By Cheddar Gorgeous
Occurring in the swanky surroundings of the Manchester Freemasons Hall on Bridge Street, The George House Trust (GHT) Drag Ball promised an explosion of dragtastic glamour and sparkle the likes of which the city had never seen before, or at least not in a good while.
In fact according to the research of GHT’s Susie Baines, this is the first event of its kind in Manchester since the infamous Hulme drag ball of 1880 which resulted in 38 men being hauled before the courts for ‘having solicited and incited each other to commit an unnameable offence’. I guess they couldn’t quite put their finger on exactly what crime had been committed. Thankfully the city authorities were a little more tolerant of our night time extravagance this time around.
The event was an opportunity to celebrate the work of The George House Trust, but also to recognise the role that drag has played in queer activism and furthering the aims of charities working to meet the needs of vulnerable people in our communities. Holding the event in the plush pillared rooms of the Freemasons Hall was a powerful symbol to how far societies attitudes to both drag and the needs of those living with HIV have changed, be it with eyes fully facing forward to the continuing challenges of the future. It also presented a pretty nice photo opportunity as the pictures here attest. (Used courtesy of Lee Baxter).
Some of Manchester’s most fabulous drags stepped out in their finery to show off to each other and the assembled masses. In true ball style they were greeted in the great hall with canapés, fizz and guilded festivities galore! GHT ambassador and everyone’s favourite early hours party queen, Anna Phylactic was on hand to greet and formally announce the extra special exhibitionists to the room while DJ’s Phil Bakstad and Danny Olson-Lane kept the pace of the early doors conversation lubricated, with an appropriate mix of low level ‘swanky pop’ (it’s a thing now).
But that wasn’t even the half of it, at 8.30 the crowd was seated in the Ballroom so the show could begin. And what a show it was. Village big wigs (literally) like Misty Chance, Viva la Diva, Blaque Ivory, Krystal Kane and the universally adored Nana (Madame Phylisann Von Hollywood Aries). All side by side with fringe performers like Violet Blonde, Grace Oni Smith and Lil. There was even a surprise visit from prominent London drag troupe The Family Fierce led by the infamous Meth. As Susie Baines explained “I was blown away by the different kinds of amazing drag we had here in Manchester and just thought it would be wonderful to have something that brought all of those styles together under one roof”.
It was an ambitious feat. We have such diverse drag scenes in the city, full of kings, queens, divas and crazy costumed club kids. Many of us do very different kinds of performance and work for different venues. As a result we rarely have the opportunity to play together. As George House Trust ambassador Misty Chance told me after the show, “The highlight for me was seeing the combination of Drag cultures, modern alternative and mainstream, but also to see this mixture of worlds in the surroundings of the prestigious Freemasons Hall. I’m sure that as recently as five years ago, an establishment as traditional as that would never have dreamed of hosting a predominantly gay organised event featuring gender bending and HIV fundraising. The feedback has been immense and very gratifying and I think it’s safe to say that this Drag Ball will be the first of many.”
For me the event was a reminder of how much all #manchesterqueens (we’re a hashtag now) have in common and what we can achieve when we work together. A point confirmed by the words of Rosie Robison, joint CEO of George House Trust. “We were thrilled that the Drag Queens in Manchester wanted to organise this fundraising event for our charity. Most gay men know someone within their community who has been affected by HIV, and so the drag queens public stance on HIV was really powerful. And of course they all looked totally amazing!”
Although the event was supposed to be more of a birthday bash for GHT than a fundraiser, it still raised £2,425.50. This builds on a well established history of well heeled Mancunians throwing themselves in the limelight for a good cause. From the efforts of local legends like Frankie ‘FooFoo’ Lamar raising money for Pendlebury Childrens Hospital to more recent big events like Manchester Pride, Sparkle, The Purple Weekender for AKT and the now yearly Village People Weekend, drag has become an important focal point that gets people fishing for their change and writing the cheques that keep our charities alive.
The last few years have also seen the return of the sisters of perpetual indulgence shaking their buckets for a variety of causes. If there is something that needs shouting about you can be sure that a drag won’t be far away. And more often than not they will bring their own megaphone. Roll on the Manchester Drag Ball 2016 may it be bigger, bolder and more covered in glitter!