The drag legend knows her stuff!
Miguel Diaz, better known as drag diva Lady Imelda, was born and raised in a small province of the Philippines. Since moving to London in 1989, he has enjoyed great success on both the West End stage and in cabaret venues across the country. Jason Reid caught up with Miguel this week to talk starting out, musical theatre, audience etiquette, and, of course, her highness, Lady Imelda…
Hey Miguel, it’s been an absolute age since we last spoke, what have you been up to?
I now run my own guesthouse in Bristol…which accommodates a lot of workmen [laughs]. And I’m still performing of course. At the moment I’m rehearsing some new numbers. My audiences love it when I do the old stuff, but I’m putting my foot down now and trying something different.
When did you first start performing?
1987. My first love was acting, but I was forced into dance because I was fucking poor and couldn’t get a scholarship. Then in 1989, I auditioned for the West End production of Miss Saigon. I was still living in the Philippines at the time, so when I got the gig I had to relocate to London. Everything happened so fast and it was a life changing experience. I come from a province in the Philippines where electricity is rationed; I first watched a TV programme at the age of 23, and there I was on the West End stage in London. Something I had never even dreamed of.
What’s your fondest memory of growing up the Philippines?
Being young and carefree and growing up by the sea in my hometown of Tacloban. It was the best. Our parents allowed us to go out without any fear. No TV, no computer, no internet, just the present moment and fresh sea air.
How did you go from musical theatre to drag?
One night, after a show, a few of us from the cast performed at a benefit cabaret gig for an HIV/AIDS charity and afterwards my friends said I should try drag – that’s how Lady Imelda was born. When my stint in Miss Saigon came to an end I was desperate for work – and in those days we had to ring around or go from venue to venue in person. I remember ringing The Black Horse in Whitechapel several times a week posing as different customers, with various voices, asking when Lady Imelda was due to perform. This gave them the impression that people wanted to see her. Don’t judge me, I was DESPERATE! The following week the venue rang and offered me a residency. I told this story during my shows there too. It wasn’t until I played The Stag in Victoria that my career really took off and I became confident; again a charity night which was hosted by Rose Garden. For the first time the whole room became still and silent when I performed. Rose Garden helped me a lot. She’s been instrumental in my success.
You gotta do what you gotta do! How would you describe Lady Imelda in three words?
Outrageous, crazy, brave.
What do you think about most when you’re performing?
What I’m going to do next. Because it’s 45 minutes/ 1 hour of improvisation. I always think ahead and pay attention to my audience, it’s all about them.
What’s been your standout favourite song to perform over the years?
Somewhere from West Side Story. It has a simple melody, it’s meaningful and is easy to understand, even for idiots.
What’s been your favourite year so far?
Any year before the internet, because now there are so many drag queens, quite literally everywhere you look. It’s easier to become one now and then just promote yourself online. Sadly it’s often all about the look with no talent, act or production to support it. Your act should come first. Content is key. I must add that the great thing about modern drag is the diversity, that’s wonderful.
Any venue/s you’d still like perform at?
I’ve never performed at the RVT and I’d really like to.
They have a certain type of cabaret audience. People go there because they want to see a show. At the RVT I imagine you can afford to be an artist before being a performer.
Who would you invite to a dream drag dinner party?
Maisie Trollette, Rose Garden, Lola Lasagne, Drag With No Name and Dave Lynn. Because we are all bitches!
Miguel, is there anything else you’d like to say?
Yes there is: BOOK ME, BITCHES!
Lady Imelda will be performing at the Admiral Duncan this Saturday, 24 Feb, from 9pm.