I was at RuPaul's Southbank talk – and I was blown away by his vulnerability

RuPaul holding an Emmy award
(Kevin Winter)

I wasn't sure what to expect when I attended RuPaul's book talk at the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank. My initial thoughts on what it would be consisted of the legendary performer discussing their new memoir, House of Hidden Meaning, and sharing fun and personal anecdotes, but what we were instead greeted with was something entirely different.

Despite a jovial introduction from best friend Michelle Visage, pointing out of celebrity friends in the audience and hilarious interactions with the BSL interpreters, the audience spent the next hour hearing an incredible personal, emotional and touching monologue from a figure many might not be used to seeing so vulnerable.

RuPaul in drag
The drag queen has had a decades-long career (Steve Eichner)

As an avid watcher of RuPaul's Drag Race, I'm used to seeing the contestants on the show baring their soul about the hardships they have encountered through their life, and while RuPaul is also touched by these moments, he always appears stoic. Only one example in the franchise's 16-year history can I think of a time that I've seen his voice break, and yet here he was in front of us baring his own soul.

Although there was a lit of wit and humour in the stories he told, he wasn't afraid if shining the spotlight on his difficult upbringing, whether it be from the time that his mother threatened to set their father alight in the garage as the street watched on, the amount of times his father would leave Ru and his younger sister waiting on the porch or his decades-long battle with addiction, confessing he started using weed at the age of ten before becoming fully sober.

A black-and-white photo of RuPaul at Wigstock
The performer spoke movingly about their battles with addiction (Rita Barros)

The 63-year-old shared how his husband Georges "saved" his life and implored the audience to "find people who support you and remind you of who you are".

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As I said in the opening paragraph, I was expecting this talk to be a stuffy sit-down armchair conversation, and instead, it almost became a self-help guide from a guru who's lived through it all. The main piece that stuck with me, even one week later, was that RuPaul's phone background was not his husband or any moment from his glittering career, but instead a photo of himself as a child.

Georges Lebar standing with RuPaul
Rupaul married Georges in 2017 (Jeff Kravitz)

And there's a reason behind this, as RuPaul explained, your inner child is the main person that you should be looking after every day, and this is only a recent realisation for the 'Queen of Drag' who admitted to "years of abusing this child".

He explained: "This child is whose sweet little heart I'm looking after and I often return to the scene of the emotional crime. To bring yourself back to peace and to have a serious and faithful relationship with yourself, you need to look after this child."

Black-and-white photograph of a young RuPaul
Ru revealed his phone background featured himself as a young child (Instagram)

Ru's abuse towards this inner child came from his parents and while he harboured no ill will towards them, after witnessing them always at each other during his young life, this impacted how he also parented his own inner child often "pawning" the kid off on others to live his life in that way he thought he wanted to at the time.

But despite his difficult upbringing and battles with addiction, the star is now globally recognised whether it be through Drag Race, which helped the art form enter the mainstream, or the myriad of other TV and radio shows that he has hosted throughout the years, but this came through therapy, working on himself and finding the right ways to nurture that inner child.

RuPaul performing at Wigstock in a golden ensemble
The performer is widely recognised as the 'Queen of Drag' (Teresa Lee)

As someone who currently has their own battles with depression and anxiety, my own therapist has told me how my brain is hard-wired to take me down paths of negativity as it what's I'm used to, and as RuPaul shared his advice, I couldn't help but be struck by how eerily similar the words here.

Ru explained to us: "When you have processing tools, it's the best feeling. Are you willing to go for a life of joy over a life of pain? It's not an easy choice, it's taking yourself to an area that you're unused to. But if you look at that young picture of yourself on your phone you can get there."

RuPaul standing with the contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race season 15
The star has helped catapult drag into the mainstream (ROBYN BECK)

The drag queen added: "The proudest thing is allowing yourself to be loved by someone."

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When I set foot in that auditorium, I was expecting to spend an hour with a celebrity that I recognised and admired and not have my brain think about anything for that time. Instead what I found during this talk was interesting new perspectives to my own battles and a new side to a person who's been on my screens for years now.