Heading towards the Kensington Olympia for my first ever drag convention, DragWorld in London. I wasnâ€™t really sure what to expect. Iâ€™m not the most active member of the LGBT community so this was heading into unchartered territory. I felt like it was my first day at school again; excited but with absolutely no idea what was coming next.
I first spotted DragWorld on Instagram a couple of years ago via an Instagram post. The ads showed me images of the drag superstars who attend the convention. I am huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so heading to DragWorld felt like a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I could learn more about drag and meet some of my favourite queens.
But as I approached, I started to feel unsure. I am a cis-gendered gay male; is this the place for me? Would I be the only non-drag queen in the crowd? I had no idea what to do or how to act. I had so many questions. Will it be crowded? How does it work? How will I get there?
What is DragWorld?
Let’s rewind a little. DragWorld is an annual event which takes place at the Kensington Olympia in London. It’s probably the biggest drag convention in the UK and has been serving up some of the drag world’s biggest stars since 2016. The convention, which usually takes place in August, has gone from strength to strength with the 2019 being the first year to completely sell out. Each year is bigger, brighter, and more fabulous than the year before (except 2020 but let’s not go there).
DragWorld is a celebration of all things drag, with guests including the world’s most famous and fabulous drag queens. The exhibition brings you entertainment, panel sessions, demonstrations, meet & greet opportunities and stage performances, not to mention the countless stalls selling everything that a drag queen could ever need.
Everything on the bill had immediately captured my imagination and I quickly signed up when the tickets went on sale.
My Day at DragWorld London
As I walked into the Kensington Olympia, greeted by the bright and colourful decorations, my concerns disappeared. DragWorld is a bubble of acceptance and self-expression, and as I explored the various sections of the conference, I started to relax and appreciate more of what was happening around me.
It should come as no surprise when I highlight how diverse the other visitors were. There were plenty of drag queens visiting the convention, but there were also plenty of other drag fans like myself. I didnâ€™t feel out of place, although I’ve never felt so mundane.
Drag is extremely diverse, and this was abundantly clear upon meeting the queens at DragWorld. Of course, there were the drag queens you’d expect to see on Drag Race, but alongside them were drag kings and AFAB drag queens (assigned female at birth). Most of dragworld is focuses upon male drag queens, but all drag is valid here. I now appreciate that drag is much more than the stereotypes of female impersonation, it’s about identity, expression and acceptance.
For every elaborately dressed drag queen there are plenty of others taking more subtle steps into drag or gender fluidity. Not to mention the many members of the LGBTQIA community showing their support for the art of drag.
A Family that drags togetherâ€¦.
Drag would never have been an option for me as a teenager. Admittedly I had little interest in drag at the time, but even so, there weren’t any avenues for me to explore this if I’d wanted to. There was no Drag Race and there were very few gay characters on TV, let alone positive representation of drag queens.
Seeing teenagers discover drag and gender fluidity at DragWorld made me appreciate how much the world has changed, yet at the same time, we’ve never needed events like DragWorld more than we do today. It was brilliant to see so many of these teenagers being supported by proud parents. I can’t help but think how amazing it must feel for these young people to have that level of support. In a world where gay teens are still being disowned, seeing families exploring dragworld together almost brought a tear to my eye.
Meeting the Queens
Like most of the fans at DragWorld, I’d booked my ticket to see the queens from RuPaul’s drag race. These queens take centre stage at the panel events which cover various topics throughout the day. You can also pay for a meet & greet session with these queens although the tickets for these sell out very quickly.
For the remainder of their time, these queens are available at their booths where you can speak to them, purchase their merchandise, and grab a selfie. I was really keen to meet the Family Gorgeous from Drag SOS so I found their booth and joined the queue. After 2 hours I finally reached the booth and there were queens with much larger queues. I could easily have spent my entire day waiting in queues. The Family Gorgeous were extremely appreciative to everyone who had waited so long and were very friendly. Even so, I think I would avoid the meet and greets on my next visit and spend more time at the panel events and browsing the stalls.
After leaving dragword, we headed into central London to meet some friends for dinner. Returning to the real world felt strange. Everyone looked so drab. Where had all the amazing colours gone? I missed seeing the self-expression I’d gotten so used to at DragWorld. Even at a gay bar in Soho I felt something was lacking.
I’d had a great time at DragWorld in London. I’d bought my ticket to meet my favourite drag celebrities, but the experience was so much more than that. I learned a lot of the different types of drag and left wanting to know more about self-expression and gender fluidity.
Note on terminology
I’ve pitched this article towards people with less experience of drag. I’m not an expert in the topic and you may gather from the article that I learned a lot by visiting DragWorld in London. If there’s any terminology that isn’t right them please let me know via email. I’ll be happy to make any amendments.
So you now know more about Dragworld, London’s biggest Drag convention. I hope that my visit here tells you more about drag too. You can find out more about DragWorld here. There’s also RuPaul’s Drag Con which started in January 2020 at the same venue.