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Drag Race UK’s Ginger Johnson on her win, off-camera chats with RuPaul and her Roman Empire

Exclusive: Ginger also says she'd "find it very hard to say no" to returning to Drag Race

By Alastair James

Ginger Johnson is the winner of Drag Race UK S5
Ginger Johnson is the winner of Drag Race UK S5 (Image: BBC)

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK has crowned its latest winner. On Thursday (30 November) it was announced that Ginger Johnson had taken the crown for series five.

It followed weeks of gruelling challenges, in which Ginger excelled making it to the final with three, yes, three RuPeter Badges!

Alongside her was Michael Marouli, who had also won three badges, and Tomara Thomas, who had one. The finale saw the queens lip sync to a remix of RuPaul’s ‘Spotlight’ before it was whittled down to Ginger and Michael. After a fierce lip sync Ginger was crowned the winner and named the UK’s next Drag Race superstar.

Speaking to Attitude on Friday (1 December) Ginger discussed winning the crown, her off-camera moments with RuPaul, her Roman Empire, and what’s next for her.

Ginger Johnson (Image: BBC)

How was last night?

It’s been a whirlwind, I tried to say hello to as many people as I possibly could, and then shoved myself in a taxi and went to the Clapham Grand. Sang some songs, and then I got home and went immediately to bed.

Not a very late one then?

Pretty sensible, I was so tired. I’m an old woman. I got home, and I managed to take my face off, which is always a blessing when you actually do manage to get the makeup off before you get to bed.

Now that you’ve had some time to reflect, how does it feel to have won?

It feels wonderful. I still honestly can’t believe it. I think it will take a while for it to fully settle in. It’s just such a dream. I’m a huge fan of the show. And it’s been a really fun experience.

You mentioned at the finale party last night there was a brief moment where you dared yourself to dream that you could win. Was there ever a moment where you thought the opposite?

Every single day, I thought I was up for the chop at any moment. I tried to treat all of the challenges as gigs. It’s a scary experience being there. It’s so fun. And I was so lucky to have such a fun cast around me as well. We made each other laugh all day long. But it is scary. And I think it wasn’t until the very last moment when I was stood up there that I thought this is it. You’ve done it.

Were there any moments between you and RuPaul we didn’t get to see?

Ru gives a lot of really practical drag advice. In the little moments in the werk room you just stand and have a lovely little chat. That softer, more informal side isn’t something that you see on the show. But you can tell that she really cares, she’s really invested in the queens and she wants to learn about them. She’s a fan of drag.

Were there any particularly funny moments that also didn’t make the cut?

The disaster class. Michael, Tomara, and I probably did about 20 minutes that challenge. We sat down to write it and it was bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! Immediately loads of jokes, loads of ideas. It was like a cartoon where the pieces of paper are flying. And we didn’t want to cut any of it. So, that was a full hour-long special nearly and I wish we could have seen a bit more of it. But that’s the nature of the challenge. Some of the challenge stuff I would love to relieve because it’s a long time ago and I’ve forgotten quite a lot of what happened to be honest. I’ve had a look back over my notes. I kept a diary every night. Reading back through that has been fab.

Micahel Marouli, Ginger Johnson, and Tomara Thomas
Micahel Marouli, Ginger Johnson, and Tomara Thomas (Image: BBC)

When you rewatched it did you find yourself going, ‘Oh, I completely forgot that!’

Absolutely. I’ve been surprised by some of the things that have come out of my own mouth. I’ve remembered a lot of the stuff that other people said, but you’re not listening to yourself when you’re speaking. So there’s a few points where I’ve come out with things I’ve been like, ‘Oh, okay!’

Have you taken anything away from watching yourself back?

I’m a lot more feisty than I give myself credit for. I think of myself as quite a laid back person who doesn’t get involved in the drama. But that’s apparently not the case. I’m forever sticking me oar in!

Who are your drag influences?

The first person I saw that made me think this is what I want to do with my life was David Hoyle. We’ve performed together quite a lot now, which is one of the biggest joys of my life. David has something that is so anarchic and punk and different. I also love Dina Martina, a fabulous queen from Seattle, absurdist comedian like phenomenal.

A lot of the classics as well, like Danny La Rue. I watch that clip of Danny La Rue coming down the stairs in Hello, Dolly with the dress that’s the full width of the stage about once a month just for the camp level of it. That’s my ‘Bad Romance’. You know how hardcore Gaga fans watch ‘Bad Romance’ every day just to get the pep in their step? Danny La Rue is that for me. And then also loads of queens from Drag Race as well. Jinkx [Monsoon] is obviously a huge inspiration to me, and BenDeLaCreme. Tammie Brown as someone that just lives off in her own little universe.

So Danny La Rue is your Roman Empire. Is that fair to say?

Yeah! Probably! [Laughs]

Would you be up for returning to Drag Race one day?

Give us a break!

Maybe after a bit of time on the road with the Angels of the North?

I would find it very hard to say no. It’s like Disneyland for drag. It’s stressful and scary. Your hair’s messed up by the end of it. But any kind of challenge that your drag can go through, it happens on Drag Race, so if you’re someone that loves that kind of challenge, and that is me, there’s nowhere else that can do that.

Would you want to do All Stars or UK vs the World?

I’d like to wait until the franchise has moved out into outer space. So maybe UK vs Andromeda I want to be up against some aliens that can turn themselves inside out.

You mentioned it a little last night, but what would you like your series to be? Have you had any ideas?

I’ve got loads of ideas. Ideas is my thing. More ideas and sense, that’s me. I love puppets. Apart from the puppet mini-challenge I didn’t get to show that part of my drag. I had a puppet for the Snatch Game to go along with Barbara Cartland because she used to have this little dog with her all the time. But on the day, I just thought, ‘Can I manage a puppet and a marker pen and talk to RuPaul and think of funny things to say?’ So, the dog got axed. I’d love to do something with the puppets. Or… What did I say I was gonna do last night?

Ginger Johnson as Barbara Cartland
Ginger Johnson as Barbara Cartland (Image: BBC)

You mentioned doing a shot-for-shot remake…

Yes! [Laughs] Of Keeping Up with Krystal Versace. Except it’s me and all the puppets play all of the other characters. No, but I’d love to do something that is travelling around meeting other queer performance, finding out about them, what makes them tick, what inspires them, and what their audiences are like? I’m obsessed with drag. Any way of discovering new parts of the art form is really exciting.

We’ve seen a huge increase in anti-drag rhetoric. What do you think we can do to curb that?

I think the best possible thing we can do, as LGBTQ+ people, is be out and proud and living our lives and excelling and supporting each other. Let’s not play into this really damaging conversation that is being held for political points. Let’s be real, they’re using this tired old story, that queer people are somehow a danger to the rest of the world, it’s ridiculous. And we’ve seen this in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It comes back round. The best thing we can possibly do is ignore it. Live our lives [and] show to the world what a wonderful person you are and support each other crucially. This is really is a time for everyone across the LGBTQ+ spectrum to band together.

There was a moment on the show where you talked about playing rugby to come across more masculine growing up. Do you have any advice for young queer kids at the moment who might feel like they can’t fit in?

When I was young and realising that I was different, and I started to understand what that was, I felt like I had to do everything straight away or it wasn’t real. I was somehow in a hurry to actualise as a queer person. It doesn’t work like that. It takes time. The world is rigged for straight people. And it takes a while to unpick that and find your own place within that and find your own people.

And that’s the piece of advice: Take your time. Find the people that bring you joy. Find the people that support you, and hang on to them and support each other. And then the rest of it will come. You’ve got to live with yourself for a long time. You’re in it with yourself for the long haul. I’m still figuring myself out as a queer person now. And I will continue to do that through my life because it changes as you change.

Brilliant words of advice! You recently announced the Angels of the North tour. Is there anything you can tease?

I don’t want to give too much away. But in the group chat we’re currently talking about how we can take what we did in the disaster class, and turn that into a club spectacular. It’s just gonna be a scream. The three of us can’t help but have fun together.

Ginger Johnson
Ginger Johnson (Image: BBC)

Will you do the whole thing in your armless dress?

[Laughs] Well, it would make the choreography a lot easier wouldn’t it! I’ve got to make a new version of that armless dress because it is completely impractical. I could end up flat on my face quite easily. So I think I need to make a version where if I do go toppling, I can save myself.

What was in your audition tape for Drag Race UK?

It’s hard. You’ve got to do a lot of things and you’ve got to fit it into a very short space of time. You lip sync a RuPaul song, I did ‘Birthday Song’ because it’s the shortest one. And then you lip sync another song. I did Amanda Lapore’s ‘My Hair Looks Fierce’. You do a couple of Snatch Games and an acting scene. I haven’t watched the tape since I sent it off. Maybe I’ll watch that tonight actually. That would be interesting to see that.

You can watch it in your crown!

[Laughs] Yeah, definitely!

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is streaming on the BBC iPlayer.