Star of this year’s series of Channel 4's SAS: Who Dares Wins, Mark Whistler, aka drag queen Cybil War, opens up about his relationship with his military father in Attitude's April Style issue, out now to download and to order globally.
The 31 year old performer, who towers over most people at 6’5” (that's before you add the heels, decided to apply for the fifth season of Channel 4’s gruelling boot camp show to get a taste of what his father had gone through during his 20-years SAS career.
“My dad was in the SAS for his entire military life, so it’s always been there,” Mark tells Attitude after getting sweaty for us at fitness studio 1Rebel Angel.
Mark Whistler aka Cybil War, shoy by Markus Bidauz exclusively for Attitude's April Style issue, out now
“I realised that that whole side of my dad’s life is a complete mystery. I knew nothing about his time in the SAS, and this was a way to get a small glimpse into the selection process he went through and to give us something to talk about, to bridge his world and mine.”
Mark, who started drag while living in New York six years ago, was the seventh recruit to leave the show, making it to day five of the 11-day course.
Despite his dad’s military background, he says coming out to him wasn’t too difficult.
“He’s this stoic, military man, very disciplined and controlled,” Mark says. “I had [no way] to gauge how he was going to take it.
“[But] I’ve always been myself, and I was out clubbing when I was 16,” he adds.
“I was into the small glam-rock scene that there was in the heart of London: I’d leave my house wearing one of my sister’s sequinned tops and have glitter make-up on my face, and my dad would always say, ‘Yeah, have fun!’
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“So there had definitely been indications that I wasn’t the classic army son. But when faced with the actual words, he was stoic.”
Though there weren’t any expectations for him to follow in his dad’s footsteps, Mark recalls thinking that the army might not be too bad a place for a young gay man: “As a young gay teenager, military life didn’t seem like it would be terrible – we’ve all seen that porn!”
The show has given the pair a “jumping off point” to form a closer relationship, Mark says, adding: “I think he’s always been proud of, and respected, me but my life is so alien to him.
Photography: Markus Bidaux
“I think that that’s true of a lot of queer people. Some of us are lucky to have accepting parents, but even though they love and embrace us, it’s very difficult for them to relate to anything that goes on in our world.
“So it’s always been tricky to find that bridge that connects us – and drag certainly wasn’t it.
"I think being on the show has given us a jumping off point."
See Mark Whistler/Cybil War's full shoot and interview in Attitude's April Style issue, out now.