‘It’s Mind-Blowing’: The Vivienne On Taking Her Drag From The Club To Primetime TV
The Vivienne has taken her drag from the club to primetime TV thanks to her appearance on Dancing On Ice
Indisputably one of the most recognisable drag queens in the country, The Vivienne shot to fame in 2019 when she won the inaugural series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, and last year held her own against some of the US franchise’s most popular champions for an All Stars series that had fans on both sides of the Atlantic gripped.
More recently, though, she’s ventured into a territory where no queen before her has dared to go, and taken on a very different challenge.
For the past six weeks, you may have seen Viv putting her skating skills to the test on ITV’s Dancing On Ice, where she is the long-running reality show’s first ever drag queen contestant.
So far, she’s proved popular with both viewers and the judging panel, managing to avoid the dreaded skate-off and even topping the leaderboard with a routine inspired by one of her favourite films, Mary Poppins.
But even for a seasoned queen like The Vivienne, whose hectic schedule means she’s used to juggling international travel, live performances and regular TV work, she was in no way prepared for the “intensity” of the Dancing On Ice experience – or how much training would take over her life.
“I put so much work into this you have no idea, I’ve devoted my life to it,” The Vivienne tells HuffPost UK during her one day off from skating (“we have Tuesdays off, which is a killer because live shows are on Sunday and we have a little drink afterwards, and then we have to work Mondays – so, you’ve got to pace yourself”).
The Vivienne on the ice with her skating partner Colin Grafton
“I think some people are under the illusion that week one is our first time on the ice,” she continues. “But it’s a long process with a lot of training. There’s a lot that goes into it that you don’t see on the TV.”
She’s not kidding, either. The Vivienne started her Dancing On Ice training in November – “five days a week, two hours a day” – and has found it “just gets harder each week” as the routines “get longer” and the contestants are thrown new challenges to contend with.
The Vivienne has also discovered that adding drag into the equation has proven to be a whole other obstacle.
“Training in a pair of trackies and a hoodie, you’ve got full movement of your body. But then you put on five pairs of tights, a pair of hips, a waist cincher, a wig, everything else that goes with it, and it does restrict you,” she says.
“That was one of our biggest worries. Until we had the first full costume run, which was a day before the first live show, we had no idea what was going to happen.”
Not helping matters was the fact The Vivienne’s debut skate saw her channeling her personal idol, Cher, complete with “probably the biggest wig” she’d ever worn.
She admits: “At the dress run, I was bricking it. The wig was all in my face, it was sticking on my lips, it was going in my eyes, it was horrendous.”
She certainly knows how to make an entrance – The Vivienne channelled Cher for her first ever Dancing On Ice routine
In the end, the Cher wig was altered to make it more “solid” and ice-friendly, and The Vivienne has gone on to make countless other adjustments to her drag over the course of her time on Dancing On Ice.
“I’ve had to be very clever with my wigs and make sure they’re all quite small or back and off my face,” she explains.
“When you go on the ice, you’re not allowed hair clips, because if anything comes off you on the ice, it becomes a trip hazard. Something really small on the ice can get under your blade and take you out completely. So, I’m having to speak to my wig stylists and have things kind of glued.
“I’ve also had to go a bit smaller with my lashes, because they turn into wind-sails if they’re too big, and then they’re stuck to your face. And I haven’t been able to corset – performing in a steel-boned old Victorian-style corset is not conducive to figure-skating. I do wear an elastic cincher, but it doesn’t do that much, it just keeps my lumps and bumps in.”
“Usually in drag, I’ve got everything done properly, so having to sacrifice that was a big thing for me,” she laments. “But hey-ho.”
There was one other unpleasant surprise the first time The Vivienne hit the Dancing On Ice rink back in January.
“Everyone thinks you’re freezing cold on an ice rink, but the studio is really warm. So when you’ve got three inches of foam on your legs – I’m probably skating in about seven layers of fabric – I am sweating at the end of it,” she says, joking: “That’s why I can never speak when I get to the judges’ comments. I’m stood there puffing like a bulldog!”
The Vivienne and her partner Colin Grafton have avoided the skate-off every week so far
With over a decade of drag experience under her belt, The Vivienne admitted she had some reservations about having her performances and outfits dictated by a team of outsiders when she first signed up for Dancing On Ice.
She recalls: “When I went down and met everyone properly, [I told them] my biggest thing was that drag is so personal to me. And since day one, I’ve worn what I wanted to wear, to my specifications. The last thing I wanted was for me to be ‘dressed’.
“Me and the costume department work very closely together. They’re such a great bunch, it’s a big collaborative effort. But then I use my own wig stylists because I trust them, and they know exactly what I need. And then I do my own makeup. So I’m always the first on set and the last to leave.”
“It’s funny,” she adds. “We get the song, and Colin [Grafton, her skating partner] is thinking ‘what lifts can we do? What new moves can we do?’. And I’m like, ‘look at this wig!’.”
It seems no one is more shocked at The Vivienne’s success on Dancing On Ice than the star herself, who freely admits choreography hasn’t always been her forte.
“I’m surprised how well I picked it up, because I’m not a strong dancer,” she says. “I can dance if I’m left to my own devices, but when it’s choreography, my head just falls off. As we saw on the girl group challenge on Drag Race – it kind of goes a bit tits-up.”
The Vivienne is a Cher superfan – and even has a tattoo of the music icon on her arm
The Vivienne was actually first approached to appear on last year’s series of Dancing On Ice, and even made it as far as going along to an audition, only to find out later down the line that she’d not been cast.
“I was gutted,” she reveals. “I had been so excited to do it, and just felt honoured they’d even asked me to go down and be considered.
“And then, when you don’t get it, you’re asking a million questions, ‘why didn’t they choose me?’, ‘am I even still going to be relevant next year?’, ‘are they even going to want me?’.”
As it turned out, she needn’t have worried about whether she’d be “relevant”. Between the 2022 and 2023 seasons of Dancing On Ice, The Vivienne returned to the Drag Race franchise, this time on an All Stars series that pitted her against seven of her fellow winners, vying for the title of Queen of All Queens.
The series introduced her to an audience overseas who may not have seen her first time in the werkroom, and because the line-up was made up of former winners, there were no weekly eliminations, allowing viewers to see The Vivienne’s full range of skills.
“I never thought I’d have the chance to do an All Stars, so when I got the call, it was an immediate ‘yes’,” The Vivienne says.
“Then when I found out it was going to be the American version of the show, and it was going to be in LA, and on American TV, I was just like, ‘wow, what an amazing opportunity for me to be on American TV and tour America’. It was just fantastic, I loved it.”
The Vivienne in her All Stars publicity photo
“I could have done without those bloody stars, though,” she notes, referring to a twist in All Stars 7 that saw the queens receive “Legendary Legend stars” for each of their challenge wins.
By the time the final challenge came around, The Vivienne had three wins to her name, but because she’d been “blocked” by eventual winner Jinkx Monsoon during one week, had only two stars.
“I was top four on paper,” she insists.
All these months later, how does she feel now about her All Stars experience?
“Robbed!” she says with a laugh. “No – it was great, it was an amazing experience. It was fab.”
Among her personal highlights were evoking RuPaul’s signature cackle during an acting challenge, and winning that same task “in the same room as Jinkx Monsoon”, another former champion renowned for her character work and comedic timing, who would go on to win the season.
Throughout the series, the two queens had a playful rivalry – “block Jinkx more!” Viv jokes when asked if there’s anything she’d do anything on All Stars differently – although The Vivienne is insistent there was nothing serious behind this.
In fact, she found it “flattering” to be on Jinkx’s radar at all.
The Vivienne with RuPaul, Trinity The Tuck and Jinkx Monsoon at RuPaul's DragCon in 2022
“From day one, me and Jinkx knew that we’d be [our biggest competition], because we’re both into the same stuff,” she claims. “We’re both quite old souls, we like old references, old Hollywood and all of that.
“It got to the point where you realise, you’re making a TV show… it got to episode three and I thought, ‘right I’m going to shake things up – you’re blocked!’.”
All Stars 7 began airing in May 2022, and within a few weeks of this, The Vivienne received the call to say ITV wanted her for the next series of Dancing On Ice.
“I was on tour in America when [The Vivienne’s publicist] phoned and was like, ‘you’ve got Dancing On Ice’,” she recalls. “And I was like, ‘oh… OK, cool!’. And then I shit myself – I just envisaged a million injuries and blades going through my head, broken bones.
“But then, I went down for my meeting in London, and I just thought, ‘it’s going to be the most amazing experience and I’m probably never going to get the chance to do again’. It was an easy decision, I had to do it.”
Thanks to the prevalence of Drag Race, The Vivienne’s stint on Dancing On Ice comes at a time when drag has never been more mainstream. Scarily, though, it’s also set against a backdrop in which anti-LGBTQ+ – and specific anti-drag – rhetoric is creeping back into the conversation.
Among The Vivienne's TV appearances since winning Drag Race UK was a cameo in This Is Going To Hurt
This past year has seen a rise in drag events being targeted by protesters and picketed, with anti-drag legislation even being introduced in certain US states. This is a shift that The Vivienne says she’s felt first-hand.
“I was supposed to be on tour in America at Christmas, but I had to pull out because of Dancing On Ice. And a lot of my fellow cast members who were there on the tour said it was just horrendous,” she reveals.
“They were getting protests at every show, the FBI had to come and look at one show because there were people with guns outside, there were drones circling round making sure the show was safe.”
“It comes from nowhere,” she continues. “There’s this whole rhetoric now about drag queens grooming children, and [it all comes from] these crazy politicians with no one else to point the finger at but – yet again – the LGBTQ+ community. It’s just madness.
“People have taken their children to see drag queens for years – whether they know it or not. At panto, or you’ve been sat watching Mrs Doubtfire, and it’s all OK then. Or Mrs Brown’s Boys, you love that! Well, that’s drag!
“Is it the fact that drag queens are predominantly LGBTQ+ people, so that kind of drag is less palatable than your Mrs Brown’s Boys? That’s the only reason behind it. It’s ridiculous.”
Because of this, The Vivienne admits she wasn’t sure exactly how her appearance on Dancing On Ice would go down with viewers.
“Are we going to get a million Ofcom complaints?” she remembers thinking. “Were we going to get voted out week one because people didn’t want to see it? Were the homophobes going to go wild?”
Viv admits she had reservations about how she'd be received by Dancing On Ice viewers
Fortunately, The Vivienne says “98 percent” of the comments she receives on social media about Dancing On Ice have been positive – and that other two percent don’t seem to be getting her down too much, either.
“It’s hard to be the first one to do something, especially in this country,” she explains. “On Twitter you always see people saying, ‘oh I’m not watching this show anymore, it’s too woke’. What, because they’ve cast a same-sex couple, it’s ‘too woke’? No, actually. What is it that you’re actually saying? You’re basically showing your homophobia – you don’t want to see two men together, you don’t want to see a drag queen on TV. It’s just mind-blowing isn’t it?”
She also brings up one particular argument she’s seen, questioning why she’s felt the need to perform her routines in drag.
“Why wouldn’t I want to skate in drag?” she responds. “I get to create these amazing characters every Sunday. And everyone is skating in drag on Dancing On Ice. I’m not the only drag queen there this season. My god!
“That’s the great thing about Dancing On Ice – it is like a big drag show, with the sequins and rhinestones and huge hair and lashes. It’s amazing.”
The Vivienne’s way of responding to this backlash is to rise above it and focus on the positive, saying she hopes her appearance on Dancing On Ice will help young queer viewers feel seen.
“When I was 14 and coming to terms with my sexuality, it [was] a very scary place to be,” she recalls. “But look at the things we have now! Hearstopper, It’s A Sin… we’ve constantly got amazing people on TV that are queer and living successful lives.
“I’ve been speaking to so many parents throughout Dancing On Ice who’ve been messaging me and sending me videos of their little boy dancing around the living room to me and Colin doing Jolene. And then you realise, ‘oh wow’. And it’s not only helping the children, it’s helping the parents, to see a 30-year-old being who they want to be on TV, living a happy and successful life.”
To be a drag queen who’s risen to the point where she’s in the same competition as chart-topping pop singers, immediately-recognisable TV stars and Olympians is something that’s not lost on The Vivienne.
“When I started doing drag I did it to do it in night clubs and have fun and have a free night out, basically,” she recalls. “And then I fell in love with the artform. To think that I’m doing it on primetime TV is quite mind-blowing.”
The Vivienne says she wants to introduce drag to a whole new audience on Dancing On ice
She also went into the show with a strategy to try and introduce drag to an audience of people who may not be familiar with the artform.
“I didn’t want every week to be a big huge ‘drag’ showcase,” she insists. “I didn’t want to go down the route of doing every week would be Kinky Boots or Priscilla Queen Of The Desert. We just wanted to attack every week’s challenge as any other contestant would, and just happen to be in drag.”
With just two weeks left in the competition, The Vivienne is now looking ahead to the final, and hopes she can make it down to the last four contestants.
“To be there in the final would mean everything,” she explains. “For representation, and also because it would mean nearly six months of hard work has paid off. It would be phenomenal.”
“And to win would be even better,” she adds, ever the Drag Race champion.
Dancing On Ice airs on Sunday nights at 6.30pm on ITV1.