City Of Queens – the BBC’s latest drag queen doc

We meet the man taking London drag queens to the BBC. 

A documentary about drag queens – ‘groundbreaking’ was our first thought, being the cynical old queens that we are. However this new documentary is much more than your average BBC3 short.

City of Queens embraces the glamour of the stage and spotlight but also delves into the darker side of drag. This week, Jason Reid spoke to the creator, queer filmmaker Matt Timmiss, to find out more…

Why did you decide to do a documentary about drag queens? 

I started this project in 2017, when I saw a video of Chai Latte (Elric) being beaten up on a London bus. Not because he had done anything wrong, but simply because he had been in drag. The next day he posted on Facebook saying how the experience wasn’t going to knock him down, but make him stronger – more glittery, more resolute to do what he wanted to do. I was amazed by that bravery, that determination, and I wanted to find out why drag queens are often so resilient, strong and determined, and what their lives are like underneath the characters they present to the world.


What’s your background? 

I’ve worked in film as a freelancer for a few years now and have learnt so much on the job. I also work freelance with ad agencies helping them pitch to new clients. I’m a pretty determined person, so although when I started this project I didn’t expect to be making a feature length film, once it seemed like that’s what the stories needed, I threw myself in. 

Tell us who’s featured and something about them. 

Chai Latte filmed herself as she was viciously attacked on the bus for dressing in drag (for the fifth time in four months); we interview him and his mum – who had never seen him in drag before. Johnny Bones uses his villain and monster drag looks as a way of confronting a dark adolescence. Carmen is a transgender woman who performs as a drag queen on weekends – something rarely heard of in the trans world. Barbs is an exceptional classically trained musician who brands herself on being a ‘shit drag queen’, wearing kitten heels, sports socks, a moustache and very often a wedding dress. Bimini survived drug abuse and mental health, and now channels her energy into pole dancing, yoga and drag.The Night Bus is a live artist and theatre maker, who uses drag as a medium to tell stories of oppression and intersectionality. Jacqui Swallows is a traditional Soho queen following in the footsteps of drag stars like Lily Savage and Panti Bliss. Camille Leon is a tarot card reading queen who camouflages through personalities and identities to better understand herself. 

Were you looking for anything in particular when casting the queens? 

I was looking for good stories. I did a bit of networking on the drag scene to find queens who had a unique story to tell or a fresh way of telling it. I was really lucky to find the queens we have in the documentary; they were really honest and that let us see them in a way drag perhaps hasn’t been shown before.

What’s the primary message you want to get across to viewers? 

After seeing the attacks on Elric, I wanted people to see drag queens the way their friends and family do. When someone attacks another human being, they tend to strip away the humanity and just see a target, and that’s not what they are. They have lives and fears and struggles and failures and hopes and families like everyone else. Although they’re often shown in a superficial way, there’s a lot more under the surface.

There’s a fundraiser at the White Swan coming up. What can people expect and what will the money go towards? 

The show is a chance for us to let our hair down and celebrate now that the film is finally almost finished. We’re going to have performances from queens in the documentary as well as exclusive clips from the film. We’re doing it in collaboration with Cancer is a Drag, who provide financial and wellbeing support to people living with cancer.

Have you ever tried drag?

I have! I was lucky enough to be made up recently by Johnny Bones (four hours in the chair). It was fantastic; like being famous for a night – everyone wanted to chat and people react completely differently around you. Also being two foot taller was so much fun.

City of Queens: Live Event is on Friday 5th April at the White Swan, 556 Commercial Road, London E14 7JD.