entertainment

Freida Slaves: Black queens don't have the money for 'Drag Race UK'

The east London queen talks to Samuel Sims about drag stardom and why Drag Race UK's diversity issue is a structural one.

2020-05-04

Words: Samuel Sims

Bloody hell, I’m so lost. Walking from London Bridge to Troy Ezra’s (aka Freida Slaves) flat was probably not, in hindsight, the best idea. Despite it apparently being a ‘short walk’, I have been wandering around some estate for half an hour.

We speak on Facetime and with a hint of concern but mostly amusement, they inform me it is not in fact, the correct estate. Fuck my life. I’m so glad I didn’t pick up that toilet roll they asked for.

A short while later, I find myself in their plush little get-up, feet up on the sofa and glass of questionable wine in hand. As well as the subject of this slightly unorthodox interview, Troy is a friend and colleague so alcohol will be devoured, and banter will be thrown around.

Troy’s alter ego may be one of the UK’s most successful drag queens, having slaughtered their share of competitions and stages but their career as the leopard-print attired 6ft+ powerhouse is still relatively fresh.

Prior to Freida, they worked as a resident dancer for Arlene Phillips’s Britannia High (remember that?) and for the likes of Sister Sledge and Chic and Nile Rogers. I ask if any of these were career highlights.

“Oh yea, I grew up on Disco so to dance with the greats and for them [Chic and Nile Rogers] to actually sing ‘you’re the greatest dancer’ to me…”

Here I was, thinking dancing for Craig David was the pinnacle.

Like many of the queens that have come through in the last decade, Troy has long been a fan of Drag Race and, inspired by the revolutionary TV show, thought, why not? “It’s just singing, dancing and putting on a dress, and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to do it.”

 

Photography: Asher Fynn

What about other inspiration, I venture, whilst eyeing up an array of epic, colourful wigs ordered neatly in a corner of the room.

“I was working on the bars [at the National Theatre] with someone you might know, his name is Jay Grainger,” (my fiancé tbc) “we were both in a slump not knowing what to do, then I saw the competition at the Glory for Lipsync 1000 and I was like why not just try it?”

Winning their heat, it seems like Freida’s early years got off to a confident start, but Troy remembers otherwise. “It made me so nervous, like I lost myself. I was shaking and had to call my friend Ashraf [now Brit Crew on Drag Race UK] to come downstairs just to comfort me, because I couldn’t put my nails on.”

Any specific reason? “Georgy B was there, and I loved her. I couldn’t compete with the queen of East London! But I calmed down, did it and we both got through. Now Georgy B is one of my good friends. She’s so sweet, I don’t know why I was so scared of her!”

Anyone who has met Freida – or Troy for that matter, will be shocked to learn there’s a beating human heart underneath their ridiculously tight corsets, never mind anything resembling fear. Both in and out of wigs their, ‘you don’t wanna mess with me’ persona is notorious, with good-natured, witty put-downs coming thick and fast. Looking around their flat and taking in the various titbits, there’s a real sense of identity and absolutely no pretence.

Despite the odd meltdown, I wonder how confident my friend feels. Has doing drag given them a thicker skin? “No, that’s from my dance career. Being fifteen and around super bitchy gays and girls who are twenty/ twenty-one, you just become immune to it.”

But surely hiding behind the hair, makeup and PVC provides something extra…? “Drag has given me another level of confidence I didn’t have as Troy because I’m wearing a mask. So negative comments about Freida go completely over my head.”

I wonder how it affects other queens… How important is professionalism in order to stand out? “You can tell from our work ethics and professional outlooks how we treat people. I know that being on time is late and you must treat everyone with the same respect, whether it’s the cleaners or the person getting your sandwiches.”

Photography: Owen Tozer

I gather that some do not have that level of respect? “You can see some of the queens – I am who I am, bow down to me and it goes to their head. It takes a whole bloody village to make something great so respect everyone.” Hear, hear. I’m gagging to hear some goss but Troy won’t tell me who the badly behaved queens are. Ever the professional, ever the spoilsport. I drink some more wine to numb the pain.

It may not be immediately evident but there’s a softer side to Troy; one that they reserve for those they feel most comfortable with. Is it dangerous to rely on – even if it’s not consciously – your drag persona and risk losing yourself? “Weirdly, I’ve always been a shy person and felt like a burden or I don’t belong. But as a queen, everyone comes up to Freida and wants to know more.”

OK, so when it’s all stripped down, has it affected them as Troy? “Superficially it has. My mum is like (clicks fingers), “no, you need to pick up that old Troy again and start going to the shops. I’m always done up with a corset, high heels and I’m so uncomfortable that when I’m not in drag I want to be in a hoody, in joggers – like I am now.”

Troy looks pensive at this point and going into empathetic friend mode, I tell them that it’s important to have just as much confidence as themselves, as well as Freida. I think they agree.

It would be sacrilege not to ask about Drag Race and especially when Freida is still hotly tipped to join the UK version. Were they explicitly asked to take part in series one…? “Right, I was asked by the casting team and I thought fine, I’ll do it. Then World of Wonder said, ‘we want you’ the next day – it was very quick. I told you on the day, didn’t I?” I nod, on the edge of my seat.

“I shouldn’t really be saying this but someone on the casting team got drunk in a club, approached me and said you’d have definitely been on it if you’d applied, that Ru really liked you. But I didn’t do the initial filming, because there’s a lot to do.”

As viewers it’s nigh on impossible to understand what goes in to being a contestant on the mammoth show. Queens often get criticised for looking 'amateur' and not having their shit together, but how much money must it take to put it all together? Full of passion, Troy tells me why there aren’t more queens of colour on the show.

Photography: Corinne Cumming

“There are a lot of articles saying there needs to be more diversity on the show, that they should have put so and so on but none of us auditioned! So, the question is, why aren’t they auditioning, rather than why aren’t they on the show? We just don’t have the money or the time to make it in order to do it.”

I again look around the room and remember the times I’ve raided their closet and the lack of awareness at how much time and effort it takes to collect as much as Troy has. “I don’t have fifteen grand in my savings to hope for the best and win £100,000 on a TV show - which it turns out you don’t get anyway! When Crystal went on [Drag Race UK], she told me to just use my savings. What savings are you talking about?!”

Always about privilege, right? I grumble. From the safety of your sofa, TV shows like this make everything look so black and white – that the costumes aren’t perfect because of laziness and a lack of ambition. Troy is clearly frustrated by the situation.

I grab another wine from the fridge and can’t help but notice the numerous bottles of Method cleaning products that threaten to overtake the kitchen. Last year, Freida took part in a massive campaign for the brand and adorned a humongous billboard in Fulham, as well as appearing in Little Mix and Mel C music videos, with the latter, a dream come true.

“She was great – a normal human being which I found very hard to believe because The Spice Girls are like, everything to me.” She didn’t throw any phones then? “I was like, thank you for being so lovely but also stop talking to me because you’re on a pedestal… Even at the launch party she was like ‘hey babes, do you like the video? Oh my god I’ve got such stinky breath, do you have a mint? I was like nooo, Mel!”

Later that evening and along with my fiancé and a couple of mates, we head off to Bethnal Green for a good ol’ fashioned Cockney knees up.

See more from Freida Slaves in Attitude's Sex & Sexuality issue, out now.

In Troy attire, it seems everybody still knows and is in awe of them and it is not an understatement to say they are hounded by yet another drunk Drag Race casting director who begs them to apply for the next series.

I glance at Troy throughout the night, trying to work out what they’re thinking, but as usual, they don’t give much away. Then I remember part of an earlier conversation… Do they ever just stop and think, what the fuck is going on?

“Not until I just had the last three days off and it hit me – I cried a little bit. I’ve been doing it for two years and it’s gone from one major thing to another. I’d not reflected on what I’d done until the other day. I was like oh… I have done this.”

With some clever contacts, they are slowly building themself up to ‘that level’ and will no doubt grace Ru’s stage in the very near future. The question is, will this year be Freida’s?

Whether it is or not, it is evident that they’re only going to go from strength to strength and I, alongside many others, am very excited to see that happen.

Freida Slaves is this month's Big In a Wig. See more in Attitude's Sex & Sexuality issue, out now.

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