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what a drag

A night in the life of a Dublin drag queen

“Anyone can put makeup and a wig on. But actually entertaining people is a different story.”

AT 9PM ON a Thursday night, drag queen Davina Devine is gluing down her eyebrows with spirit gum and wax in her little dressing room at The George Bar in Dublin.

The self-described “original party girl” first came on the Dublin drag scene in 2002 – before Pantigate, before RuPaul’s Drag Race, “even before Bebo”.

davinabrush Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

It started out as a fun pastime, but she soon realised she could do it for a living. Now, she does around three shows a week at The George, as well as picking up gigs at weddings and birthday parties.

Tonight, it’s her own birthday – but she’s still performing her usual Thursday night show with her ‘drag family’ Dolly Grip, Marie DaMoney, and Phil T Gorgeous.

davina collage Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

Makeup takes Davina the best part of an hour and a half – she carves out a new nose and sharp cheekbones with dark makeup, ‘bakes’ her foundation with powder, and applies a massive pair of false eyelashes.

Then, she chooses a wig from the ‘wig tree’ in the dressing room, picks her outfits for the night, and scribbles down a running order before the show starts at around 11.30pm.

wigtree Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

It seems like a lot of work, but this is the easiest part.

Anyone can put makeup and a wig on, that’s a costume. But to actually get up on stage and entertain people is a different story.

The character of Davina bears little resemblance to her normal self, she says – Davina is inspired by “strong women” like Jennifer Lopez and Katie Price.

[Me and Davina] are both very upfront, but she’s definitely more brazen and outrageous, and more of a presence – sometimes I feel when I walk in a room, I don’t have to do anything, I just feel the energy shift. She’s arrived. She’s here.

On stage later on, you can see what she means. At one point, she clambers over the audience while lip-syncing a song called F**king Bitch. They adore it.

davinadance Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

Over the next hour, Davina passionately lip-syncs, dances in the highest of heels, and makes four quick costume changes. She slags the audience, then hands them free shots. She cheekily necks a lad’s pint, and he doesn’t even mind.

This ease with the punters means that often, they feel they can open up to her about their lives:

[People] feel they can tell you their darkest secrets, their fantasies – because they think, “Who are you to judge me?” We always joke that we’ve heard it all. But then I’ll hear something and think, “No, now I’ve heard it all.”

But people usually expect her to reveal all to them in return – something she’s not too thrilled about.

Sometimes people will want to know your real name, what’s going on. “How did this happen to you? Did you have a terrible childhood?” Actually, no. I’m having a great time.

dollygrip Dolly Grip Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

And what do her friends and family think of it? Well, she had a bit of explaining to do at the start.

I remember trying to explain it to my mam in the easiest, most safe kind of way possible. I think she thought it was like, stripping, like a sex show in a gay bar. But after a while she copped on.

“Most of [my family] didn’t care. They just know I do what I want anyway,” she laughs.

Both Davina and Dolly Grip have had their fair share of dodgy gigs, but say that in all their time as drag queens, they’ve never had any truly terrible experiences with the public.

“People will shout ‘fag’ at you on the street, but they’d do that if you were out of drag as well,” Dolly says.

dollydavina Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

Although RuPaul’s Drag Race and Panti have raised the profile of drag, Dolly says there’s still some way to go for full acceptance, both in the gay community and out.

It’s society in general. When a woman puts on men’s clothes, she’s seen as powerful because she’s gone up a step. But when a man puts on women’s clothes, it’s seen as degrading.

davinasings Valerie Loftus / Valerie Loftus / /

The show has ended, and after taking a moment to cool off, Davina can finally celebrate her birthday properly.

“From doing drag, my life has changed – I’m definitely more confident, more crazy, more outgoing,” she says.

Sometimes if I’m having a bad day or something’s on my mind, I can just go, “I’m just going to give myself a little mental break here, because Davina has no problems.” There’s something very therapeutic about stepping out of yourself.

More: People cannot get over Vincent Browne’s marriage referendum broadcast from The George>