entertainment

Jade Thirlwall on drag, being an LGBTQ ally and accidentally taking her mum to Porn Idol

"I don't think there is such thing as ‘the perfect ally’. I'm still very much learning."

2020-05-27

Words: Joseph Kocharian

Jade Thirlwall's LGBTQ ally status and love of drag culture need no explanation, but the Little Mix star is using lockdown to pursue her passion with new MTV series Served! With Jade Thirlwall.

The cooking-themed talk show sees Jade pit her (questionable) culinary skills against some of the world's biggest drag stars, including Alyssa Edwards, Courtney Act, and The Vivienne - and mum Norma is on hand to judge the results.

Naturally, we had to Zoom Jade from lockdown to find out more, and had a long old natter about her drag BFFs, her work to speak with, and not for, LGBTQ people, and how she accidentally introduced Norma to the full-frontal wonders of 'Porn Idol' at London's famous G-A-Y at Heaven...

Served! is almost here, but I wanted to start with a little cooking series you once did called Eat In with Little Mix: There was a lot of cheating from everyone involved. Who was the most competitive?

I would say probably Leigh-Anne, because she is a good cook. So it really meant a lot to her to win the show, and rightly so. She deserved the win, where as me and Jesy, in particular, weren't arsed about it. I feel like everyone keeps calling this MTV show a cooking show when it's quite well known that I'm not really the best cook, if truth be told! [laughs] I mean, I'm very good at baked goods. But presentation is an issue, obviously. You know what, I've found this really hard though: I’m no TV presenter, but I very much struggled trying to interview people at the same time as cooking. So there have been a few times where my meal’s gone a bit down the pan, but it’s the sacrifice I have had to make to strike up a good convo with the queens.

Your mum, the icon that is Norma, is the judge on Served!. How does it work?
The premise of this show is basically me interviewing and just having a laugh with some drag queen friends, dialling in a few friends along the way too. And then me mam, Norma, basically judges who cooks the best meal that week. Each episode is a different theme and what sort of food we have to make and then I just get a bit of merry and have a good ole time to be honest. I think me mam has been absolutely loving it as well. We're both massive fans of Drag Race and drag culture in general.

You've got some big-name queens on board. Who was like the most chaotic cooking?

Oh God, most chaotic? Well Alyssa [Edwards] is a firecracker, isn’t she? She’s a very big personality and I absolutely adore her, she’s so hilarious. I’ve actually discovered that during this process, that not many drag queens can actually cook... It’s been interesting to see how people got on. Alyssa definitely cheated - she had a friend with her! He was doing all the cooking while she was just yapping away. It has been a bit of a howl to be honest. And it's been nice like surprising them with special guests.

So how did you find those guests?

Well, every time we've had the queen on [we thought] ‘Who can we surprise them with that maybe they've been inspired by or that they are friends with?' So we’ve got Kim Woodburn on with The Vivienne, which was so funny.

Did The Vivienne do her Kim impression?

Yeah. Oh, yeah! Kim definitely read The Vivienne to filth, which is fantastic. And for Alyssa we had Alyssa Milano on the show - who I didn't actually realise, until speaking with Alyssa Edwards, is who she’s named after! She's never met her before either. So it was a nice surprise on the show.

I feel like you like the new Oprah, bringing people together with your interviews...

Honestly. Call me Maury!

 

I was actually going to ask you about your mum, as I’ve met her: We all went to do Drag Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s with you LA. Did you introduce her to drag culture and the LGBTQ+ community, or did she introduce you to it?

I think a bit of both, to be honest. Me mam's always been very open minded and with me. Doing a lot of performing arts growing up and stuff, I've always been surrounded by a lot of LGBTQ+ friends that have been in theatre school with me or at school. When we used to go on holiday Benidorm, one of the favourite things was when me mam used to the drag shows. Me mam's always been into the glitz and the glamour [of drag] and her idol and my idols are Dana Ross, and all the big divas. And I think for me growing up, whenever I saw drag shows as a little girl, I associated drag queens with the big divas. It’s something that we’ve always loved. As I've gotten older and I've moved to London, and I’ve gained more and more LGBTQ+ friends, I think it's been nice, because, we're from a very small like working class town up north, that probably still does have a little bit of a way to go in terms of acceptance, so I think that me mam loves it when she comes to London. I take her to Heaven to watch a bit of Porn Idol!

Oh my gosh! Did she love it? I don't know if I could take my mother to Porn Idol...

Ah, well, do you know what? The first time I took her I didn't realise what it was and when they started stripping off and getting the willies out, I was like ‘Eeh mam, I'm so sorry. I didn't realise that that this is what it was!' [laughs] She was like ‘Oh you’re joking? I’m loving it! It’s the best fun I’ve had in ages! ’

She must love being part of Served! then?

Oh yeah, I think as well, for me mam, bless her. She's been indoors by herself now for nearly three months, with her having Lupus, she’s having to self-isolate. So for me, doing this show was also like a nice way of including her in something and keeping her busy and yeah, given her a bit of a light-hearted entertainment as well.

You've been writing on social media for Mental Health Awareness Week about how you've been coping in lockdown. Is it hard to be so raw and honest with your fans?

Yeah, it was quite a big milestone for me to open up that much because I don't feel like I do it that often, especially when it comes to my mental health. I don't know why I kind of struggle to speak out about it: I've written about it before, about when I was younger, and about having anorexia, in our books and stuff. I think that a way for me to be able to talk about something or express how I'm feeling is by writing it. I'm really good friends with the guys who started the project that I wrote the poem for, 'World from my Window'. I was literally shaking before I posted my poem, because it is quite a personal thing, isn't it? Especially if you're not used to share and things like that.

Do you get a lot of messages from fans, LGBTQ+ or otherwise?

Yeah, part of the reason why I feel like I’ve become more of an ally is because of the fans. I constantly get DMs and messages, particularly from LGBTQ+ fans who might be struggling at home and things like that. Over the years, I've really tried to find ways of, like I've said before, walking the walk instead of just talking the talk, and really trying to show them that I’m doing all that I can to help. It was nice to sort of switch that around by putting something out there from me and showing my vulnerability, and then having those fans messaging me. It’s been lovely.

Jesy and Leigh-Ann have done documentaries about various issues that affected them too: it's great you've all opened up about things that are so personal to you.

I think the beauty of us four girls being in a group together [is that] we've always sort of stood for female power and empowering women. I think as the years have gone on it's been nice to really hone in on things that we're all actually really passionate about, and I think there's somebody for everyone to relate to in the group.

Are all missing each other during lockdown?

Oh god, I’m really missing that energy. When we do go to work we cry with laughter every single day. It's so fun being together. Don't get me wrong, we are human: there have been times where I am sure we’ve all got on each other’s tits loads, but we just sort of get on with it and we always see the bigger picture. In our group chats we've been doing a lot of reminiscing while we're not together, and sending old photos of each other, when we looked a bit worse for wear, and just laughing at each other, and a lot of boy talk and stuff. I am really missing the girls.

Are any of you going to release these Whatsapp pictures to the world then?

Oh, god. I mean to be fair, we don’t really hide much. I think we're quite open when it comes to admitting that we’ve looked a mess!

Well it's part of the pop star evolution isn't it! There was an amazing viral post recently that blamed you for covincing the world to wear bow ties and suspenders!

[Laughing] Honestly, do you know what was so bad? I was only about eighteen or nineteen at the time but literally I would not wear an outfit unless it had some form of a bow on it. Like, I was obsessed.

At the time it was great!

Oh, I thought I was a style inspiration to be honest! [laughs] I thought I was changing the world, one bow at a time.

Are you still writing stuff at the moment? Where are you at with the album?

The album's nearly done. To be honest I find it hard to write Little Mix songs when we're not all together, but Leigh and I have been doing a few sessions. I've got a couple of writing sessions tomorrow too.

You mentioned recently you'd written a song that could be a really good anthem for the trans community. Can you can you divulge any more about that?

Ooooh [laughs] Actually, it was such a rough idea on the day and I mentioned it in an interview, and it really took off, and I thought, 'Oh god (laughs) I better finish the song now!' For us as well, I feel like we learned with 'Secret Love Song' that the video treatment wasn't really what we wanted to do with it. You learn as you go on in your career, so for me personally, I would love to, when the time feels right, do more videos and songs that make a difference. If you if you look at songs like 'Secret Love Song', that's had such an impact, unknowingly to us, on our LGBTQ+ fans. It would be lovely to do another song that can achieve that again - and make more of a statement with the music video.

Do you feel like there's a pressure that comes with being such a public ally?

I think the pressure comes with just wanting to say and do the right things. I don't think there is such thing as ‘the perfect ally.’ I'm still very much learning, and I don't want to put myself on a pedestal, for then maybe to say the wrong thing one day and slip up and be like ‘Oh god, I'm so sorry, I've done the wrong thing.’ I'm just constantly trying to learn and not speak for other people, but speak with them. That's a big part of my ally journey. Because I would never want to look like I was just using that audience for my own benefit.

Back to drag: Have you have you watched any Secret Celebrity Drag Race? And if so, would you like to be a contestant on it?

Are you kidding?! You know me, hun. I would be gagging for it! But, do you know what? I actually think I would love to be a drag king. Be made into a bloke, I’d love that. But yeah, I'd love to. It’s been so good to watch actually, it's been very entertaining.

Who would you like your drag queen mentor to be?

Ooh, that’s a very tough question… maybe someone like Naomi Smalls. If I was going to be dragged up, I’d like to be a very glam queen.

Who's Norma’s favourite queen?

Oooh, who’s me mam a fan of? I think me mam loves a bit of Bianca Del Rio, just because of how savage she is. My mam's a bit like that. They’ve got a very similar sense of humour. You know who I'm actually really loving at the minute? Nina West! She seems just so lovely and is really using her platform to do a lot of amazing things for young people, which is nice to see. I've got a lot of really lovely group of Drag Race friends: Willam is a good friend of mine. had never met Alyssa before the show and when we filmed Served! I was like ‘Why are we not friends already?!’ because she's such an absolute scream. And then of course The Vivienne, I’ve always been a big fan of hers, so having on the show was great… I’ve forgotten your fucking question now to be honest, blabbering on... [laughs]

I’m happy for you blabber on about Drag Race! I can too, I personally loved Divina De Campo, as she was Bradford born-and-bred, like me.

Oh I love Divina. Do you know what? It's a shame that we’re only doing six queens on the show because it was up to me, I’d just go on forever, doing every single queen that I could get on the show.

Who are you rooting for to win season 12?

Gigi Goode was my favourite, and I still love her. I love Crystal. Crystal’s just away with the fairies and I just think it’s beautiful to watch. And I love it when there is a dark horse, a queen that you didn’t see coming, and then towards the end they really show how amazing they are. I feel like Crystal has definitely done that. I'd be happy with any of any of the three winning to be honest. I loved Heidi N Closet. I can't believe that she left at the last hurdle. That was such a shame, wasn’t it?

I feel like she's I feel like she's like perfect for All Stars though.

Yeah, She's got to be on All Stars - and I think she'll probably get Miss Congeniality as well!

'Served! With Jade Thirlwall' premieres on MTV UK Facebook Watch and MTV International YouTube on 28 May, and on TV screens from 29 June.