A flamboyant performer who joined the police at 18 as he “wanted to be a superhero” but has since made a name as a drag version of his real-life hero Beyoncé, has been recognised himself as an icon for diversity in a new documentary.
Aaron Carty, 36, heads drag show The Beyoncé Experience – an act which promises to be the ‘next best thing’ to seeing the superstar in person – and also the name of the film being released on October 19 to mark Black History Month.
Discovering his inner drag queen by accident while on holiday with pals enjoying Pride – the famous international LGBTQ+ celebration – in Sitges, Spain, back in 2014, Aaron, of Shoreditch, east London, said: “It was crazy.”
He added: “We were offered VIP tickets for the week if I performed as Beyoncé, so I did it and I’ve never looked back.”
Aaron, who left the police force after four years in 2011, despite loving the job, as he did not feel ready to commit to a “lifestyle based on a pretty fixed salary working towards a pension at the end,” was running a media agency and animation company, which he still has, when he went to Sitges.
He recalls being “spotted” as he traipsed to the beach wearing “terrible” drag clothes for an event with his friends, saying: “We went to Primark, bought a plastic wig and wore the most awful clothes to do the drag night walk around a park.”
He added: “We looked atrocious, but as we were walking to the beach in our gear, people kept asking me, ‘Are you the Beyoncé act?’
“Then the organisers said that if I performed that Saturday, they’d give me, and my friends VIP passes for the entire week.
“So, I agreed, thinking, ‘I can have a couple of shots and dance on stage in drag for three minutes.’”
But, as he talked to his friends the next day on the beach, Aaron, whose partner Matthew Pieterse, 31, is an actor, says reality hit like a thunderbolt.
“I remember panicking and saying, ‘I’ve got no make-up, wigs, or anything. What am I going to do?’
“Luckily, this guy who just happened to be a make-up artist overheard our conversation and, working on Pride, he had his kit with him and offered to make me up.”
— BEYONCÉ EXPERIENCE (@BeyonceEXP) May 15, 2019
He added: “He even turned this terrible plastic wig into a gorgeous thing with a few back brushes.
“By the time he’d finished with me, I’d never looked better!
“I was even filmed performing to ‘Grown Woman’ for YouTube and had 60,000 views overnight – eventually ending up with over a million views.”
Aaron became a police officer at 18 years old (PA Real Life/Collect)He added: “Afterwards, it just went absolutely crazy. People were coming up to me saying things like, ‘I have a hotel in Miami, you must come and perform.’”
It was a life-changing night for Aaron, who had his second drag outing dancing to Crazy in Love by Jay-Z featuring Beyoncé, when he auditioned for ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent in 2015 – although he was eliminated after the next round.
Already gaining some infamy for being photographed with the late Big Brother star Jade Goody outside her local police station, after she reported a crime, he was ready for all the attention.
He said: “The headlines at the time were along the lines of ‘Police officer becomes Beyoncé drag queen on BGT.’
“But from there I fell into performing, started The Beyoncé Experience show and seven years later found myself travelling the world, performing with a dance troupe.”
Keen to become a positive role model in the black queer community he was part of, as a gay, black man, he also began volunteering in 2018 for the UK Black Pride movement, raising awareness of BAME issues.
But, despite his outrageous appearance and confident performances, Aaron said he was a late developer who felt years behind his straight peers growing up.
He said: “As a young man, I felt like, as a gay person, I was 10 years behind everybody else, because it takes so long to come to come to terms with yourself.
“At 17, there was no way I felt ready to go to university and to commit myself to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I simply didn’t feel prepared for that.”
He added: “Instead, I am completely obsessed with superheroes, so I joined the police, as it was the nearest I could get to being a real life superhero!
“I always worked on the blue light response, on emergency call and I think, being so young – I was the youngest police officer they’d had then – I really did fulfil that role of playing cops and robbers!
“Being asked to make a decision about the rest of my life felt terrifying at that age, so joining the police was a great way to work out who I was, while having a really satisfying job.”
But Aaron says he draws inspiration for his drag act from his mum, Carol Alexander, 55, who works in customer services.
He said: “The person with the biggest personality, who expresses themselves most with their clothing in my life is my mum, Carol.
“She was only 19 when she had me, so I remember growing up and seeing her trying clothes on for a night out and me taking photos of her on the stairs, or in the living room and going to get them developed. It was like a little fashion shoot.”
He added: “She’s definitely who my creative side comes from.
“Also, my nan, Margret Shepard, 72, was a seamstress and, growing up, I was always watching her.
“She helped me when I started doing drag before she passed away in 2018.”
He added: “We’d go to a charity shop, buy a sequined cocktail dress and she’d turn it into a bodysuit for me.
“Then, I slowly started learning myself how to make stuff.
“Being brought up by two very, very strong female role models definitely inspired my drag act.”
He added: “Now I do everything myself – from my make-up to my hair, to making my costumes and mixing the music.
“I produce the whole show and even do the marketing and promotion.
“It’s real escapism from my day job.”
— BEYONCÉ EXPERIENCE (@BeyonceEXP) August 11, 2021
Aaron has also been chuffed when his performances have inspired others to be more adventurous.
He said: “Me as Aaron and me as Beyoncé are two completely different entities.
“It’s really moved me when people have told me that seeing someone ordinary like me doing something completely different on stage has either encouraged them to come out, as I am black and gay, or has just inspired them to be themselves.”
He added: “One straight guy messaged me saying he’d bought a pair of leopard print shoes, but didn’t have the confidence to wear them out, as they were so different to his usual clothes.
“Then he saw me get on the underground in full drag and messaged me on Instagram, saying, ‘If you can get on the Tube, in full drag, I can wear my leopard print shoes.’
“I hear so many stories like that.”
Equally, Aaron did not set out to be “any kind of ambassador” for Black Pride, but “fell into it by accident.”
He said: “I didn’t set out to change anything or become an activist.
“I did a performance at UK Black Pride by accident, because I was performing for Pride in London in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.”
— BEYONCÉ EXPERIENCE (@BeyonceEXP) December 28, 2020
He added: “But I went to the wrong stage – so discovered UK Black Pride and thought, ‘This organization needs my help,’ so I started volunteering for them and worked on giving them a digital presence, working on websites, social media and marketing.”
In turn, volunteering for Black Pride led to his current documentary – following a quick interview with him last year for Pride in Protest, talking mainly about his act.
He said: “I hope my story shows people that life doesn’t have to be all about going to university after school and being made to decide so young who and what you want to be.”
He added: “There are other options and other paths out there and I really want to be part of changing the conventional narrative for life.
“So many people out there can’t be themselves, which is really sad.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, surely it’s that you don’t have to go into London every day and make loads of money in the City to be a success.”
He added: “I work every single day of the week because I love everything that I do.
“I’m not a perfectionist, I know I’m not the best at anything, but I’m doing things my way and I think that’s so much better than trying to live up to a stereotype, or a certain look, in order to be accepted.
“I’m just a little drag queen, but I feel like I can change some people’s perspective on life and what they can do.”
* Watch The Beyoncé Experience as part of Together TV’s celebration of Black History Month from 19th October at 7pm. Together TV is available on Freeview 82, Sky 170, Virgin 269 and Freesat 164.