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Duncan James on doing drag: ‘I want to be a dirty bitch!’

By Attitude Magazine

Attitude favourite Duncan James has never been content to be just a ‘Blue’ boy. He’s also a TV presenter, Dancing On Ice finalist and West End theatre star with both Chicago and Legally Blonde on his CV. Now the 37-year-old is dragging up to play Tick in a national tour of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert

What made you want to do Priscilla?

I went to see the show in the West End a few years ago and I loved it. I thought it was a really great feel-good musical and I love a musical, me. I’ve been in a couple myself and ever since I was a little boy I’d go to London with my mum to watch musicals. I was lucky enough to be in what I thought was the campest musical ever, Legally Blonde, but this surpasses it by a long run.

Photo by Matt Crockett

How’s it been tapping into your inner drag queen for the show?

It’s actually really fun dragging up. I completely get why men throughout the years have had this thing about dressing up in women’s clothing. When you get in the outfits and you’re got the wig on and the make-up you become like a different person. It transforms you.

What’s the toughest thing about it? The high heels maybe?

I take my hat off to the women – and the men – who wear heels. It’s especially hard having to do dance numbers in heels and moving around quite fast. It’s not something I’m used to. In Blue we did a lot of masculine, boy band dance moves for the last 15 years so trying to change all that, dance like a woman and feminise myself in a pair of high heels has been the toughest thing for me to get my head round in this role.

Photo by Matt Crockett

And what’s it like having to, er, tuck everything away?

We wear a dance jock, which is basically like a thong. It cuts your arse up the back and there’s a pouch where you put your dick and your balls. [Laughs] It does its job.

Have you done drag before?

I did drag for my birthday a few years ago. The fabulous Jason Gardiner was at my house and decided on the spur of the moment to put my mum’s wig on me and some make-up and rooted through my mum’s wardrobe. He found a dress and these big boots and I came downstairs, in front of all the boys from the band and my mum and everybody, in character as this drag queen called Delores. I don’t know where the name came from but I decided I was Delores and she was a nasty, dirty slut. I was like [adopts American accent] ‘Hi mother, are you proud of your son?’ I was like this trailer trash drag queen from Los Angeles. If it was Halloween in Los Angeles say, and I was going out in drag I wouldn’t want to be a pretty little Barbie doll, I’d want to be like a dirty bitch.

And is that the real you?

[Laughs] No, I’m not a dirty bitch. I’m too reserved to be that way but I guess when you’re in character in drag you can become who you’d like to be. I’ve been quite clean-cut really throughout my life. I’ve always been too embarrassed what people might think of me, especially as a kid. I used to get bullied a lot and be called ‘Gay boy’ because I was the kid in drama school doing acting and putting on shows. That wasn’t nice.

Duncan James as Tick in Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo credit Matt Crockett 3

Can you remember when you first saw the Priscilla film?

I saw it years ago and I was straight when I watched it. I remember thinking to myself ‘Wow, this is amazing’ and thinking of Guy Pearce ‘God, he looks really hot and why am I thinking that?’ A lot of your thoughts about your own sexuality start when you see things like that, don’t they? Back then it was such a risky film. People weren’t so comfortable watching men dressing up in women’s clothes or watching a transgender character. It certainly wasn’t so well-documented as it is now on television shows and reality shows.

What do you see as the deeper message behind such a feel-good show?

It’s tackling situations that are relevant now. You can become gay without it being a problem nowadays. You can feel that if you want to put a woman’s dress on or if you want to become a woman then you can. People in the past might not have really understood it but with someone like Caitlin Jenner, showing her transition, is such a brave thing to do. There are lots of people who are uncomfortable in their bodies and feel they want to become a different gender, and it’s so great that in 2015 we can embrace that a lot more than we did 21 years ago when the film first came out.

Talking of bodies, you’re in amazing shape. What’s your regime?

Listen, I have not been to the gym in like three weeks and I feel disgusting. But I’ve tried to lose some of my muscle for this part because I want to play Tick, not Duncan James, on stage – just so I can be a little more feminine in my movements. I feel quite skinny for me at the minute and my arms feel horrible. [Laughs] But it’s part of art, darling.


Is there a fella in your life at the moment? If so, how will you maintain a relationship when you’re on the road?

No, I’m single and not really wanting a relationship, not right now. I’ve got a really big tour ahead of me with Priscilla, I’m playing Aladdin at Christmas, then I’m going to Los Angeles for a couple of months in January – for some castings and also to have a bit of a break – and I’m returning to Priscilla next year. So I’m going to be all over the place and I think it’s hard to have a relationship when you’re physically not with that person. I tried it. I had a long-distance relationship that I came out of in February and it’s really hard. You’re worrying about that person all the time: Where are they? What are they up? I just don’t need that right now in my life.


The Priscilla Queen Of The Desert tour starts at Manchester Opera House on August 20th. For more details and all tour dates visit


More stories:

Duncan James: ‘A guy’s smile hooks me faster than anything’

First look at Duncan in drag for Priscilla