again, it’s like, ’actually, I know I can do that, I know I can be celebrated, I know I can go out and be whoever I want to be’.”

“It’s been wonderful to see how the show has affected those people, and changed their perceptions of themselves, of what they can do, and we’ve got people doing drag and doing their own events,” Anna continues.

“We’ve created competition, it’s the most awful idea in the world!” jokes Cheddar.

Cheddar’s proudest moment was Mark in Scarborough’s transformation

“He was a big guy, and it seemed as if nothing could faze him,” Cheddar remembers. “Because he was being thrown into a situation where he really didn’t have a clue, he was really unsure, he was being asked to have fun and just let go, which is something he didn’t let himself do in his life at all.

“So ironically, that challenge for him was so hard, even though the drag stuff wasn’t particularly difficult or taxing, and he wasn’t going into anything deep or emotional, just the idea of letting go and having fun was such a challenge for him. And we did it!

Meanwhile, Anna is most happy that the show brought drag to a wider audience, particularly given the current climate

Channel 4

“I’m seeing it more and more on my Facebook where people have been abused and things in this country, which is really scary,” she says. “And then you see in other countries what’s happening in places like Russia, videos getting shared where people are being attacked in the street.

“It’s really kind of scary, and it’s important to remember those things that we fought for and the rights we’ve got now, they’re very easily taken away from us. They’re not given things that are forever.

“And shows like Drag SOS and stuff, hopefully, can put out that we are human beings, we are the same as you, because at the moment there’s that scary thing where people are pointing fingers at different communities. It feels like it is going backwards. It’s kind of just giving a bit of love and less hate.”

She also notes: “I think I’m most proud of being able to make a change and help people. And being able to shift perceptions of what people think a drag queen is.”

Cheddar already knows what she wants to do if they get a second series

Channel 4

“A lot of the queer community are very right on. And we’re right on around issues of race, issues of gender, issues of representation, issues of class, issues of socioeconomics… and that is something to be incredibly proud of.

“And conflict on those grounds, being told that you’re not being representative enough, being told that you’re not working hard enough in a particular area, that is a gift. And you need to take critiques like that. So in many respects, I look at our show and go, we could be more representative around non-binary and transgender people. We could definitely be more representative in showing BAME communities.

“And do you know what? If we get a season two, that’s what we’ll be aiming for. This is where drag has such power… it’s wonderful for allowing people to connect.”

Dave Benett

Drag SOS is available to stream now on All 4.

Cheddar and Anna along with five of the UK’s hottest drag acts have partnered with eco-friendly cleaning brand method and the LGBT Foundation to launch Drag Cleans – a year-long partnership to fund the LGBT Foundation’s entire volunteer programme for the next 12 months.

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