Meet our cover star: Lady Bushra

Adam Lowe

Shortlisted for the 2021 BBC New Comedy Awards, Lady Bushra is the bombastic brainchild of comedian Amir. Birthed among the cobbled streets and soot-blackened houses of Bradford, Lady Bushra is known for her masterful lip syncs, gag-worthy one-liners and proper Yorkshire glamour.

Lady Bushra is often seen performing across the nation with fabulous guest artists at her sold-out Drag Comedy Cabaret. Basic bad girl Bushra became a breakout sensation during lockdown – her content quickly becoming more viral than her kisses.

This clever mix of South Asian sensibilities blended with British humour has made Lady Bushra an instant hit, allowing Amir to take his act all over the UK as well as internationally. In the run-up to her Queer Contact show Lady Bushra: Robbed, Vada Magazine got a chance to talk sass and class with the creator behind the zhoozhed up diva, from his new home in rainy Manchester.

AL: How did you get into drag?

LB: It was all a bit of an accident; I didn’t plan to become a drag queen. I didn’t think it would be the career for me at all.

I actually graduated in Biomedical Science – my parents wanted me to be a doctor – so this is a very different career choice for me. But I had always wanted to be in the arts, so it worked out alright, really.

What happened?

I was just in London with a few friends. We got talking and I floated the idea of Lady Bushra of Bradford, just as a joke. And they just started laughing – they thought it was hilarious – and instantly, I knew I was onto something.

That was January 2020. By February, I was Lady Bushra onstage in London!

That’s quick!

Very quick. It was the same venue that Cheryl Hall used to do her club night in. It was quite exciting. But then obviously the pandemic happened.

Did that set you back?

Like many other people, I had a lot of turmoil, a lot of things to deal with. But I kept pursuing Lady Bushra, and I kept developing the character.

I started making digital content that went viral. My stuff went as far as Canada, India and Australia. Even Iran, oddly enough.

But that kind of kept me going. And then when the pandemic began subsiding, people started asking for me to perform on stage. And the rest is history.

That’s quite heartening, isn’t it?

Oh yeah, definitely! I didn’t expect it to blow up so quickly. Sometimes it can take drag artists years before they’re even invited onstage, or it can take them years to build up to doing theatres. So I’ve been quite fortunate, and I’m very, very grateful.

So Bradford seems to be big part of who Lady Bushra is. Have you performed much in your hometown?

Well, when I started doing drag, the Bradford lockdown was in full force. So unfortunately I never got to experience being a drag performer in Bradford.

In the past, the council tried to make it work for Bradford Pride, but unfortunately things couldn’t work at their end. But I’m sure I will perform in Bradford at some point. I want to.

What is the drag scene like in Bradford?

Growing up, the drag scene in Bradford was quite minimal. There were a few established drag queens that I had the pleasure of seeing, but it wasn’t on the same scale as Manchester or London, obviously.

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But to be honest with you, I was a little bit put off by the drag scene in Bradford for a while – particularly one night when me and my husband were out, and one of the drag queens on the mic used the P-word to describe my husband. That was quite upsetting for him and understandably so.

That comment wasn’t very funny and it really didn’t encourage me to explore the drag scene in Bradford very much. But in the end, that experience made me think about where the limitations lie within comedy and how I want to push the envelope in my own way.

Historically, there has been this stereotype of drag queens as onstage in a gay bar, slagging people off and being a bit mean.

I’m pleased to say that’s a bit of an illusion. It’s not really where drag in the UK is at, or where it has been at historically, either. Some of the biggest drag queens growing up were in the mainstream, such as Dame Edna or Lily Savage.

Lily Savage could be crass, but her look was always polished, regardless of what she was wearing. I respect that.

So besides Bradford, was there anywhere else you could go?

I used to go to Leeds all the time. We used to go to Viaduct and Queens Court. They have some great drag queens. It’s such a great night out.

Fibre was fab, too. They used to do two-for-one cocktails on Fridays, which was always dangerous. I don’t drink anymore, but yeah, it used to be a lot of fun. They made a really mean white Russian, which used to be my favourite drink.

Leeds is one of my favourite cities actually. It was the closest place where I could escape a small town. It was a first city. Do you know what I mean? So it always holds a very special place in my heart.

And how long have you lived in Manchester for?

I moved into Manchester in July of 2020, so it’ll be three years. But the time flies in Manchester, it really does. There’s so much happening all the time.

I’ve lost all concept of time, broadly speaking. I’m like, what is January, even? And I’ve already planned my life up until December – my work diary’s already full till May.

So it’s crazy, but that never would’ve happened had I still been living in a small town.

What are your drag influences then?

As a British Asian, I’m a mixture of several cultures and influences – be it British, Pakistani, Indian, American – I’ve been inspired by all of them. And as an artist, I’m not too married to a particular identity.

My drag is always gonna be an amalgamation of my experiences and I’d encourage other drag queens to do the same. I am a drag comedian, for example. That’s my thing.

In the beginning, I did the whole thing of terrible makeup, terrible wig, terrible outfit, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I am evolving so that I look aesthetically pleasing – or as pleasing as I can be.

It’s easy to get it wrong.

I think it’s very easy to miss the mark with makeup, miss the mark with the wig, miss the mark with an outfit. Don’t bother cinching your waist in, don’t bother with the hip pads, and just belt out a few show tunes. There’s definitely a place for that kind of drag.

But for me, that’s not pushing the envelope far enough. I think there’s a certain amount of outrage when you push the feminine persona to such an extent that you start looking beautiful. I think that is where the real outrage is – when you are a very obvious bloke in a wig, that actually makes the audience a lot more comfortable than you looking incredible and then saying awesome things on the mic.

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So I really do try to push my drag aesthetic. And then, once I have the right aesthetic, I can dial up that outrage with what I’m saying and what I’m doing with the unique voice I bring.

Do you think we expect more now from our drag queens, because of shows like Drag Race?

I really welcome RuPaul’s Drag Race because it really is beginning to push drag artists to continue to evolve themselves. That’s very, very, very important, especially if you are performing in front of an intellectual audience, which is what a lot of gay audiences are.

If you look at what American drag queens were doing in the 90s, Lypsinka was walking for Mugler; Rupaul was doing huge campaigns with the likes of Mac and was flying Concord business class with Joan Collins; Lady Bunny was doing Wigstock.

They’ve not limited to themselves or confined themselves to a particular rule set, which I love.

You said early that the bit where the outrage starts to happen is when you start to look pretty. Can you explain a little bit more what you mean about that?

As far as the general social construct is concerned, men were always supposed to look like men and they were supposed to do manly things. Women were supposed to look feminine and were supposed to do womanly things. The woman was expected to wear a pretty dress whilst cleaning the house in servitude to her husband.

Now, I know that we have evolved since then, but the societal expectation is still there. And you can ask any woman in the world, and she will tell you that she has been subjected to misogyny at some point in her life.

And if you speak to any man – especially straight men – they will tell you how they have felt peer pressure to provide or be manly.

But in some ways, that binary social construct can also make people feel comfortable. As human beings, it’s only natural for us to compartmentalize our lives in order to feel comfortable.

So drag is very much a lighthouse. It is very much that outrageous beacon of light out there saying, ‘Hey guys, by the way, what you are seeing isn’t true and don’t take your life too seriously!’

And as a drag artist, you are able to demonstrate that in very literal terms. You can say, ‘Okay, so a man is supposed to be mostly manly, provide and do manly things. Well, guess what? I’m gonna put on a wig; I’m gonna put on heels. I’m gonna look incredible. I’m going to invoke a very strong feminine persona to the point that it confuses you and you don’t know where you stand in your values. And I’m still gonna provide, and I’m still gonna have a family, and I’m gonna do it my way, and I’m gonna have my own kind kind of family.’

That can be very threatening to people. But that is where you have the most fun.

When we think about models of beauty, especially in the West, sometimes those idealised standards aren’t supposed look like you and me. So when you turn up looking gorgeous as a South Asian queen, that can also be quite outrageous, right?

I think, as a drag artist, that drag artists are inherently delusional. And I am quite delusional!

So if I want to see myself the same as a beautiful white woman, I will and I will make it happen. If I see Marilyn Monroe and I see myself in her, then that’s just a delusion I live in.

But I also get your point. I think the beauty is that I am British and Asian, and South Asian culture is just so prominent and so strong that, for example, with the likes of Bollywood, it’s something very easy for me to tap into it. I feel spoiled for choice.

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I aspire to beauty at both ends. If I see a Bella Hadid or a Gigi Hadid – or if I saw Aishwarya Rai, who’s a very prominent Bollywood actress who’s often regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world – or Madhuri Dixit, who’s one of my favourite actresses of all time – I can look to all of those references and put that in my work.

I do think that there is something very special and sacred as far as South Asian fashion is concerned, especially due to its heritage. For example, a sari is over 5,000 years old. So you are really tapping into your ancestry the minute you put one on and you can play with it in so many different ways in terms of its draping and so on. So I’m really fortunate to have best of both worlds that I can bring into my work.

Let’s, let’s talk a little bit about your show that’s coming up at Queer Contact. Do you want to give us a little teaser of what it’s about?

I decided to do this show because it feels like a graduation from my cabaret. I’d always wanted to do stand-up comedy; I’d always wanted to do a lot more in theatre. So this is me getting to do both in a really great theatre in a city I love.

The show is very much an introduction to the character of Lady Bushra. It’s called Lady Bushra: Robbed, and it’s like an Apple product launch meets a TEDx talk. So it’s gonna have that level of delusion to it. It’s all about – you guessed it – Lady Bushra feeling robbed, and what she could have been had it not been for the rest of the world getting in the way. It’s everybody else’s fault but hers.

It’s a lighthearted comedy but with a political message behind it is as to what women, and South Asian women in particular, can achieve if only they didn’t have their wings clipped, so to speak. Expect props and lots of use of visuals and all that jazz. It’ll be a lot of fun. It’s also inspired in part by some of the various careers I’ve had in my life, so I’ve worked that into this story of Lady Bushra and what she could have been if given the chance.

What are you doing next?

After Contact, I’m hoping to take the show to other cities. Make sure to look out for announcements regarding that. There are a few other projects that I can’t talk about just yet, but you might be seeing Lady Bushra internationally once again, so that should be very, very exciting.

Meanwhile, my Drag Comedy Cabaret is happening in Manchester and London. I’m doing a few one-off shows in Birmingham and will have a few pride announcements as well. There’s lots going on.

For more information, head over to ladybushra.com.

About Lady Bushra: Robbed

Friday 17 February, 7.30pm
Price:
£20 | Under 35: £15 | Concessions: £10 | Contact Membership: FREE
Venue: Contact, Oxford Rd, Manchester, M15 6JA
Ages: 18+
Running time: 70 minutes
Genre: Comedy, drag, stand-up
Buy tickets now

Don’t miss the chance to see the hilarious and iconic drag comedian Lady Bushra as this ‘teenage’ starlet takes you on quite the unique journey!

Hailing from the ‘exotic land of Bradford’, Lady Bushra is not your run-of-the-mill South Asian ‘Karen’. Join her as she explains what she could have been, had she been given the chance – and how everything is anybody’s fault but hers.

This full-fledged stand-up show invites you into the mind and many dramas of this Northern icon.

Check out the show as part of Queer Contact 2023.

About Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is an award-winning author, editor and publisher from Leeds, now based in Manchester. He runs Dog Horn Publishing and is Director and Writing Coordinator for Young Enigma, a writer development programme for LGBT young people. He sometimes performs as Beyonce Holes.