The man behind RuPaul’s Drag Race: ‘Breitbart said that I was going to get beheaded’

Fenton Bailey at the Drag Race Masterclass event at Goldsmiths. Pic: Rachel Keenan

The man behind the phenomenon that is RuPaul’s Drag Race, which brought drag to the masses, now wants to take the programme to Russia, Iran or Iraq, despite these countries’ hostility towards LGBTQ+ people.

Fenton Bailey, British-born and American based, the show’s co-producer, told Eastlondonlines: “The idea that there’s no gay people and the idea that there are no drag queens in these countries is a delusion. We’re everywhere and they’re everywhere. To me it’s a mission because with a show like Drag Race, I don’t think it’s possible to watch it and remain homophobic.

“I think that the warmth and the charm and the honesty is very winning. I think it would be great if the show like that was available to audiences in those countries and featuring citizens of those countries.”

However, Bailey’s dreams have already had backlash from various powerful people.

“Breitbart said that I was going to get beheaded. They saw what I said about Drag Race Iran and said you’re going to lose your head and they didn’t seem that sorry about it.”

Bailey, 63, was in Lewisham for a Drag Race Masterclass event at Goldsmiths, University of London, in New Cross, where students learned how to perfect their drag from one of the people that have brought it to millions of TV screens worldwide.

Despite the focus on LGBTQ+ people when it comes to drag, Bailey does not believe it has stayed popular because it is something niche or outlandish.

A Goldsmiths student in drag. Pic: Rachel Keenan

“If you look at what the queens of Drag Race experience and the stories they tell, those are stories that are universally relatable and that’s the only reason the show works.

“It doesn’t work because it only speaks to a narrow community. That’s what always frustrates me is when people say it’s sort of a niche thing, it wouldn’t be on the air 15 years later and still growing if it was a niche thing.

“Most of the people who watch Drag Race don’t identify as gay and the majority of the audience is women not men. So go figure. I think it’s important actually that we as a community, do not feel that we’re marginal or a niche but we’re as every bit as relevant as any other community. The labelling of us is also a way to keep us to the side”.

Bailey is one half of the multi award-winning production company World of Wonder (WoW). He was born in England but moved to New York to attend film school where he met his business partner, Randy Barbato.

Bailey and Barbato were heavily involved in the New York drag scene in the 80’s where they met the reigning Queen of Drag, RuPaul Charles, who was a local drag queen in the scene ready to become a star.

The drag queen first rose to fame in 1993 with the release of pop song Supermodel (You Better Work) which was also produced by WoW duo Bailey and Barbato. The music video for this song, where RuPaul was in full drag, was a favourite on MTV and pushed drag into the limelight in America.

RuPaul has been hosting American RuPaul’s Drag Race since 2009 and UK Drag Race since 2019 which is broadcast on BBC Three. The show’s are a huge success watched by thousands every season.

WoW is home to a Drag Race empire, which includes series in the UK and Europe, US and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Philippines, Mexico, Chile and Brazil.

This week, it was announced that Drag Race Thailand was making a comeback for a third season in 2024 after going on hiatus in 2019 due to broadcasting issues, with host Pangina Heals leading the runway.

They have a list of credits beyond drag race including I am Britney Jean, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Monica in Black and White, The Last Beekeeper and Stonewall Out Loud to name a few.

He said that TV has an important power for good, especially for marginalised communities.

“It was the idea that drag artists hadn’t been on TV in that way before. They would have been ‘drag queen number one murder victim’ in a crime procedural or something. As opposed to being presented as a force to be reckoned with or a community to take seriously.”

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