East London-based drag queen and RuPaul's Drag Race UK contestant Crystal was a trained costume designer, but got sucked into relentless behemoth of corporate fashion. When she finally got sick of "getting up every day to sell people crap", she turned her back on the capitalist nine-to-five and is now a professional queen for a living.
VICE: Hi Crystal! What did you do previously?
Crystal: A variety of sales jobs in the fashion industry, including business development and management roles. I studied costume design at uni in Canada before I moved over to London, and when I first arrived, I got some jobs working for smaller fashion brands assisting with Fashion Week… Eventually, though, lured by money, I sold out and moved into the corporate world of fashion, working for a few different brands.
Why did it suck?
Capitalism! I was spending my nine-to-five selling products I didn’t really believe in or think people needed. I think the world consumes too much in general. Eventually, I started to feel uncomfortable about the role I was playing within that framework. Of course, we all make millions of moral sacrifices to live in this world, especially in big cities, but getting up every day to sell people crap they didn’t need eventually wore me down.
What did you switch to instead?
A full-time drag queen and contestant on the UK version of RuPaul’s Drag Race!
Was there a lightbulb moment?
I think it was more of a slow-burn. While working in my sales role, I started dabbling in drag, as a way of sating my craving for creative expression. I began producing cabaret shows and was so envious of all of the amazing queens who did this for a living. Meanwhile, I was wearing a suit to work and then clocking out and transforming into this fabulous other version of myself at night. Over time, the chasm between these two oppositional identities grew greater, until my day job just felt really uncomfortable. Eventually, I was offered redundancy from my sales role and I just thought “AMAZING!” They were offering me money AND a way out of a job I’d grown sick of — it felt like a sign. So I said “SEE YA LATER!” whacked on some glitter stilettos and have never looked back.
What do you love most about your job?
The free alcohol!
On a serious note, it sounds cheesy but I love it when you successfully manage to entertain people – it’s really satisfying. And I obviously love the attention! Beyond that, I love the diversity of the role; when you’re a drag queen you do so many jobs. You’re a make-up artist, a hairstylist, a glamour model, a creative director, a marketer, a booking agent, an entertainer and an events planner all rolled into one. It has its challenges, but mostly I love the variety – it appeals to my creative side. Also, I get to play with pretty things and hang out with other drag queens, who are basically the funnest people on earth!
Are there any downsides?
The free alcohol!
But seriously, I feel like I’m ageing at a rate of three years for every one year I do drag – it really takes its toll on your body and your skin. It’s physically quite a tough job. I also used to have more free time when I worked in a 9-5, as I could switch off when I left the office. This gig is relentless! But I love it, so it feels worth it.
Sometimes I worry about the longevity of drag as a career. Since Drag Race started, the scene has exploded, with more and more people joining the ranks, and I wonder if it’s sustainable. We always say to each other “TMDQ” – too many drag queens! If people ask me how to get into drag now, I say “Drag is full babes, we’re operating a strict one in, one out policy!”
Where did your stage name come from?
Crystal is the name of the villain in Showgirls, who is my drag icon – she’s a stripper and is super intense. I also really identify with crystals, because we’re both sparkly and dazzling, but ultimately very cheap.
Have there been any funny moments?
I once performed in an art gallery on Halloween and was doing a Catwoman performance like Michelle Pfieffer in Batman Returns and the sound completely cut out. There is (or should be) a level of separation and magic in a drag show, and when those things fall away it’s so tragic and awks for everyone. Essentially, what the audience was left with was a man in a catsuit lip-syncing and growling in silence. It still makes me cringe.
What are the best beauty tips you have picked up?
More is more, darling! Also, shave off your eyebrows and draw them on two inches higher – et voilà! An instant facelift.
What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
I wish someone had told me how bad stilettos are for your back.
What was the single worst moment of your shit job?
Making a whole team of about 20 people redundant. We had to close the division and I was running it so I had to tell every single person that they were probably gonna lose their job, and some had kids and were barely getting by – it was fucking horrible. It made me feel very numb. Capitalism is so fucked up!
Shit! That’s heavy. Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
Back then I had more free time, I saw my friends more and had a routine, but I was pretty unfulfilled creatively, so I’d say a solid six. These days, I would say a nine, because I’m now the mistress of my own destiny. Plus, FAME AND FORTUNE!
How smug do you feel when you talk to your mates in shit jobs?
It’s not even smug, I just feel bad for them. I feel worse though for people that don’t realise they’re in shit jobs, who think they’re living their best life while propping up some gross company.
What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
If you hate your job, find something outside of your job that you love and throw your energy at that. Then, just spend your days at work watching porn.
Finally, what is the best thing you’ve learned from becoming a drag queen?
To love myself! I think queer people often struggle with self-acceptance. But for me, doing drag helped me to deal with the trauma of being a gay teen. It helped me to jump past all of the bad stuff and self-actualise. Once you’ve played the role of a gorgeous creature untouched by all of the crap from your past for long enough, eventually it just becomes your whole identity. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby!
The season premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will be available at 8pm GMT on BBC Iplayer on Thursday October 3rd 2019.