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Lawrence Chaney interview on her Drag Race UK win: ignoring trolls

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Kicking off in the dark days of January and coming to an end last week, the second series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK was more than just a superlative reality contest. By turns hysterically funny and very moving, each episode felt like a jolt of serotonin, specifically targeted to shake us out of the doldrums of Lockdown 3.0. Surely the cast deserve some kind of national honour to mark their contribution to the Stay At Home effort?

“That’ll go on my tombstone – public servant,” laughs Lawrence Chaney, the Glaswegian queen crowned the winner in last week’s finale, facing off competition from East London’s favourite vegan Bimini Bon Boulash, high-energy beauty queen Tayce and fellow Scot Ellie Diamond. “It’s an amazing thing to be part of because my God, what a depressing year this year has been and we’re what, three months into it? I’m just happy that we were able to brighten things up even a little bit.”

The 23-year-old quickly won over viewers – and Mama Ru herself – with her knack for mordant one-liners (sample quote: “I am the Susan Boyle of Drag Race UK”) and skill with a sewing machine: her jaw-dropping runway creations included a Charles Rennie Mackintosh-referencing hometown look and, erm, a Sweeney Todd-inspired gown designed to look like it had been fashioned from flayed skin. After conquering her aversion to choreography, she went on to emerge victorious in the girl band challenge as one-quarter of the United Kingdolls, who’ve since cracked the top 30 with UK Hun, a chaotic pop banger slash nursery rhyme with a chorus so stupid and so addictive it hasn’t left our minds since February. “I apologise,” she laughs. “Whenever you think it’s gone, it goes ‘Bing bang bong’ in your head…”

The finalists hug it out on stage

/ BBC/World of Wonder/Guy Levy

Her stint on the show wasn’t always easy, though. When Chaney argued with her pal Ellie during the comedy challenge, she was met with a torrent of abuse on social media, which prompted her to take a step back from Twitter. After chatting with fellow contestant Sister Sister, who wrote a powerful piece for the Guardian about her experiences of being trolled by Drag Race fans, she concluded: “Social media isn’t real, and what these people have seen, that’s not about me. This is about the public perception of me that people think they know.” In deleting Twitter, she says she was “just removing myself from a toxic environment.  If you’re working somewhere where your boss is horrible, you’re being treated like a dog, you need to leave, but so many people don’t because they don’t have security. But social media is not real. Not once when I was out at the shops, doing my groceries, did someone say, ‘Ah Lawrence, I loved you but the way you treated Ellie was just terrible.’”

Chaney started doing drag in her late teens, and took sewing lessons from her mum, so being on the show felt like a “full circle moment – my mum was there when I was cutting vests up, cutting t-shirts up and sewing them all together to make a catsuit or whatever; now she’s able to see me making actual dresses, so that’s really nice.” With Mama Chaney on the scene, success is unlikely to go to her head, either. “My mum texted me when I’d won and said, ‘Lawrence, they’ve just shown the bit on TV where you won… Is that a mistake?’”

Chaney’s mum taught her to sew

/ BBC/World of Wonder/Guy Levy

Only the second plus-sized queen to take the crown in the 12 years since Drag Race debuted (the first was Drag Race Thailand’s Natalia Pliacam in 2018), she went into the show with two aims: “To win, and to really shove it in the faces of people who said ‘You know, plus-size queens look like this, they look like that.’” She was inspired by Drag Race US series 7 runner-up Ginger Minj. “I just remember thinking ‘Imagine if Ginger had won? Can you imagine the social implications of a plus-sized person being told for once they were the best?” she says. “Even the reception to me winning – the amount of times I’ve been called ‘the fat one.’ It’s like, [trolls] can’t handle for once someone who was big wasn’t told by Gillian McKeith to lose weight. Finally, being a plus-size person was good enough, and we don’t see a lot of that.”

That’s not the only reason that this season will go down in Drag Race herstory, though. Filming started in early 2020, but had to be put on hold once lockdown hit; club closures and cancelled gigs left the queens without a livelihood too. There were tears in the Werk Room, Chaney recalls. “I remember being like, ‘Oh, that’s right. Of course your dream comes true and now we’re all about to die!’” The contestants recorded video diaries while the show was on hiatus, which later appeared in a special episode, Queens in Lockdown. Chaney filmed her testimonial in her bedroom, a cardboard cutout of RuPaul looming in the background, and spoke candidly about claiming Universal Credit.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK: Meet the London queens ready to slay in series two

The jarring shift from being part of “this huge Hollywood television production” to being out of work felt like “a fall from heaven,” Chaney says. “I remember thinking [before the show], ‘This is it, my life’s changed, new me.’ You get bank loans, you borrow from friends, you do everything you can to make these outfits happen. And all of a sudden, you don’t have any money, you can’t repay anyone, your card is declined.” She’d felt “embarrassed” initially, but wanted to debunk any stigmas surrounding benefits. “I do my tax returns as a drag queen, you’ve got to do your books,” she explains. “And I do that because the country needs to look out for everyone. This world is not just for those who are privileged.”

2021 is certainly looking brighter. Up next for Chaney is a UK tour for the United Kingdolls and a web series for World of Wonder, the production company behind the Drag Race behemoth. Before all that, though, she just wants the chance to hear the much-memed orchestral transition between Lady Gaga’s album track Chromatica II and her single 911 playing in a busy club. “Can you imagine the first night out when everything goes back to normal, and then you hear the violins? Oh my god, I will actually die. I will die on the beat.”

Catch up on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK series two on BBC Three on BBC iPlayer

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