It’s been a bumper year for Dundee’s favourite drag queen, Ellie Diamond.
From placing fourth in the latest season of BBC series RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, where queens compete for the chance to create their own Hollywood series, to touring with winning queen and fellow Scot Lawrence Chaney, and now having her Beano-inspired “hometown” look from the show immortalised by The McManus Galleries in a brand-new LGBTQ+ focused acquisition, Ellie’s life has changed dramatically.
Luckily, some people are born with star quality, and Ellie is handling her newfound fame in style.
“From being on Drag Race UK and making the top four in that, to then coming home and getting the opportunity to have an outfit that I’ve made in a place like the McManus, is amazing,” she says.
“It feels special, but it also feels correct!”
Spoken like a queen who knows her worth. Which it’s clear, from her effortless posing and easy laughter, Ellie does. But for many in the drag community, and the queer community at large, that’s not a feeling that comes easily.
And for 22-year-old Ellie, AKA former Monifieth High pupil Elliot Glen, it wasn’t always the case.
Diamonds are made under pressure
After our shoot, she comes to chat to me in flesh-coloured underclothes and
flip-flops – a stark contrast to her still-pristine glitter make-up and bouffant wig. She doesn’t seem vulnerable, but she is open, and when I ask about the impact of having a drag outfit displayed in a place with the cultural prominence of The McManus, Ellie becomes serious underneath the sparkles.
“For me,” she says, “growing up in Dundee was quite difficult.
“I don’t want to say, in a blanket way, ‘Dundee is homophobic’. But I’ve experienced a lot of homophobia within Dundee. Not recently, but growing up, I certainly did.
“Having something like (the costume) in the McManus Galleries would give the young, queer people in Dundee some hope. I get messages from loads of young people, from loads of kids at my old school, Monifieth High, and other schools, that are like: ‘I loved watching you on Drag Race, it was so nice seeing someone from our hometown because we don’t have anything here’.
“A year ago, I was doing exactly what everyone else is doing in Dundee. It’s just that I was one of the lucky ones that got the opportunity, like Willy-Wonka style, d’you know what I mean?
“So it’s just a shame that it has to take going on a TV show for someone to make it in a place like Dundee.
“I just want to open people’s eyes up and make them realise, people are like this here in Dundee. We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon! So get into the moment,” – she throws her head back laughing – “It’s 2021!”
The purchase of the costume, made possible due to the National Fund For Acquisitions, is part of the McManus’ efforts to support the local LGBTQ+ community.
Gareth Jackson-Hunt, museum services manager for The McManus, welcomed the move, saying: “Ellie represented the city of Dundee so incredibly well on (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK). The costume is phenomenal and it’s helping us shape our LGBTQI+ collection.”
‘Denise’ The Menace – a family favourite?
The costume itself is a PVC marvel inspired by Beano fan favourite Dennis The Menace. As “Denise The Menace”, Ellie sports the trademark black-and-red striped top, but couples it with a vampy skirt and towering wig. The result is worlds colliding: Dundee and drag.
“The character of Dennis The Menace, AKA Denise The Menace, means a lot to me,” admits Ellie.
“I love getting the annual books every year for Christmas. My dad always gave us the books. And growing up, I watched the cartoon as well, so it was nostalgic for me, it coming from Dundee and me taking it to a place like Drag Race.”
Ellie has spoken openly before, on Drag Race and in the press, about the strain that pursuing drag put on her relationship with her family, particularly her dad.
Taking something so nostalgic and translating it into drag seems like a bold move, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be taken as a sort of cultural sacrilege.
But the outcome has been pleasantly surprising.
“I was kicked out,” states Ellie bluntly. “Luckily I was able to go back into my family, but I was kicked out. And not everyone has the option to go back and live with their mum and dad.
“I know people that have been kicked out for being queer and have just had to live with it.
“But already, since Drag Race UK, I’ve seen growth. Even in the last couple of months, with my dad being more open to it.
“My family came and surprised me at the show in Glasgow I just did with Lawrence (Chaney). I didn’t even know they were going to be there, and they all came,” Ellie beams.
“It was good to see my dad in the audience supporting me. And we spoke the day after, and he said: ‘I didn’t get some of it, but I understand more what you’re doing. I get what you’re doing. And that’s all I need to know, that’s all I care about.’
“And certainly within Dundee I can already see changes – like more people coming to the shows after Covid.”
The “shows” to which Ellie is referring are the weekly drag shows which take place on Tuesday nights at Church, Dundee – a scene which Ellie started at the tender at of 17.
As the youngest Drag Race contestant at just 21, it’s clear she has always been a bit ahead of the game.
“With the show, Bingo Wigs, the owners of the venue had literally just seen me on Instagram. They didn’t know I had never performed before. Well I had, but not as in ‘let’s do a show e-ver-y single week’!” she laughs.
“I had no hosting skills. I’d actually never played a game of bingo in my life, so I didn’t even know how to host bingo.”
Somehow, I know this wouldn’t have deterred her.
“My first audience was just seven people,” Ellie goes on. “But girl, we were livin’!
“We thought we were the one and only, having our costumes, doing our wee performances and that. And ever since then, we took the show and grew it every week.
“I did the show for two years, and then the other queen, Miss Peaches, she had the show for about a year and a bit. And then the two fabulous queens now – Anne Spank, who is a trans woman who does drag, and Demi Pointe – are taking the show by storm.”
A Cinderella Story – with all the housework!
It seems like a charmed existence, a Cinderella-level fairytale. But up close, the intricacy of Ellie’s drag art is obvious, and I gain a new appreciation for the years of skill that go behind looking effortless.
“A lot of queens in Dundee are very self-made,” says Ellie. I know a lot of girls that do their own hair, their own costumes, and we all do our own make-up.
“I started just in my bedroom, doing make-up, watching make-up tutorials. I’d look at the tutorial, pause it, and then do the same thing on my face. And for maybe the first two years of doing drag, I was just doing it in my bedroom.
“And luckily, very luckily, there wasn’t a scene at the time where I could be looking messy and go out! So the first time I went out, girl I looked great!”
But there’s an emotional graft in here too, in overcoming insecurity, adversity, and also – sadly justified – fear.
“Drag is an art form, there’s a lot that goes into it,” explains Ellie. “It’s self-expression.”
“And I started my career by not listening to anybody,” she quips.
“Genuinely. Because my dad was saying no to it, my mum was under my dad’s influence of saying no to it, and the people around me in college were saying: ‘I think it’s cool what you’re doing but you’re not going to get anywhere, that’s not a job’.
“And for the longest time I believed it, until I was just like ‘you know what? I’m going to do what I want’. And that’s very much my mentality in my life in general.
“If I fall on my face and end up making a fool of myself, then that’s a mistake I’ll learn and grow from. But I’ll be a better person for it.”
At the end of our chat, I ask Ellie if there’s ever something she wants to say that she never gets asked. She sits quietly for a beat, then lights up.
If there is a queer person reading this, find your people. Because there are people. And they’ll love you unconditionally.”
“The importance of a queer family,” she says. “Your chosen family is really important, especially for a queer person.
“So if there is a queer person reading this, find your people. Because there are people. And they’ll unconditionally love you.”
I’m quite moved. Ellie sees it and, ever the entertainer, when I ask how she found her people, she grins like a cat who got the cream.
“Just by being stupid.”
Oh, she’s a right menace.
You can find Ellie at @elliediamondofficial on Instagram.