Interview: Divina de Campo: ‘A clash of cultures’

Adam Lowe

Hot off the heels of a sell-out tour and a top 40 release for her EP Decoded, Vada Magazine chats to the RuPaul’s Drag Race star, National Diversity Awards nominee and all-round Manchester legend, Divina de Campo.

Tell us about your new single and what it’s about.

My new single is called ‘Gratify’ and it’s released on the 26 June. It’s a four-track release from my brand new EP, Decoded.

I wanted something that’s a bit of a clash of cultures, because that’s how my career is anyway. I’m always being pulled from one thing to another to another. I do some spoken word on the song – it’s definitely not rapping, because I’m not a rapper – but then there are operatic vocals in there as well. 

The way the music is put together, the two vocal styles make a nice juxtaposition. They are very different to each other because of the way they’ve been treated. The operatic parts sound very far away and almost angelic and the spoken word is really layered, which gives it a monstrous feel, almost like a devil.

What was the process of making the track like?

I worked with Killingsworth, the production company based in LA, and had written the majority of the lyrics and the melodic ideas myself. They sent through base tracks that they had worked on according to my brief, and I was able to say, ‘I like this one, this one and that one.’ 

I went away with my lyrics and came up with basic melody ideas, and spent some time setting down what it was I really wanted to say with this track. Then I worked with a producer and songwriter, Ashley Levy – who also did the backing vocals – to help finesse things. I went with the base idea and she helped me buff it out and polish it up. 

As a drag queen, you must have to learn lots of new skills all the time?

I’ve made loads of music before – I’ve done composition and I’ve done songs – but not in this way. Not in this focused approach of treating my EP like a body of work, rather than working on one specific project at a time.

One of the things I love about drag is that you can justify spending five hours teaching yourself a new skill because you are actually going to use it. If you’re a singer and you’re teaching yourself sewing, what’s the point? You don’t need that; you just need to be really good at singing. But in drag there are so many different areas that you can work in and weave into your process. 

How’s life been since RuPaul’s Drag Race UK?

I’ve been really busy touring; it’s just been crazy since Drag Race UK. Most drag queens work millions of hours every week anyway, so that hasn’t really changed. It’s more how many people I’m presenting my work to that’s changed. 

Especially for someone like me, who has worked in the commercial world as well as in the high art side of drag, I have more freedom now to explore the things I’m interested in because there’s an audience ready to listen to it. If you’re performing in a pub in Bury on a Wednesday night and start singing ‘O mio babbino caro’, they’re going to say, ‘Can I have some Rihanna? Where’s my Beyonce? I’d like some Kylie now please!’

This has allowed me to really hone in on what I’m interested in as an artist  I’ll still do the stuff that I know people want, because that’s why they turn up, but it allows you to slip in three or four tracks which maybe they haven’t heard before as long as you can frame it properly. 

In a pub, if they haven’t specifically come to see you – they just came to have a drink and you happen to be on – that’s different work. You have to work in a different way.

Do you prefer working with bigger or smaller audiences?

I’ve always preferred performing to a large audience because I think it’s easier. I think there’s less pressure when there are more people because in a room of 5,000 people, 4,000 of them are going to enjoy what you’re doing. In a room of 5 people, only 4 of those people are going to enjoy what you’re doing and 1 out of 5 is a lot of people when there’s only 5 people in the room. 

If I’m in a big space, there’s a bar at the back so if the thing that’s happening on the stage isn’t your thing for the next 10 minutes or half an hour, it doesn’t matter. You can go and chat to your friends. You can drink a load of shots and get absolutely smashed!

But equally, if you’ve got a smaller audience, it can be great fun. Years ago, I did a ladies’ night and the pub hadn’t advertised it, so there was me and a stripper, and the six people who turned up. I just moved the furniture round and we gave the six people their own private show. 

It was hilariously fun because they had these two sofas at either end of the room and I was like, ‘Well, stuff this for a game of soldiers!’ So I just pulled the sofas into the middle, told them to sit wherever they liked, and said, ‘Let’s start!’ And when it’s intimate like that, it can be really good fun as well.

Which gigs have been your favourite?

I had a really good time when we went to Sheffield with the panto, Sinderella, at Sheffield City Hall. The place was absolutely packed to the rafters and the audience was just so much fun. 

Equally, when I went to Liverpool at the Empire with the panto, the audience and cast were so lovely and amazing. I was nervous because, of course, The Vivienne is from Liverpool, so I didn’t know what kind of reception I’d get. Then my microphone cut out as soon as I came onstage. I did my first few lines and then I had to project my voice. I just said, ‘I’M GOING TO HAVE TO TALK TO YOU VERY LOUDLY!’ And everyone just laughed their heads off. It really broke the ice. 

Shit’s going to go wrong; it happens. And you can either cry about it or you can just get on with it. So Liverpool and Sheffield – both of them were standout, amazing experiences.

Do your Manchester fans still get to see you?

Manchester is like my second home. It has been incredibly good to me and I love it; it’s such a brilliant city with an unbelievably amazing drag scene.

Before Drag Race, I had my core of hardcore fans – but it’s weird calling them fans because I feel they’re more like friends – and they would follow me all over the place to come and watch stuff. They came to London and Glasgow. I did Achy Breaky Bride at the Theatre Royal, St Helens, and loads of them came to that. 

What are you working on next?

Now that the EP has dropped and the single’s out next month, I’m working on new content online. I’m involved in a project with QueerArts, who are raising money for the NHS and for York LGBT forum. You get to become part of a charity music video for a song called ‘Through the Storm’. 

You can sing or lip-sync the song and we’ll be handing all the videos we receive over to a filmmaker to incorporate as many as we can into the final video. I’ve already recorded my bit but you can end up in the music video with me – if you want to!

I’ve also been super busy with the Isolation Song Contest. We were raising money for Crisis Refuge and the Trussell Trust; all the tracks are still on YouTube. You can still watch it and it’s just a really hilarious hour of music because it’s mostly comedians who have entered, so they proper take the piss. It’s great and I really enjoyed making the track.

There is another big project that I can’t really tell you about but I’m working with two individuals in particular on this. I can’t tell you anything else about it, but if I say there are a couple of other people, then most people will be able to work it out.

Will you keep us updated about that?

I will definitely keep everyone updated on what’s going on because I’m very excited about that. I mean, really, really excited about that project! In the meantime, I’m just getting on writing stuff for later in the year and then hopefully when lockdown’s over I’ll be able to get back on the road. I’ve got my one woman show, Red Wig and Silver Dress.

There are lots of pokers in the fire; I’m just waiting to see which one gets hot before I decide to take it out – so to speak.

I have a couple of pantos which I’m excited about. There’s one with Blu Hydrangea and with Baga Chipz. We’re doing Sleeping (with) Beauty. Then I’m doing an adult panto tour by myself with Joseph Purdy Productions again – the performances at Manchester Dancehouse, Liverpool and Sheffield were all Joe Purdy productions – and it was an amazing experience. The whole cast was fantastic. I felt really blessed – booked and blessed.

I was just really grateful that I was able to be part of that cast because everyone worked together really well, which isn’t always the case. When you’re touring, there’s usually someone who is a fucking dickhead – and if you don’t know who the dickhead is, it’s usually you. So the dickhead was probably me, but it was still great fun. Hopefully that’s going to happen again this year. 

And then there’s a musical which, depending on how the theatres all come out of this, will be a genuine dream come true. I think a lot of the bigger theatres will be fine but I think a lot of the small, regional ones will need our support. 

I’m going to be doing, as part of the launch for the EP, a night for the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. I’ll be doing a full performance of Decoded that night. Huddersfield invited me back and I was so pleased.

I used to work at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in the box office when I had just finished my A-levels, so it would nearly have been 20 years ago. I was also there, before that, the night that it had a relaunch. I was in Year 7 doing a dance. So I’ve been involved with the Lawrence Batley going back nearly 30 years. 

It was amazing to go back there to do Homecoming Queen and Henry Filloux-Bennett (Chief Executive and Artistic Director) took a punt on me. He didn’t know whether it was going to sell well – but thankfully it sold better than any other shows. In three days it had sold out. So I sort of feel like I owe them. 

I’m doing a fundraiser for them on the 26 June, which will be a performance of the EP and a Q&A afterwards. That will all be on live stream.

More information

Decode is on sale now. ‘Gratify’ hits stores on 26 June 2020, and features a piano house remix by Hardino, an electro-dance pop remix by Mike Carter and a Mardi Gras-infused 80s-inspired remix by Tuffcub. You can pick up the EP Decoded and single ‘Gratify’ from Divina’s shop, as well as Amazon, Spotify or iTunes.

For more information about Divina de Campo, including tour dates and appearances, visit divinadecampo.com.

You can also show your love by voting for Divina de Campo at the National Diversity Awards until 8 June 2020.

Catch Divina in RuPaul’s Drag Race UK on BBC iPlayer while you still can! (Click Mama Ru to go to Episode 1.)