In the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race, we have seen some genuinely surprising moments where firm favourites have left early. Be it Valentina, who opted to wear a mask throughout a lip sync, Ben De La Creme, who decided to eliminate herself, or Veronica Green, who was removed from the competition after she contacted coronavirus, many queens have had their ascent to the top put on pause unexpectedly. But, without a doubt, the biggest shock departure came in the US’s Season 4, when Willam was removed from the competition after breaking rules. For Willam, who had up to that point been viewed as a definite frontrunner, it was the end of what was then the most high profile journey of her career. But when she left the Werk Room, it was clear to audiences over the world that this was one face we would be seeing again. She delivered on that promise, and now her UK fans will get the chance this month as Willam takes to the West End stage.
Willam is joining the cast of Death Drop, a delightfully camp entry into the murder mystery canon which sees a group of seemingly unconnected individuals descend on an isolated estate, only for death to follow them into the shadows. Its previous run - in between lockdowns last year - saw Courtney Act and Monet Exchange lend some international style to proceedings. When the opportunity arose to do the same in this second run, Willam jumped at it.
‘Clue is one of my favourite movies,’ Willam tells Grazia, referencing the cult classic adaptation of the board game of the same name (known in the UK, of course, as Cluedo). ‘This is Clue plus music plus Drag Queens & Kings. What’s not to like? Plus, I really like singing, dancing and being employed.’ Rehearsals are underway, and Willam thinks her fans may be surprised at what they see. In more ways than one. ‘It depends where they’re sitting: front row gets a whole other show because I like my hems short. But safe to say: I think everyone can expect to laugh a whole lot.’
Willam is joined in the production by Latrice Royale, fellow Season 4 fan favourite. ‘Latrice is definitely my closest sister from my season of Drag Race,’ Willam explains. ‘We won the singing and dancing challenge on our season ten years ago, so it makes sense that the producers brought over us as breast friends to the West End.’ They have been enjoying classic English high tea breaks during pauses from rehearsals, although coronavirus regulations mean that, as yet, they have been unable to paint the town red together. ‘I get tested a lot for the show, and they’ve asked me to avoid crowds and stay low risk,’ Willam explains. ‘That’s been easy thus far because out of twelve days here, it’s rained ten.’ When spring arrives in earnest, though, there’s a to do list. ‘I’m excited to kiki with my new Drag Race sisters like Tayce, Awhora, Ellie Diamond and Bimini,’ explains Willam. ‘I met the Glow Up winner Ellis Atlantis last time I was touring here, and I really want them to paint me too. And going out dancing at a Jodie Harsh party is always on my list too.’
This visit is simply the latest of many for Willam, who has held a long-standing love affair with Britain. ‘I love performing here,’ Willam explains. ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show basically was my gateway drag , and Footballer’s Wives is still a favorite I rewatch. Plus, I’m the drag mother to Shaneeda Nibbles: aka Jade from Little Mix. She loves and supports us drag queens and is constantly uplifting us. I was in the music video for Power, and now four years later, she’s got more queens in the Confetti video.’ Willam adds that, if an extra Brit could be enlisted to join the cast of Death Drop, then MNEK would be top choice. ‘He is brilliant,’ she says. ‘Love him. Boy George, too.’
Willam is a natural choice for a leading role in a play which, while drag-focused, nevertheless requires its stars to possess actual acting and singing experience. Anyone who watches Drag Race will know that few of the queens truly excel at both. But Willam is a Daytime Emmy nominee, starred alongside Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born (‘I am grateful for A Star Is Born, the residual cheques that come from it, and the opportunities to be a part of queer stories being told) and had already appeared in shows like Nip/Tuck and CSI. I suggest that theatre requires a different acting muscle, but Willam doesn’t necessarly agree.
‘Acting to me is just equal parts lying, narcissism and listening, no matter the medium I get to do it on,’ Willam says. ‘But theatre is great because it’s instant gratification: nothing beats the sound of laughter. It’s a handjob for the ego.’
This West End stint, of course, follows the lights going down in theatres all over the world. It’s not a pleasant thing for a professional performer to have to watch.
‘It’s been a struggle but I decided early on to come out of Covid a better person than I was when it started,’ says Willam. ‘Not being on the road has let me focus on the podcast Femmepire I run with my sister Alaska Thunderfuck. We produce podcasts for the most famous and fabulous drag queens in the world: Shea Coulee, Jinkx Monsoon, Manila Luzon, Brook Lynn Hytes, Priyanka, Delta Work, Raja, Meatball and of course Latrice Royale. Alaska and I have been doing livestreams with our sisters that are not only entertaining but profitable- we’ve raised $100K+ for a bunch of different charities. Necessity is the mother of all invention. You cannot keep drag queens from finding a way to perform.’
Death Drop - the Dragatha Christie Murder Mystery is at the Garrick Theatre from 19 May until 11 July. For tickets visit deathdropplay.com