“I don’t want to be pretty, I want to be otherworldly.”
Drag has become unstoppable in recent years, becoming tremendously popular and smashing through into the mainstream. But it hasn’t always been this way. First experimenting with drag at the tender age of 13, Fuchsia Von Steel remembers a time when drag in the UK was far more rigid; only high-camp comedy queens really seeing success. Presenting her very own style, a blend of 1950s inspired film noir and horror, in the early days not many fans understood her form of the art.
Growing and evolving within the Brighton scene, though, Fuchsia has built something of a cult following. Her namesake comes from “a trilogy of books called Gormenghast, written between the wars. The character was really tragic, she was stupid, privileged but oppressed – from a noble family with nobody to be married off to, not attractive or intelligent and always daydreaming. I always felt if things had been different for her she could have been an amazing person.” Allowing this tragic character to live on in the present day, the addition of the name Steel changes her discourse. A nod to the flexible yet strong metal, versatile at its core, it suits Fuchsia down to a tee. And she’s known for tight-lacing steel boned corsets, a signature at this juncture of her career.
There’s a clear passion in what Fuchsia does. She’s adamant that the significance of drag doesn’t get undermined by a more general audience, nor lose its significance in our past. With Drag Race and other shows being consumed globally, there’s a ferociousness in Fuchsia’s eyes as we discuss queer history. We get to talking about the Manhattan Stonewall Riots in 1969. “The title of king or queen is something that in my opinion is something that is earnt. Anyone can mess around with gender, and that’s great, it’s fine and cool, but there’s a certain role that kings and queens fill in LGBTQ society. That is the role of a shaman, a priest, something like a spiritual leader, without being a spiritual person.” With icons such as Sylvia Rivera fighting for our rights as a unified community, it’s clear that to Fuchsia, performance is just one of many hats that drag artists wear.
In Fuchsia’s shows, audience members are treated to her embracing of where drag comes from. She tells me, “There’s this shared connectivity, which is one of the most important things about a drag show.” And that’s not all. Her tenure on the Brighton circuit has given life to three types of performance: “I have the ones everyone gets and knows; I have my kind of dramatic jazzy, burlesque-inspired numbers, which most people understand; and then, I’ve got my weird as fuck stuff.” It’s not always been easy, however, as Fuchsia began performing before drag really took off in the UK. What’s come from this independent growth is a level of imagination not many other drag artists ever achieve. “It’s safe to say Fuchsia is one of the reptilian overlords – I’m really into conspiracy theories – and partly a 1920s socialite fighting over the same body. I’ve got some quite primal acts really, with blood, antlers… Along the lines of horror, bad vintage horror movies: I don’t want to be pretty, I want to be otherworldly.” Mission accomplished, and that’s clear in her other ventures too.
Sleep Paralysis, every third Sunday of the month at the Caroline of Brunswick, is Fuchsia’s newest event. It came about because in early 2017 she gave up drinking. Moving away from often booze-fuelled nights in Brighton, being on the planning side of events has changed her focus. Fuchsia tells me, “I wanted to be more professional with my drag and pursue it as a career. After I gave up drinking I realised I can actually do this: I have the ability, knowledge and skills to set up my own event and for it to be successful. And now I have the drive, the energy, and the time – drinking is time-consuming!” There’s an undercurrent of hedonism at LGBTQ events, its volume dependent on what kind of evening you’re attending. So many queer events are based in pubs or bars, so it can be difficult to maintain sobriety.
The dream is to own a cabaret coffee house. Steering the LGBTQ community away from this constant exposure to alcohol and drugs, Fuchsia knows there’s so much more to life than partying. It’s clear she worries for the community. Looking thoughtfully down at her coffee, it’s clear personal experience is a huge motivator for re-establishing the guidelines of drag shows.
“People get dragged down the hole: chem sessions, ketamine coming out of your eyeballs, and G. I don’t condone or glorify drug use at all; I’ve had my time with drugs. There’s this massive culture of drinking, combined with some mental health issues some of us have, and cheap alcohol. All our venues are drinking establishments. We need to change this.”