Bimini Bon Boulash on Drag Race UK, mental health and the vulnerability of the trans community

·10-min read
 (Jenny Brough)
(Jenny Brough)

Most people look disappointing in real life compared with on screen, but Bimini Bon Boulash remains undimmed.

Her hair a cloud of blonde, her eyes peculiarly arresting in preternaturally pale blue lenses, she is striking a regal pose in a Lanvin dress when I arrive on set. I’d hoped she’d be doing the splits — her trademark move on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK — but it’s not that kind of shoot. This queen may have won the Snatch Game with her stellar impersonation of Katie Price, but today, she is a supermodel. A vegan supermodel, with a quick wit and a filthy laugh.

For those who didn’t watch the second season of Drag Race UK, here’s a quick cheat sheet about Bimini. Born in Norfolk, brought up in Great Yarmouth, based in east London, the 28-year-old non-binary Taurus, who goes by ‘they’ when not in drag, is a proud, plant-based princess whose first words on the show were: ‘I’m vegan.’ They’ve been vegan for seven years. ‘I invented it!’ they laugh, once they’ve changed into a black Juicy Couture tracksuit and we’ve settled down to talk. ‘You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Vegans get stick for taking themselves too seriously. I wanted to go in there and take the piss.’

Many viewers believed Bimini was Bon Burgled by being the show’s runner-up, the crown having being won by Glaswegian contestant, Lawrence Chaney. ‘You don’t have to have a crown to feel like a winner,’ Bimini says, firmly. ‘I’m just so happy that people even wanted me to win. Lawrence really deserved it.’

ROBERT WUN corset top, £3,600; cycling trousers, £400 (sales@robertwun.com). MALONE SOULIERS heels, £525 (malonesouliers.com). Cirrostratus mural from the Trunk Archive collection at Surface View, from £40 (011 8922 1327; surfaceview.co.uk) (Jenny Brough)
ROBERT WUN corset top, £3,600; cycling trousers, £400 (sales@robertwun.com). MALONE SOULIERS heels, £525 (malonesouliers.com). Cirrostratus mural from the Trunk Archive collection at Surface View, from £40 (011 8922 1327; surfaceview.co.uk) (Jenny Brough)

Lawrence was hilarious, but there was a pithiness to Bimini’s humour that was equally endearing. It’s this smutty, Carry On-style comedy that sets Drag Race UK apart from its more famous and established US counterpart. The British queens might not always look flawless, but they are always funny and real. Go to any drag night in London and you’ll soon realise that the warm and witty repartee is as compelling as the act itself. ‘We laugh at ourselves,’ agrees Bimini, whose humour owes a lot to French and Saunders (they grew up loving Ab Fab). ‘Americans do as well, but there’s a difference. We’re not as cut-throat bitchy. We’re more kind of shady, but we’ve always got each other’s backs.’ They are still in touch with all 11 contestants, although the London queens — A’Whora, Asttina, Tia and Tayce — are particularly close friends, being part of the same London scene.

Alas, it’s a scene that has been decimated by the coronavirus outbreak, along with nightclubs, theatres and live music. Really, a drag show is a mix of all three: more pertinently, drag venues are one of the few safe spaces in London for LGBTQ+ people, making their survival all the more important. ‘The closure of queer venues over the last 10 years has been quite drastic in London,’ says Bimini. ‘I hope that after the pandemic, places like The Glory and Dalston Superstore can reopen. We need to protect these spaces. They’re sacred, because we’ve lost so many.’

If London’s drag heartlands pre-Covid were Dalston, Soho and Vauxhall, Bimini says the scene is more fractured now. ‘There’s stuff popping up everywhere: cool little shows in places like Walthamstow and other unlikely areas. It moves around. There’s a lot of pop-up drag stuff happening. Pop-up events in straight venues are fine, but after they finish, the spaces aren’t always safe for queer people.’

I tell them I remember being a teenager newly moved to London in the early Nineties and finding refuge in the ladies loos among the drag queens, whose compliments and camaraderie were the opposite of the harassment I was receiving on the dance floor. ‘The sad thing is when I speak to a lot of my female friends, they’ll say they come to a gay bar purely to get away from men harassing them,’ says Bimini. ‘That’s such a shame that they feel they can’t go to a straight venue without being hassled.’

NOIR KEI NINOMIYA jacket, £980; mesh dress worn underneath, £1,560, at Dover Street Market London (020 7518 0680) (Jenny Brough)
NOIR KEI NINOMIYA jacket, £980; mesh dress worn underneath, £1,560, at Dover Street Market London (020 7518 0680) (Jenny Brough)

Many cities have thriving drag scenes, but London’s is particularly vibrant and diverse. Bimini agrees, and says drag culture has always been intrinsic to the London party scene. ‘The footprint, or rather pink print, of queens like Jodie Harsh and Sink The Pink is so important. The London drag scene is ever evolving. It’s for everyone. If someone is a drag artist, [their act is] always about their own experience. It all depends on what you’re putting out there. There’s always going to be a place for a filthy bloke in a pub on the mic having a joke. But there’s also a place for drag in society to open people’s minds and teach people that it’s okay to feel different, that it’s okay to feel like you don’t fit in. To me, drag is an art form, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s not just for a guy. Anyone could do drag. Some of the best drag queens I know are females. They’re some of the best drag kings, as well. There’s so much variety and diversity, especially in east London drag, and that’s what inspires me. You can do whatever you want and be what you want. That’s ultimately life’s lesson, though. Be whatever you want to be, as long as you’re kind.’

Bimini was undoubtedly the most fashion-savvy queen on Drag Race UK, taking inspiration from their childhood heroes Kate Moss and David Bowie as much as other drag icons. ‘I’ve always been interested in fashion, but I never thought I could be part of that world. That’s what drag has opened me up to,’ they say, smiling. ‘I just did a campaign for Margiela. That was a real “pinch me” moment.’ Their favourite look from the ES shoot was a Vivienne Westwood dress. ‘We’re kindred spirits.’ Their veganism also extends to their drag: no leather, no feather. ‘It’s hard for my creative partner, Ella [Lynch]. Beauty-wise, I use KVD, Illamasqua and Urban Decay. They’re all cruelty-free.’

They reckon they were 19 when they first got into drag, ‘although that was more just me going out in an H&M dress in Soho, with a cheap wig and my natural brows’, they laugh. In 2012, they moved to London to study journalism at the London College of Communication and discovered the east London drag scene, although it wasn’t until 2017 that they started performing. ‘My mental health wasn’t the best, and I used drag as a way of feeling more confident. I would look at other drag queens and drag guys and wish I felt like them. But you’ve just got to go out there and do it. That’s what drag taught me: it gave me that confidence that I can then put into my everyday life.

ANDREAS KRONTHALER FOR VIVIENNE WESTWOOD dress £10,000 (020 7629 3757). VIVIENNE WESTWOOD pearl necklace, £340 (viviennewestwood.com). COMPLETEDWORKS earrings, £315 (completedworks.com). Cirrostratus mural from the Trunk Archive collection at Surface View, from £40 (011 8922 1327; surfaceview.co.uk) (Jenny Brough)
ANDREAS KRONTHALER FOR VIVIENNE WESTWOOD dress £10,000 (020 7629 3757). VIVIENNE WESTWOOD pearl necklace, £340 (viviennewestwood.com). COMPLETEDWORKS earrings, £315 (completedworks.com). Cirrostratus mural from the Trunk Archive collection at Surface View, from £40 (011 8922 1327; surfaceview.co.uk) (Jenny Brough)

They are candid about their once-precarious mental health. ‘My mental health issues stemmed from the trauma of not knowing who you are, mixed in with coming to a big city from a small town and getting caught up in the hedonism for the first couple of years. It was hard to get out of that, but I did, and I’m very lucky that I did.’ They are adamant that talking is key to recovery. ‘People are more open and accepting now: the conversation is definitely different. My granddad, and even my mum to some extent, would not want to talk about how they felt because it was always seen as a weakness. Now it’s a strength.’

Their parents, who split up when they were a child (mum, Heather, owns a hairdresser’s and a clothing shop; dad, Mark, is a copywriter) are supportive of Bimini’s career, even though Bimini says they were confused to begin with, and it sounds like a pretty accepting family.

They knew they were non-binary from a young age. ‘I always knew that I was neither here nor there — like I was in between. That’s how I’ve always felt. The term “non-binary’ only came around [into currency] a couple of years ago. I realised it made sense. Before, the terms that everyone used were “genderqueer”, or “gender non-conforming”. A lot of problems are rooted in gender: sexism, discrimination. I feel we’ll all be able to move forward together if we don’t split people up and expect someone to be a certain way just because they’re female or male. Look at all the stereotypes and labels that we put on ourselves. Just let people be a human.”

LANVIN dress, POA (lanvin.com). ELISSA POPPY skirt worn underneath, £250 (elissapoppy.com). PARIS TEXAS heels, £440, at brownsfashion.com. COMPLETEDWORKS cuff, £350 (completed works.com). Elizabeth Taylor vintage 1994 necklace, £625, at susancaplan.co.uk (Jenny Brough)
LANVIN dress, POA (lanvin.com). ELISSA POPPY skirt worn underneath, £250 (elissapoppy.com). PARIS TEXAS heels, £440, at brownsfashion.com. COMPLETEDWORKS cuff, £350 (completed works.com). Elizabeth Taylor vintage 1994 necklace, £625, at susancaplan.co.uk (Jenny Brough)

I ask whether by dint of being non-binary they feel compelled to get political about topics such as gender language and trans rights. ‘As a drag artist, you don’t have to be political but I think what you do is political — in a sense, anyway. You’re going against what is expected of you and kind of mocking what’s going on. So I think always having your eye on what’s going on is important for someone in my position, especially now. The roll-back on trans rights is scary. There’s a lot of good happening among the trans community, rallying together in allyship. It’s about understanding, language, and rhetoric. I think we will get there. I have a lot of trans friends, and they go through so much. Their journey is so different: they get all of this hate and stigma attached to them and it’s really heartbreaking. We have to protect those because they’re vulnerable.’

As for what advice they’d give to their teenage self, Bimini says: ‘It’s okay that you don’t feel you fit in right now or you don’t know where you’re going. There are no right or wrong answers. I hope there are more people coming out now for the younger generation to look up to because when I was growing up, gay or queer people were all stereotypical. Now they’re a lot more diverse.’

With a book due out in October (A Drag Queen’s Guide To Life) and a new single later this month, Bimini is all set to be the role model they lacked in their own formative years. Their single, ‘God Save This Queen’, is 50 per cent Blur, 50 per cent Lily Allen and 100 per cent sass. ‘It’s the song I wish I could’ve heard when I was younger. I wanted it to sound like the music I listened to growing up, but also to take a swipe at the patriarchy, the people that made me feel shit. I just want people to feel they’ve been heard.’

I ask what their favourite line is. ‘Are you a boy, are you a girl, or what?’ they say smiling, spitting out the ‘what’. ‘The whole thing is gender free and just about being yourself. You’ve just got to find what works for you, and not give a f*** about what anyone thinks.’

Read More

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK: The most brilliant and bonkers moments from the series that saved lockdown

Drag Race’s Bimini says modelling contract ‘huge for non-binary representation’