Portsmouth drag queen talks about life as 'alter ego' Danii Dior
‘We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.’ This is a signature phrase by American drag queen, RuPaul, who has brought the world of drag into a mainstream spotlight with his hugely popular American show, RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Decades ago, the only way to get a glimpse of drag would be to attend a club at the weekend or type it into Google Images.
But now through Netflix and other TV streaming sites, you can enter the world of drag in the form of hundreds of hour-long episodes, watching queens at their best while competing against each other.
So with his drag race franchise becoming a hit on social media with 6.3m followers across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, RuPaul’s Drag Race has made queens and what they do – from make-up to lip syncing – a popular phenomenon.
Portsmouth-based drag queen, Danii Dior, otherwise known as Daniel Shannon, laughs as we talk about RuPaul. He says: ‘Drag race has become really mainstream now and I think it has got more people talking about it.
‘And that isn’t a bad thing.’
By day, Daniel is a cosmetics manager at Debenhams in Commercial Road, Portsmouth. However by night, he has transformed into Danii Dior.
Daniel, 25, says: ‘When I’m Danii, my voice changes, my walk changes, I am more confident and become my alter ego.’
After coming out at the age of 16 when he started at Havant and South Downs College, he remembers seeing the change as being a fresh slate.
‘As a young person I knew that I was gay but I didn’t know anyone else who was. I had no one to identify with,’ explains Daniel, who grew up in Havant.
‘I did feel alone sometimes. I didn’t know what I was feeling and if it was okay.
‘For years I knew I was gay but I still had girlfriends. When I came out, I was still myself but a lot more camp and flamboyant.’
His interest in drag started when he was 19, when a friend told him about his new job in drag. Laughing about how silly it seems now, Daniel says: ‘I came home and looked it up on Google because I had no idea what it was.
‘RuPaul’s drag race came up and for me as a drag artist now, I have grown up with that show and it has become so mainstream.’
Daniel says he owes his drag career so far to his drag mother, queen Cherry Liquor, who first showed him how to do drag make-up and got him his first gig at gay bar Hampshire Boulevard (HB) in Portsmouth.
He explains: ‘Cherry was doing a show in Chichester and she told some of us to come along. It was Halloween so I went as a vampire woman and absolutely loved it.
‘Drag is so captivating, you transform into a different character.
‘My friends and I started going to these events regularly and each month was a different theme and every month I dressed in drag.’
Not long after, Danii Dior was born.
‘It was a great moment when I created the character Danii Dior. She is an amplified version of myself,’ admits Daniel.
‘She is funnier than me and she loves the spotlight and attention. I carved an extension of myself and people love her.
‘Some people always want to see you and touch your hair and grab you. Sometimes it’s not that nice but it’s part of the job.’
A huge part in the transformation process from Daniel to Danii is, of course, hair, make-up, outfits and all the glitz and glamour that brings.
But Daniel is no stranger to make-up. He says: ‘I started experimenting with make-up when I got into drag but I knew the basics anyway.
‘When I was at school, I remember I put some of my sister’s foundation on. When I got to the bus stop, my friend asked why I was so orange. I thought it would blend in!’
‘With drag make-up, the rule is if you think you have got enough on, you probably have not. More is definitely more in this case,’ says Daniel.
‘Cherry would help me do my make up and now it can sometimes take me two hours just to do my eyes. Drag queens were the queens of contour, even before it became mainstream.
‘The hair really changes everything for me. Once I put my wig on, I know I have transformed into Danii Dior. It’s the final step of the transformation.
‘Drag is so personal. To some, it might just be putting heels on or a bit of make-up when they go out. Whether you’re transgender, non-binary, straight or gay, drag is what drag is to you.’
Daniel now works at HB every Saturday with his ‘drag sisters’, especially Cherry Liquor and Aura Jay. Queens perform different acts, from comedy to lip-syncing to actual singing and dancing.
Daniel says Danii Dior is a lip-sync queen, varying acts from ‘very emotional to very funny’. ‘They say you can’t choose your family, but you can with your drag sisters,’ says Daniel, smiling.
‘I have only ever experienced love, kindness and support from the drag community here. I think in America they can be a lot more shady, like RuPaul says.’
Having grown up around the city, Daniel says Portsmouth Pride 2019 was definitely a career high. He explains: ‘I think on Instagram I have a young following and I get messages asking for advice on coming out and getting into drag.
‘Portsmouth Pride is a family event and safe space. So being able to connect and selfie with a young audience who you mean a lot to, and vice versa, means more than having a picture with some drunk adults.
‘I have had messages saying “thank you so much for taking the time to speak to my son or daughter, it really meant a lot to them”. And that is so heartwarming to know you’re giving back.’
For the future, Daniel – who now lives in Chichester with his partner – doesn’t think drag will be something in his life forever like 87-year-old Maisie Trollete, who is the oldest working drag queen in the UK.
But for now, it’s his passion, hobby and Danii Dior will always mean a lot to him. Daniel says: ‘I don’t think I will be in drag forever like Maisie Trollete. I think when I do call it a day, it will be like a break-up. But Danii Dior has brought me such amazing experiences and memories.
‘At the end of the day, I am still my own person. But Danii Dior will always have a place in my heart.’
Besides working at Debenhams and HB, Daniel also hosts a quiz as Danii Dior at the Guildhall Village pub every Thursday. To see her in action, go to @daniidior on Instagram.