Graham Norton: 'RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is weirdly moving!'

RuPaul's Drag Race UK judges... Graham Norton, Michelle Visage, Alan Carr
RuPaul's Drag Race UK judges... Graham Norton, Michelle Visage, Alan Carr (Image credit: BBC)

A British version of RuPaul’s high camp drag competition has arrived on BBC3 – with Graham Norton as a judge!

There are some serious sequins and sparkle, plus outrageously glamorous outfits that will put Strictly in the shade, as RuPaul’s Drag Race looks for the UK’s first ‘Drag Race Superstar’. Fans of the original US series (currently on Netflix), hosted by America’s legendary drag performer RuPaul, are in for a treat as ten British drag acts arrive for BBC3’s new British version, including Baga Chipz and Divina De Campo, who appeared on BBC1’s All Together Now.

Each week contestants take part in mini challenges that test a specific drag queen skill, like make-up design. There’s the Snatch Game where they have to showcase their best celebrity impersonations. Also there’s the maxi challenge, which sees them model in a photo shoot or prepare a runway look before one queen is eliminated and asked to ‘sashay away!’

WHAT IS ON TONIGHT? Check out our NEW and Improved TV Guide

Judging the acts for the eight-part series of RuPaul's Drag Race UK are current Strictly star Michelle Visage, plus Graham Norton and Alan Carr, who’ll rotate as regular judges. Each week the panel is also joined a special celebrity guest, who this first week is Spiderman star and Drag Race superfan Andrew Garfield!

Here Graham Norton reveals all about RuPaul, what he’s looking for in a drag queen and why he hesitated at first in saying yes to being a judge…

You’re a big fan of Drag Race. What do you think makes it such a cult watch?

"I didn’t watch the American Drag Race at first and then finally I watched one series and I was hooked! There’s something about drag performers – they are, by default, interesting! There’s also something about guys dressing up as women that seems not that serious, but when you watch the show it has real depth to it and I find it weirdly moving. There’s either some pain or a drama and there’s a story behind every one of those girls. It involves you emotionally in a way you don’t expect."


The Drag Queens competing to be RuPaul's 'Dragrace Superstar UK'

You’ve been part of the US version as well, haven’t you?

"Yes I was lucky enough to be a judge on All Stars 2. I felt like I’d won a competition because I love the show so much. I worried about doing it here in the UK, though. I sort of thought, ‘oh am I going to spoil it for myself?’ But in fact, it’s just as special. Ru has a kind of magic dust that she brings with her and just sprinkles on the whole thing. This is a man who has taken drag and turned it into a global thing – she’s an icon – so if anyone knows what they’re talking about, its Ru. I’m so glad I put my name forward now and said yes please!"

How do the British drag queens such as Baga Chipz and Davina de Campo compare to the US queens?

"I was really worried, not because of the standard of our drag, but often the American version is about the look and sometimes our drag isn’t like that – often our drag queen is someone in a nylon housecoat and a hairnet who’s just really, really funny! But the standard in Snatch Game in particular was so high!"


RuPaul has brought his successful Drag Race show to the UK

Did you already know the British drag scene well then?

"I used to go to bars all the time. It’s the coalface of entertainment, it really is and I think drag queens in this country do a terrific job. It’s not an easy job. It’s not just ironing a shirt and singing a song to some drunk punters – you have to be ready all day."

So how do you find being a judge?

"I have a different taste than Ru and Michelle and sometimes they’re looking for things I don’t care about. In the end personality will win me over, way more than a silhouette or padding, although they’re important! But if you’ve made me laugh or you look quirky or interesting, I’m there!"

* RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Thursday, from 8pm, BBC3Online and BBCiPlayer

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.