I Asked Bianca Del Rio To, Please, Sort My Life Out
“Dungarees? On a 26-year-old woman?! Did you buy them in the child’s department? You could have done.”
All photography courtesy of PR
I don’t know what I imagined my life would look like at 26 – but here I am. Some things are good: I have a career which I enjoy. I have friends who make me laugh. I can roll a joint with one hand, while stirring a perfect ratatouille with the other. But also, my east London flat is mouldy. I have never changed a lightbulb. When I asked a colleague to describe my personal style, these were her unedited words over Gchat: “Bedroom hacker, maybe a tech whizz, bullied at school, cuts hair with blunt scissors, had empty takeaway cartons under her bed?”
None of this is good. I want people to take me seriously. I want to walk into a room and for others to think, “There is a woman who has her shit together. Quick! Give her a book deal and a free membership to multiple branches of Soho house!” In the past, I might have asked family and friends for life advice, but they don’t seem to have done a wildly successful job so far. With that in mind, I decided to speak to someone I properly trust. Someone who is known for her no bullshit approach. Someone who I have always admired: Bianca Del Rio.
Bianca Del Rio won RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014 and has since gone from strength to strength. She starred in two movies, Hurricane Bianca and it's sequel From Russia with Hate. She has written and toured several stand-up shows (one of which is coming to the UK in 2019). She released a book called Blame It On Bianca Del Rio, in which she dispenses useful advice to the general public (for example: “You’re right; it is hard to get a decent paying job at sixty years of age. Maybe you should look into being a ‘lab rat’ for pharmaceutical companies.”)
In person, Bianca is exactly how she appears on TV. She barks her words out in quick succession, meaning she sounds aggressive even when she’s asking for a glass of water. She goes on bullet-speed tangents that end in a withering punchline. She laughs at herself a lot. But she also comes across inherently warm, in a lowkey way, even when reading you for filth. When I stop recording our chat – in a hotel room, just off Leicester Square – she carries on talking, shouting advice to me as I walk out the door, and cackling as I go down the stairs. Here’s everything we spoke about before then:
Bianca. You’re known for giving good advice, which is the reason I’ve come to you today…
Bianca Del Rio: I give good advice to the right people. Don’t you think sometimes, when you see people reach out and they’re like “I feel this, I feel that” – they don’t really want advice, they’re just seeking people to say “you’re amazing, you’re special” and every now and then you need to tell somebody “you’re an arsehole, and there’s nothing fucking special about you. It’s just that nobody’s ever told you, which is why you don’t know.” It’s important to have people in your life to tell you.
It’s true! Which is why I’m here! So I’m quite small – what sort of clothes should I wear to make myself seem more imposing and powerful?
Not what you have on.
HAHA! Why? What do you mean??
This [gestures towards outfit] is very relaxed and childlike. I mean, I don’t know how old you are, but you’re definitely reaching...
How old do you think I am?
That’s a trick question. 25?
Yeah basically, I just turned 26.
Well there you have it. So it doesn’t mean you look too young or old, it just means you look like shit.
How can I change this? I want to be able to walk in a room, and for people to listen.
Well, don’t wear overalls for starters! Or what do you call them here in the UK – dungarees? Dungarees! On a 26-year-old woman! Did you buy them in the child’s department? You could have done. Maybe you need a little shoulder pad or something, and a nice shoe. What shoes are you wearing now? [Peers at shoes] See?! Look, you’ve got “fun socks” on, with a lesbian shoe…
But I AM a lesbian! Sort of-
[Screaming] That’s okay! But it doesn’t need to show in your shoes!
Should I wear a suit or something?
I mean, it depends on where you’re going. If you’re going Starbucks, you can wear sunglasses and a backpack. But if you’re going to a meeting… this… you look like Punky Brewster. Look her up. I mean, it’s cute for playfulness, I’m not mad at it. But if you’re trying to come in here and run me over, a little gal with dungarees isn’t going to do it. Like, oh, that girl and her tiny go kart, she’s gonna get me. You can’t be powerful when you look like you’ve got a little fold up bike parked outside.
FFS! No, but thanks for this. It’s useful. Also I’m a writer, which means I’m destined to be broke. Do you have any suggestions for, like, a side hustle?
Have you thought about being a hooker? You could get into fetish, I mean you already dress like a baby. That would be great [cackles loudly]. I mean, there’s a market out there. Outside of the Catholic church, which is usually more into young boys...
No, but really, let’s see. For many years while I was doing drag, I also worked in the costume department [for broadway], so I would do that during the day, and drag during the night. I was living in New York, where you had to have two jobs to pay your rent. But I think it’s important to have two or three passions. I’m not saying “go read to the blind,” but even if you're making all the money in the world as a writer, there should be something else that gives you joy outside of that. I mean, what are your interests?
I can't think of any interests outside of what I already do…
Well, why don’t you do some soul searching, have a couple drinks and spit something out? That might change your perspective. There’s always some way to make money.
You’re right. Okay, another thing: everyone seems to have therapy now, but I can’t afford it–
No, apparently it’s obvious you can’t afford it, you’re talking to me about it and calling this an interview! Is this an interview, or a therapy session for you? You’ll find out when you walk out of here feeling worse.
GAHAHA! Yes, well. Is there anything else I could do to reap the same benefits, but for free?
I was going to say “do you have friends?” but apparently you don’t because they didn’t tell you not to wear dungarees. But… I would say, become friends with someone who knows nothing about you because they’re going to tell you how it is. Your family might be a little biased, you’re friends are going to tell you what you want to hear.
So I think make new friends and foster a relationship where they can tell you what they really think. Where there’s no bullshit. How many times have you consoled your friends like, “Oh, it’s going to get better.” No it’s not! And then they died. So not only were you a shitty friend, but you lied to her, and now she’s dead, thanks to you.
I can’t believe you’ve killed my one friend off already. I hardly knew her. So what is the one thing I should do before I turn 30?
Get rid of those dungarees! I mean, I don’t remember 26 to be honest with you…
Why don’t you remember 26?
I’m 43, how am I supposed to remember all of it? Come on, girl.
Okay yeah, fair.
I remember 30 because I moved to New York from New Orleans. But I don’t think life really begins until you’re 30. And that doesn’t mean that everything you’ve done before 30 doesn’t matter, but 30 is when everything starts falling into place. From 30 onwards, I didn’t necessarily learn what I wanted, I learned what I didn’t want. And that definitely changed my life.
I would never have chosen to be a comedian, I would never have chosen to be a drag queen – it’s not like ballet where you go to school and study for it. I think you have a passion for something and then you follow through. But you also have to accept life, and instead of going through being like “what does the world owe me?” you just go through being like “I don’t want to do that”. Like, if you dated an asshole, or some impossible blonde who was a jerk, you can go, “I’m done with blondes” and when a blonde comes near you, you can trust your instincts.
Yeah, I'm absolutely with you on this one.
I’m not saying do loads of crazy shit right now because it won’t matter when you’re 30, because that’s not true. Like, if you get pregnant it will matter when you’re 30 because now you’ve got a fucking kid! But I think less emphasis on what the world owes you, and trying to figure it all out – you’ll never figure it all out, and the day you think you do, you’re a miserable son of a bitch.
What about when you reached 40? Did your perspective shift again?
Well, in between 30 and 40 I thought about what I should and shouldn’t do, and I thought that drag was one of the things that I was going to say goodbye to...
Yeah! This was before Drag Race. I was working in bars every night, and the struggle of doing that for 20 years… you kind of go, “I’ve had my fill.” Granted it went from New Orleans bars to New York bars, but not much was changing. It was the same thing for 20 years – the only difference was the weather changed, the crowds changed, people became less interested because they had their phones, and for a comedian, no one wanted to hear what you had to say in a bar at 1AM.
But also, in that time I auditioned for Drag Race without knowing the global impact of the show, or how it would change my life. I think I was a little more prepared to go out running, because I’d had those experiences.
I feel like sometimes when you let something go, that’s when it comes to you. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah! Completely. And I was 37 when we filmed, and it aired when I was 38, so I was teetering. But had I not been that age, I might not have tried it.
That sudden shift must have been so weird for you…
It was weird, in hindsight. Although when people see the show, or anything you do, they’re like, “Well, I knew all along!” and it’s like, “Oh, okay. Because you’re a fucking magician.” But I didn’t even even know myself. And it’s okay to not know. It’s better to know what you don’t want, so you don’t fall into those traps.
Okay. Thanks for that.
You’re welcome. What a great way to get free therapy, huh?
I know right?
To be honest, it’s so refreshing to have different questions. I’ve had the same questions all day… stuff like [puts on whiny voice] “what’s RuPaul like?” Anyway, next!
Relationships. How do you know when a person is right for you?
You’re never going to know. Maybe they’re the person for right now. Maybe they’re the person for the next month. Maybe the person for the week to teach you something. You shouldn’t put that responsibility on somebody else, because you’re going to end up highly disappointed.
When people say “Oh, I worship my husband, and he worships me” – okay great, tell yourself that bitch, because you’re going to be disappointed. Two people live two different lives, especially when it comes to romance or love. You see people who have been together for 20 years and they’re like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me!” and it’s like, really? You’ve been together for 20 fucking years!
OMG, I always think this. I'd maybe aim for four years, tops.
Seriously, ask anyone who’s been in a 50 year marriage. They’re miserable. They’re too fucking old to leave each other. Where are they gonna go? They can’t run? It’s just like… I guess I’m stuck with this old cunt, she’s the only one who puts up with me. And they can’t hear each other anyway, they’re deaf, they’re blind, they’re not eating solid food. Those people have lost their minds. It’s just cheaper to stay together.
But also, don’t spend each day being like “is today the day he’s going to leave me?” You know when something’s clicking. Just live your life, be an independent person, get your shit together, maybe have a schedule, maybe have a couple of dollars and when someone comes along, it makes things even better. Then if it doesn’t work, you move on. Not necessarily with someone else, but with life.
How do you get over heartbreak?
You drink. Well no, a friend of mine told me this once when I went through a break up, and it was the most disturbing thing in the world, but it made a lot of sense: “In a year, this is not going to matter.” And I’m like, “but it’s been so many! Blah blah blah!” and she goes, “I’ll let you take a moment, a week or a month, but that’s it.” So I think you just need to be realistic with yourself.
The majority of the time it’s people’s own egos who get in the way. People become so clingy, and expect someone else to fill that void and to make them happy. No one should try to make you happy. They should be an accessory to your life, and you can be happy together – or not. I think you should be realistic, like “Oh he’s got a meeting, oh he’s hanging out with his friends.” You don’t go send a secret agent to watch him at the club.
What star sign are you by the way?
I’m cancer. Oh god, what’s wrong with cancers? See I don’t get into all this astrology bullshit.
I just think you're quite straight-talking for a cancer, maybe they’re usually more emotional and clingy?
No, I'm like 'get out of my house' [laughs]. I’ve got my own money and my dogs, beat it! Or maybe I started out that way… but the process of all of this has made me evolve. My life experiences have made me more of a bitter crab than a sensitive little soft shell crab.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve personally been given?
Don’t do drag. And look what happened. It’s a trap, bitch! No… it was about an audience. Every night you have to prove that you deserve to be there. So when you’re backstage and you’re second guessing yourself, you have to do what you know and do your best and do what you love and do it with passion.
Do you think you’ve lived well by that?
I try to with everything I have. But sometimes the microphone goes out, sometimes the people aren’t laughing at the same stuff, sometimes you can’t see people because of the lights… so I do it to the best of my abilities. If you walk off stage every night like “nailed it!” then you’re nuts.
There are a lot things I'd like to do, but it's hard to always stay motivated. How do you stay motivated?
I don’t think there’s anything stronger than “you’re gonna die.” At some point, you’re just going to fucking drop dead. Do you want to drop dead like “Oh, I shoulda woulda coulda,” or do you want to drop dead falling out of a plane, because it’s what you’ve always wanted to do?
I think it’s important to keep moving. I’m not saying every day you should run a marathon – look, if you want to sit at home watching Netflix then you’re entitled to it, unless it’s every day, in which case it becomes a problem, unless you’re a rich hooker and they’re taking care of you and that’s your job. But you have to remember that if you’re not getting out of bed, what are you accomplishing? I don’t mean publicly. But keep a rhythm of life. You have to play that game with yourself.
I remember you telling the other queens this sort of thing on Drag Race. Do they still come to you for advice?
They only ask me when they’re in trouble. Or when they see that I’ve got something really fabulous happening and they’re like, “how did you do that?” Like, uh-huh, I cured drag cancer.
But I’m grateful when they ask questions. When I was younger, I asked questions, and I had fabulous people that gave me really good advice. And I think it’s really important to seek advice from people who you see as... not necessarily rich or powerful, but those you respect. You’re only as good as the company you keep.
You are so not wrong. Thanks Bianca.
Well, you got your free therapy session, didn't ya?
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Bianca will be touring the UK & Ireland in September 2019. Tickets are available now.