In Conversation with Freida Slaves

As part of the new wave of contemporary drag performers to gain notoriety in London, Freida Slaves is no stranger to being centre stage.

Her passion for performance began when Freida, real name Troy, grew up in East Oxford surrounded by strong female role models. After becoming inspired by drag culture and a love of dance and makeup, Freida set out to bring her particular brand of confidence to her performances, quickly becoming one of the star performers at The Glory, London’s spectacularly irreverent gay pub. As she prepares to take to the stage as part of Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety Performance, we caught up with Freida to discuss role models, RuPaul and leading the charge of new POC performers.

Hey Freida! Tell us about how you discovered performance…

I started when I was three years old. I was a hyper child and my mother didn’t know what to do with me, so she shoved me into a dance class! Apart from being a dinosaur or an astronaut, being a dancer was all I ever wanted to do. I did stop when I was eleven due to bullying and peer pressure, but I found myself lost and not as happy. I started to go back to class around the age of fourteen – that’s when I knew I wanted to do this as a profession because it was the only thing that made me truly happy. So I trained hard and got a scholarship to Bodyworks Dance studio, now known as Cambridge Performing arts, where I graduated at nineteen.

And how did you get into drag?

After graduating from Cambridge Performing Arts and dancing professionally for over 10 years, I decided to go into semi-retirement. I wasn’t fun anymore – I think I was over being dictated to.

I’ve always had an interest in fashion, so I started to make own clothes and learned how to sew on YouTube. I had learnt how to do makeup at performing arts school, but I’m a terrible singer, so I’ve been lip-syncing all my life! As soon as I saw RuPaul’s Drag Race, I said to myself “I can do that”.

Tell us about the moment you got discovered by the team at The Glory…

I was working at the staff bar of the National Theatre while The Glory were taking over the Riverstage for the weekend. Various queens were hanging out at the bar in-between sets and flirting with me to get free alcohol. Baby Lame and I were chatting about how I had just discovered Drag Race, how jealous I was of The Glory queens getting to wear sparkly dresses and dancing round on stage with (what seems to be) no care in the world. Baby Lame was a little tipsy and just bluntly said “If you want to do it, just fucking do it.” One magical evening, I saw a poster for LIPSYNC1000 in the toilets of The Glory. I saw the opportunity and I grabbed it.

What are some of your career highlights?

Nothing will compare to my first Lipsync1000. The first time doing drag as a performance and receiving all the admiration from the crowd and judges for something I had complete creative freedom over. Another highlight was walking past Hackney Empire and seeing a huge poster for Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety Performance. I felt a sense of pride to be even associated with such a show. Finally, when I had a Glory Late night, a young POC said that he was there to support my night because I had inspired him to live his truth of wearing make up and heels, and proceeded to show me which looks he had tried to replicate.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

When I’m Freida, people describe me as strong, powerful, confident, sexual and forward. None of which are the characteristics of me off-stage. It comes as no surprise that my female persona is a powerful woman, because I’ve always been surrounded by strong women. My mother raised me single handily, and my Nan, to whom I was really close, raised ten kids by herself.

Performance wise, I’m inspired by Janet Jackson, Madonna, Paula Abdul, and, dare I say it – Beyonce. Strong women with hard, complex choreography.

Who are some of your pop-culture heroes?

I found Prince so captivating from a young age. I discovered him through my love of Batman. I had the soundtrack to the 1989 Batman movie and watched the BatDance on repeat. Bowie stole my gay heart when I watched Labyrinth, with tight trousers and huge hair. Kimberly Hart and Buffy Summers – they are both kicking ass on screen, better than boys. Also, Kendra Young – she was the black ‘slayer’ who was activated by Buffy’s brief death. She was the first POC action hero I was introduced to.

How important is the support you’ve received from the drag community?

The support from the other queens is insane. Jonny Woo is most notably one of my strongest supporters. Not just of me but for any queer who wants help with nursing their creativity. It shows in his safe space of The Glory with companions like Lipsync1000 and his Work In Progress Nights.

Also I’ve noticed that the queens are open about any issues they’re going through, whether about mental health issues, anxiety or depression. It’s refreshing to hear men talk about these issues so freely.

There’s a lot of talk about achieving greater representation for POC in queer spaces, how important is this to you?

It’s important purely for representation and to make spaces feel inclusive. I’ve had a surprising amount of POC come to me and thank me for flying the flag of colour on various platforms. It’s lovely to hear, but also upsetting that I’m being thanked. I don’t want to be thanked. I want it to be the norm. but the more I spread the word and showcase myself, the more queens of colour will emerge.

Photography: Simon Phipps

See Freida Slaves perform live at Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety Show at Hackney Empire on 3-4 November

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