The larger than life drag powerhouse talks mental health and making wigs!
It’s Christmas on London’s South Bank. Fairylights twinkle in trees as tourists take inexplicable selfies outside Wahaca, and last minute Christmas shoppers bundle across the Thames with swinging Selfridges bags, trying desperately not to look like they’re in a Richard Curtis movie.
Freida Slaves storms into the National Theatre’s hushed, cosy coffee shop in a fur coat, munching a steaming pot of tomato and basil pasta. The fur coat is approximately the size of a double duvet.
“People stare but I don’t care,” she says, shrugging it off. “I’m warm!”
We’re here because Troy, Freida’s male incarnation, works at The National’s distinguished bar as a day job. Troy only started doing drag seven months ago, when he entered frenetic and notorious East London contest Lipsync1000 on a whim.
He made it through to the final, as the unignorable Freida Slaves, a seven foot powerhouse of snapping hips and huge hair. Freida’s been getting gigs ever since. She was recently a top billing in Jonny Woo’s critically-acclaimed Un-Royal Variety Show at Hackney Empire.
She chatted to Dylan Jones about her insanely meteoric drag career, and what she’s learned over the last few months.
SO FREIDA. Had you ever done drag before Lipsync1000?
Well, I’d been to Sink The Pink as a woman. But I hadn’t properly done drag. I wore my first heels at dance school, when I played a whore in Cabaret. But they took the role off me because I was ‘pulling focus’. That’s always been my issue with dance. I’ve always been told to ‘tone it down’.
I saw you at Un-Royal Variety Show…you do FILL the stage. I think that wig grows to fill whatever space it’s in.
It does get bigger and bigger. I’ve got a great black one I used for a Diana Ross look at Sink The Pink. And it was so easy to make.
Oh wow so you MAKE them?
Yeah I make my costumes and my wig.
How does one make a wig?
Crochet cap. Wig cap. And then crochet in lots of loose hair. It’s really easy!
I bet it’s quite therapeutic.
Absolutely! Because I love knitting. And it’s quite similar to knitting. But yeah, I make all my wigs and costumes. I can’t find anything that fits me. And I don’t know what my aesthetic is. Maybe like basic, wannabe Kardashian-esque. But nothing will ever fit me, so I just have to make them.
Did you have much prior knowledge of the East London gay scene before you did Lipsync1000?
Absolutely not! Last year, I was living in Brixton with my housemate, and we thought East London was pretty cool. We’d go to HCL [Hard Cock Life] sometimes. We liked the people. And we noticed they were turning out looks, which is really fun to see. Rather than going to Heaven, where it’s just lots of teenieboppers. So one day, we decided our dream, as two little young kids, was to take over East London.
And how have you been finding it?
It’s really refreshing to see lots of men, or male-identifying people, talking openly about their mental health. People are very open about how they feel in general. I’m not used to that. It gives you a sense of being welcomed, because they’re sharing a part of themselves with you. Back in my dancing years, it was quite superficial. If you asked someone how they were, they’d just reel off their CV. Whereas now, people will tell you if they’re struggling. It’s a different ballgame. I never talk about my feelings, not even to my friends. I’m very closed. I think it’s quite a middle class, English thing.
Yeah! And maybe a male thing too.
Absolutely. But now I’m managing to do it more. It’s helped me realise who I am a bit more. I stopped dancing and didn’t know why. I now know it was because of anxiety, which I realised recently that I struggle with.
Anxiety’s an epidemic at the moment. I think it might be social media that’s causing it.
Oh my god. Absolutely. I have to take breaks from social media. I use it a lot less now. Facebook used to make me feel like I wasn’t doing enough with my life, and Instagram made me feel body conscious, and Twitter is just people’s opinions that I haven’t asked for. It’s all a fantasy though. But then, who am I to say what’s a fantasy, because I live my life as a woman now.
SO. You’re on our cover this week. Do you think gay media still has an issue with representation?
I feel like I can’t really say anymore than what other people have already said. And I feel like I always need to watch my words. I found it hard to realise that I AM a representative of people of colour. Because in my head, I’m just Troy. Doing something I enjoy.
You’re a person.
Yup. I’m literally just a person, dancing on stage in a wig. And I didn’t realise all the consequences – that people who were watching me might be feeling a certain way, whether it be positive or negative. And that I am now a voice, a representative.
When I’ve seen you perform, it’s really apparent that you’re just being you. And I think that’s why people love it.
I’ve always said, no matter what you’re doing performance-wise, if you’re enjoying it, the audience will too. But going back to representation…it’s only been since moving to London, maybe three years ago, that race became an issue. I’m from Oxford, from a multi-heritage family – my mum’s half Dominican, half Irish. My nan’s white. My dad’s parents are Jamaican. So it’s really mixed. All my aunts and uncles are mixed race, and all their partners are white. So all my cousins are “white passing”. So sometimes I’d be the only black person at the dinner table. And no-one ever mentioned the colour of my skin, or the colour of theirs. School was very multicultural and I don’t remember anyone being bullied for their race. I never really had to deal with race, I never really had to think about it. So only in the last couple of years has my mind dealt with the idea of me, Troy, experiencing racism.
It must be nasty having to think about it more…but important too?
It is important. I was once asked “what are the struggles you face being a queer person of colour?” And I haven’t faced any struggles. Because since I became a queen, the topic has been on everyone’s lips. So if I did face any trouble, there’d be trouble for the people attacking me, because they’d be going against the grain. So I thank everyone who came before me, who’s made a stand and fought for our cause. But personally, I haven’t had any trouble or anything.
That’s great. Hopefully it shows things are starting to change. Because it must be easy to think “Is any of this actually making any difference?”
That’s what I always thought about myself. I never thought I’d make a difference. I’m literally the most basic of drag queens. I lipsync and I dance. And I’ve never been good at like networking or kissing arse. I save kissing arse for the bedroom.
So do you still feel a bit unsure about things?
Yeah! I feel like I’m a phoney, and the world’s gonna wake up and realise soon.
You deserve the recognition though!
It makes me feel really weird. I just need to get over myself. Just calm down Troy, it is what it is. And you’re doing fine.
Freida Slaves is performing at The Glory and Mariah & Friendz this New Year’s Eve. Follow her on Instagram @freidaslaves