Skip to main content

22nd February 2013

Don’t be a Drag, just be a Queen

Beauty editor Jessica Cusack interviews Amrou Al-Kadhi: Cambridge graduate by day, Drag Queen by night

Amrou founded the unique and hugely successful student drag night Denim, in which he unleashes his fabulous alter ego, Glamrou. I caught up with him to find out about Denim, the creative process of drag, and why we should all try this most liberating of experiences. 

First of all, can you just tell us what Denim is and how it started or what inspired you to create it?

Denim started in my head when I was about 13 – I’ve always wanted to perform in drag and to express myself in that way. In my second year at Cambridge I decided to just do it. I withdrew £400 from my bank, found a venue, bought some wigs and heels, and invited everyone I knew on Facebook and Cambridge’s first ever drag show/drag night happened. I asked friends who were close to me in the world of theatre and performance to perform with me; everyone was pretty open minded about the whole thing, and really supported my idea, and the first night felt like such a revolution, such a triumph! I’ll never forget it.

What has been the reaction to Denim? Have you ever been met with any hostility or have you always been welcomed with open arms and sold-out shows?

Erm this is a trick question in a way! We’re lucky at Cambridge – the University has been so receptive to a night like this, partly because there’s never been anything like it. I think Denim really represents a post-Gaga age of sexual and political liberation which people are willing to be more vocal about, so I suppose Denim was put on at the right place and the right time. The ethos of the show is positive – revelling in your “otherness”, finding what’s unique about you and putting it on show. And its focus on the positive and liberating quality of drag has meant that the whole University has got behind it. It’s also not directly an LGBT night; Denim doesn’t really believe in labels, so even that’s way too categorical – it’s really open to everyone. That’s why I called the night Denim, everyone wears denim almost daily, but yet it can still be so special, so unique. Having said all that, there are some groups who find the implicitly camp and out-there nature of Denim to be too forthright, but they just don’t come to the night, which is personal preference, so I totally understand.

Were you inspired by other drag nights? What makes Denim different, in your opinion, from others like it?

Well, as far as I’m aware there are no drag troupes as young as we are. Furthermore, while most drag troupes mime and do more performative charades and the like, we all sing live, and this something we really like to stress. We have a live band that work very hard, as do our singers and performers. We are also made up of drag kings as well as drag queens, which again is something quite different to the average drag night. Also, the night, as I’ve said, is not LGBT exclusive, meaning that it feels less “other” than most drag nights. The audience is invited to come in drag, and we have a great team of make-up artists who work on our guests. It’s all about inclusivity – there’s no real differentiation between the performers and the audience; everyone is the “same” through each being “other.” I think the word Denim helps to tease out that paradox slightly!

Why do you think drag kings are such a rarity in other drag events?

Well, I suppose drag kings are sometimes seen to be less “glitzy” and less “glamorous”. There’s a real affiliation between drag and superstardom/glamour. Although this is something we emphasize in our show, we also talk a lot about being “unzipped” – our last night was called Denim-Unzipped. It’s not only about glamour, but about really unzipping gender stereotypes and thinking about gender far more broadly, which is why it’s a real wonderful privilege to have such talented drag kings in our troupe. I also think that while dressing as a drag queen is so implicitly performative and extrovert, there’s something more subtle, even androgynous with being a drag king, and maybe this tension frightens people. I don’t know what I’d do without our drag kings – they’re fucking ace performers, and the crowd loves them the most!

How long does it take you to become Glamrou? Do you have anyone that inspires you when you’re deciding what to wear?

IT TAKES FOREVER. My make-up artist actually hates me because I get so impatient/upset. Not only is there the small matter of Veeting every ounce of hair you have on you (which then really rather painfully, an incredibly slowly, grows back), the make-up process can take hours. From scraping wax on your eyebrows to make them disappear, to contouring your face, attaching feathers to your eyes… The pain of it can be quite extraordinary too. It can get as sadomasochistic as having to duck-tape your genitals (I’ll go as far as that), to fitting into heels which bend your feet the wrong way. Amazingly, the pain of it all helps to heighten the feeling of glamour. Sort of like, ‘the pain was worth it, look how awesome I look now’. There’s also this idea of castration which I find interesting – literally, hurting yourself as a way in which to swap gender.

Once I’m in drag, I feel totally different. So confident, so fierce, so excited, so euphoric. Glamrou loves everyone, and is a real mothering type (she’s sort of the mother-hen of the group). She can be quite harsh, but it’s only because she has so much love in her heart. Stylistically, Glamrou’s a mix between Amy Winehouse and Grace Jones: bold outfits with an element of craziness, even scruffiness, in her mad hair and make-up. She is also the most fashionable out of the group (AHEM).

picture: Tom Porteous

Are there any performers on the drag scene that you admire, or any other performers for that matter who encapsulate what Denim is about?

Obviously Ru-Paul; though we all wish the drag queens would sing as opposed to just mime. Our influences aren’t limited to the drag scene at all; any character who can perform and subvert their identity in an interesting, bold way is of influence to us, from Oscar Wilde, to Andy Warhol, to Lady Gaga.

What would you say to someone who would like to get involved in drag but doesn’t know how or is too shy?

Two of my drag queens in Denim are quite quiet, heterosexual men, who never thought they’d ever be in drag, ever. But it really is a process of transformation. Once you’re in drag, you’ll feel totally different: so powerful and free. Trust me. On the day of Denim shows I feel so nervous, so shy. But when I step out as Glamrou I feel like some sort of alien goddess. Think about it as performing a part of you that’s buried within. I honestly think that everyone needs to try drag. It can be so helpful and therapeutic.

And finally, what is the future for Denim? Are you going to do more shows? I for one am now desperate to get my drag on.

Good question. Well we are performing at most of the May Balls in Cambridge; next year we are going to try and gig around different performance venues in London, as well as potentially do a Uni-tour. Watch this space!

For contact, follow @glamrou on Twitter


Jessica Cusack

Jessica Cusack

3rd Year English Literature student who enjoys taking a break from academic writing to explore the more aesthetic things in life… Looking forward to this year on-board The Mancunion as Beauty Editor.

More Coverage

Bloomers are back: A successful attempt at reclaiming feminist fashion?

An exploration of bloomers as a feminist symbol and their role in fashion today

King George vs Lady Gaga: Crown to Couture at Kensington Palace in review

Crown to Couture is an expertly curated exhibition which draws fascinating parallels between the world of today’s red carpet and the Georgian Royal Court in the 18th century.

Natsu Fest: The Last Dance – What’s next for Manchester’s community clothing brand?

From an early collaboration with Wagamama to starting a music festival in his backyard. We sat down with student clothing brand owner Dhara Nat Sufraz Patel to talk everything Natsu Clothing.

Making a statement: Fashion in politics

From Minion suits to social movements, find out why fashion in politics has been making a statement for so long.