When The Vivienne won Snatch Game during season one of Drag Race UK, it felt like a true surprise. Not because the queen didn’t deserve it — by all accounts, her impression was easily the funniest of the bunch. But rather, because she won the first British Snatch Game by portraying the most American character possible. While her fellow competitors opted for British public figures (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, The Great British Bake Off host Mary Berry, The Only Way Is Essex star Gemma Collins), The Vivienne blew everyone away with a spot-on impersonation of former United States president Donald Trump. With an uncannily accurate accent and a seemingly endless supply of jokes, The Vivienne’s Trump was in a class of its own.
In this way, it’s no surprise that this particular Drag Race UK winner has proven to be the best possible British addition to the first all-winners season of Drag Race: All Stars. Though she herself is quick to point out that British drag can often be different from American drag, The Vivienne has shown, time and again, that she can offer more than enough crossover appeal. As the only UK winner on the show, The Vivienne admits to taking some time to find her footing amongst her American competitors. But after warming up, the queen quickly found herself rising to the top of the heap as she made lasting bonds with her fellow contestants (especially with Jinkx Monsoon, in whom she saw a kindred spirit) and continuously impressed the judges (who were obsessed with her performances in challenges calling for on-the-spot wit or acting expertise). A true savant, The Vivienne brought British drag to an American stage and delivered.
Alas, The Vivienne did not make it to the end. Despite her stellar track record throughout the twelve-week competition — three main challenge wins, two Lip Sync For Your Legacy wins, and plenty more “high” placements — the talented performer narrowly missed out on a spot in the final four, a “heartbreaking” experience that felt like being “kicked straight in the balls.”
Ahead of last week’s penultimate episode, NYLON hopped on Zoom with The Vivienne to talk about the pressure of “representing” British drag for American audiences, establishing a new fanbase, the “bonus” joy of bringing home money she couldn’t bring home from Drag Race UK, her friendly rivalry with fellow competitor Jinkx Monsoon, and her trick to making Ru laugh.
After tomorrow, there’s only one more episode left in this season. How have these last few months been for you?
It's been insane. It's been so good, just doing crazy stuff. I'm currently sitting on a bloody tour bus, going through America to 37 different cities. It's insane. The love from the fans has been amazing. I've got a whole new fanbase under my belt, and I’m just loving every moment of it. I always forget what happens [on the show]. I forgot my first season and I forgot this season. But watching the show back each week, chatting with the girls, I'm like, "Oh god, yeah! Remember that?" It's such a great experience.
You said you have a new fanbase now. Can you feel a huge difference between the fan response to this US season of All Stars vs. the fan response to Drag Race UK?
Yeah! I mean, the American [version] was the original format, and that was the one that I fell in love with and used to watch. That was, for me, the big one, you know? So I was so happy when the UK [edition] came around and I won that. But I never thought I'd have the chance to do All Stars, let alone an American version of it. There were always rumors of a winners season coming, but no one had a clue [about what to expect]. But then, it just literally came out of the blue, fell out of the air, and there it was. Then, it was “Oh, it's going to be filmed in LA,” and I was just like, Oh my god, this is fabulous. And here we are! It was just a dream come true.
How did it feel to be the only British queen on the season?
Oh, I mean, it had its ups and its downs, you know? I was representing a country. I was representing British drag. If you're the only one in a group, you're going to feel a certain way until you've snapped yourself out of it. So for the first three weeks, I definitely felt like I was struggling to fit in or jump into conversations, just because I'm British, I think. It wasn't a conscious thing. [It wasn’t] that the girls weren't letting me in or anything. It was just the fact that the level that I speak [at] is not the same level that maybe American queens speak up, you know? Even at the mirrors, the conversations were loud, and I was just sat there like, "Oh, yes, yes, yes."
But then, it got to week three and I went, Alright, snap out of it. Come on. I think the improv challenge really gave me a kick up the arse. I think that [challenge] is what broke me out of my shell and [made me tell] myself that, Yeah, this is why you belong here. This is what you're going to do. You just won an improv challenge in America. I mean, it was amazing.
I wanted to ask about the humor aspect, because we’ve always talked about the stark differences between British and American humor. On Drag Race UK, you were probably one of the funniest competitors. Your Donald Trump impersonation for Snatch Game is Hall of Fame material. But did you ever worry about that not translating stateside?
When it boils down to it, all drag is the same. We're all doing what we love. I think this [conception] is something I run into quite a lot. It's like, yes, there is that thing that’s like, British drag is different than American drag. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to entertainment. If it's entertaining, then it's good. So there was definitely a worry about how British drag was going to be perceived amongst [everyone else’s drag], whether different senses of humor would translate to an American audience. But watching it back, I think I did a good job. I think I'm a good self-editor, so [I avoided] writing jokes in certain ways that only used British words and stuff.
Let’s talk about this week’s episode. Coming into this final challenge, you seemed like you had a very real chance of making it all the way to the finale. But alas, you didn’t. How did it feel to come so far, get so close to the finish line, but not actually make it in the end?
I mean, it just felt like someone had run and kicked me straight in the balls, you know? It's heartbreaking. You know, you put everything into every challenge each week, you win some challenges, and you think to yourself, Oh my goodness, here we go. It's the final challenge. And then, all of a sudden, there's that twist: The winners get three stars each. So you kind of think, Well, this is it. If I don't win this, it's game over. So yeah, it was heartbreaking. What more can you say?
I mean, I totally agree.
[starts to say something, but then stops suddenly]
Sorry, what were you going to say?
No. You can go on. Otherwise I'll say too much.
Even though you won your season of Drag Race UK, you did not receive any money as part of your prize because of rules and standards set by the BBC, who airs the show. Since you didn’t make it to the finale for All Stars 7, you won’t win the $200,000 cash prize this season either, but you have won some money from your two Lip Sync For Your Legacy wins. How did it feel to be able to compete and actually bring home money for it?
I mean, it's fabulous. We all love money, don't we? But you know, I never went on Drag Race to win money, per se. So it's just a bonus. I think if you're going on the show for money, you're doing it for the wrong reason. But, again, it was nice to take home some money. Not $200,000, but some money.
I love the friendly rivalry that seemed to build up between you and Jinkx Monsoon over the course of the season. How did that start and how did that impact your gameplay?
What you didn't see is that me and Jinkx are so, so close. We had a moment, I think it was in week two or three, where Jinkx came up to me and said, "I'm so happy we met. We're so similar in our references and in our vantage points." Then, she said to me [ed. note: doing an exaggerated Jinkx impersonation], "I'm always used to being the most talented person in the room, so I think I'm a little intimidated by you." I was like, “Well, that's a compliment. Thank you.” But we've got so many ideas of shows we want to do together and stuff.
It's always one of those things. Sometimes, a competition setting isn't the best place to meet people, especially when you're so similar. But our dynamic… I think you were right — the key word is friendly. It was a friendly rivalry. It was fun. We were having fun with it, especially when it came to the [plunger] blocking. You know, we know how to make good TV! But, yeah, Jinkx is an absolute powerhouse and I'm so glad she was there. Just being able to act with her [was rewarding]. I think I shocked myself. What more can you say? She's Jinkx Monsoon.
It’s funny that Jinkx said she’s not used to being around other queens who are as talented as her, because I think she might be the only other queen who could get RuPaul laughing as hysterically as he was when directing you for the acting challenge. Ru loves to laugh, but you don’t see him completely losing it like that too often. How did it feel to basically cause the one and only RuPaul to lose his composure, just by being funny?
That was so gratifying. When you go to Drag Race, you've got to think — and I've done this quite often — but you've got to play to what Ru likes and what Ru loves. And what that is, is Faye Dunaway, Joan Crawford, and being stupid. You don’t have to try to impress the [entire] audience. You’ve only got to impress one person, and that's RuPaul. RuPaul always says he lives his life vicariously through Faye Dunaway's character, so [being able to channel that and then looking over to see his face when] he cracked up, it was just such a fun moment. Because that was raw Ru, that wasn't just Ru on screen. He was really crying-laughing.
Most queens return for an All Stars season in order to prove themselves in some way. You, however, have already won the show once, and therefore don’t really need to do anything to further prove your talent. Given that, what would you say you most wanted to accomplish by coming back onto the show to compete on All Stars 7?
The biggest thing I wanted to prove was that British drag can stand up against American drag and be the same caliber, as long as you put the work in. We all went in with a crown and we all went in winning a season, and no one's ever going to take that from us, no matter what happens. But doing it for my country, I felt very proud to put British drag on such a global stage, because not everyone watched Drag Race UK outside of England. A lot of people did, most of the Drag Race fans and such. [But not everyone did.] So I think I did have something to prove. You said I didn't have anything to prove going in, but I think I did, you know? It was to show that British drag is not all Baga Chipz. [laughs] I love Baga! She’s my sister, so I can say that.
Now looking back at the entire season, even though you didn’t make it all the way to the finale, do you think you got the chance to successfully fulfill your goal? Do you think you proved that British drag can, indeed, stand next to American drag and be the same caliber?
Oh definitely. I mean, win or lose, I've accomplished what I wanted to do. I used this season as a springboard into America and into gaining more fans, and I’ve surpassed that. The worst case-scenario was that I didn't win anything and went back to England with my tail between my legs. But I’m coming out with three wins! And a family, more than anything, a really close-knit group of girls that are just fabulous. I love them all. [pretends to start crying] And I never want to see them again! [laughs] Oh god, I sound like Shea.
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars premiere every Friday on Paramount+.