Adam All: “People thought I was weird when I dressed in drag”
DIVA meets the UK’s leading (and most snappily dressed) drag king
This September, Adam All will have been performing as a drag king for a decade. That’s 10 years of spiffy suits, spectacular sideburns and relentless “plugging away”. When he started he "couldn't beg for gigs" but now all his hard work is paying off magnificently. He’s strutted his stuff in countless shows, appeared on telly and even runs his own night, the brilliant Boi Box, at She bar in Soho.
When I meet Adam in a cafe in Dalston, he’s out of drag, but terrific company nonetheless - erudite, upbeat and winningly passionate about gender-based performance art. He confesses he’s had a penchant for menswear his whole life. “In primary school there was a fancy dress competition. I would always be Peter Pan.” He recalls attending a lacklustre house party his late teens. “I went in a pinstripe suit with a trilby and a moustache and everyone was looking at me like, ‘Why?…’ People thought I was weird, but people always thought I was weird.”
He didn't "have the balls" to do a proper gig until he was 24. It was a half hour Friday night slot in Southampton. “Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! I didn’t have stage training or vocal training. I hadn’t seen another drag king live.” He had, however, read, watched and marvelled over Sarah Waters’ Tipping The Velvet ad infinitum. “That moment when Kitty walks out onstage and Nan sees her, I was utterly transfixed. ‘This is what I need to do. That’s it. That’s me!’” I’m impressed when he tells me he’s met Anna Chancellor, who plays the dangerously seductive Lady Diana Lethaby, in person. “I was like “Don’t call her duckface, don’t call her duckface!” I got to tell her I was really inspired by that show. That was a pretty cool moment.”
Adam describes his onstage persona as “a geek chic, cartoon-flavoured, shiny cabaret man”. “He thinks he ought to be this macho bloke and he really is not, so he likes to occasionally snap out of that and embrace his inner ballet dancer. Half the point of doing drag is a discussion of gender. You start questioning, why do we label that colour as feminine or that item as masculine? Why this attitude? Why this angle? Why am I perpetuating that model? Is this actually really unfair on men, the way that we push this ideal onto them? Yes is my answer.”
Adam explains how performing drag has helped him understand his own offstage gender fluidity. “For several years, I was considering transitioning. When I started exploring what it felt like to walk in the world as a man, that really helped me find my piece of ground where I stood. I found myself smack bang in the middle. That’s not the same for everybody.”
Halfway through our interview, Adam’s on and offstage partner, Apple Derrieres, saunters in. They’re a very cute, very sympatico couple. “It’s like Disney because I’ve been into her since the second I saw her,” admits Adam, gazing adoringly at Apple. “It was absolutely love at first sight.” Adam tells me that adding Apple’s high femme drag queen character into the Boi Box mix “was the one thing that dotted the ‘i’ in 'Boi'.” Now they regularly perform as a couple, wearing fabulously outlandish matching outfits. “One time for a sports day event, I went as a jockey and she went as my horse.” Are there any challenges of being drag power couple? “Not talking about drag. That’s really hard… and wardrobe space.” When I ask Adam what’s motivated him to keep chasing his drag king dream for so many years, his answer is instant. “The missus. Boi Box and Adam and Apple - it’s a joint effort and we’re in it together. It’s not just mine anymore so it would be very selfish of me to pack it all in.”
All I can say is thank goodness Adam shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a superbly dressed entertainer on a mission to make the drag king scene even bigger, bolder and more boundary-breaking than ever. “There’s still so far to go. Drag queens are still the dominant force by a hundred miles. I would like to see more integration on the stages, more support for our whole community and not just cis white men. It’s a slow process because we don’t have as many kings and they don’t have as much experience. On top of that, you’ve still got loads of people who are yet to discover the artform that might later be massive superstars. That’s always exciting - the boundless possibility, the untapped goldmine of it. We’re yet to fully realise the potential and because of that, I can’t let go. I have to keep pedalling on my little pedalo in the big wide sea, going, ‘Come on boys!’”
Don’t miss Boi Box at Soho's She bar for drag kings galore AND free sweets. It's the last Thursday of every month and it's awesome. Find out more about Boi Box here and check out Adam's website at dragkingadamall.wixsite.com/adam-all.
Images by Emma Bailey Photography
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