What do you get when you combine the Virgin Mary with Snow White’s Wicked Queen and an American Valley Girl? You get Virgin Xtravaganzah, the glitter-doused, all-singing, club-hosting drag queen. We chat with Andrew Burt, the man behind the messiah’s mother, about Catholicism, fetish parties and pushing the boundaries of queer art.
When you think of the Virgin Mary, you most likely picture an ethereal ingénue dressed in blue, looking innocent and serene. You probably don’t imagine the holy mother with her face beat to the gods in glitter, a sharp moustache, a 19-inch waist cinched with a corset and towering heels. Or maybe you do? I guess it depends what church you go to.
Virgin Xtravaganzah, the drag queen in celestial robes of leather and lace, is an interesting and bold interpretation of the matriarch of the Church by artist and performer Andrew Burt. She combines his love of Disney villainesses with his Catholic school upbringing and an added Valley Girl twist. As I said: an interesting interpretation.
“In many ways, I’m very different from a lot of drag queens in the sense that I’m an actor doing drag and I play a very defined character,” explains Burt. “She isn’t a character that I invented – I didn’t come up with the Virgin Mary. For a lot of drag queens, their drag is reflective of something deep within them. I’m not saying I don’t identify with Virgin on deep levels – I do – but the road I took to get to her is very different.”
Virgin Xtravaganzah is the culmination of Burt’s adoration of some unlikely saints and sinners. “I’ve always loved dressing up and the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was my first true love,” says Burt. “In Disney, the real powerful women are the villains. I was drawn to the women of power because I felt that feminine energy within me.” You can see the influence of the Wicked Queen in Virgin’s signature aesthetic, making her one of the fairest and one of the most unique drag queens on the scene right now. She forgoes the backed up wigs, opting instead for a skullcap, veil and dramatic headpiece.
Virgin’s look has evolved over the years, and Burt is quick to share the credit with his collaborators such as Hysteria Machine and Misty Couture. “A lot of my work with designers has been a collaborative effort. I’m lucky to work with artists like that and they push me creatively. They make me think differently about my work through their eyes.”
At Catholic school, Burt attended church three times a week and found himself worshipping an altogether different sort of powerful female icon. “You go into church and there’s a gigantic crucifix with this quite hot guy on it and always to the side of him is this statue of a lady in beautiful robes,” explains Burt. “She is woven into the imagery of Catholicism and is given that power podium. But we don’t know very much about her – that’s why I was drawn to her.”
Burt was just playing around with some make up at home when, by some stroke of divine intervention, he wondered what the Virgin Mary would be like if she was a modern girl. After a few comic YouTube videos about the Virgin dealing with relationship problems, in 2014 he entered a drag competition at the late Madam Jojo’s and won with his parody lyrics to a Rihanna song.
Nowadays, Virgin can be found performing at nightclubs around London such as Camden gay bar Her Upstairs, hosting at notoriously naughty club night Torture Garden or speaking at LGBT+ events at the Wallace Collection.
Torture Garden is one of London’s infamous fetish nights and makes an unlikely home for this saintly icon. The irony isn’t lost on Burt either. “I enjoy doing it because there’s something inside me that’s like, ‘I’m dressed as the Virgin Mary at a fetish party – this is so fucking cool’. People will look at me like, ‘what the fuck is that?’ But I find people are very respectful of the drag queen coming through.” Though the audience at Torture Garden is on their knees for another reason, even they can’t help but praise the Virgin Xtravaganzah.
On the other side of the spectrum, Virgin has performed at the Wallace Collection – a stunningly grandiose museum of baroque art and décor. As with a fetish party on London’s underground scene, the highbrow society of the Wallace Collection seems an unlikely platform for a sexy drag queen singing pop tune parodies. Earlier this year, Virgin was involved in the popular Wallace Collection Late’s annual LGBT event, and rather symbolically, performed in front of Phillippe de Champagne’s painting of the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel, The Annunciation. “It was really magical. Virgin Mary is such an ancient character, and I was surrounded by so much historical art that had been inspired by her while I was dressed as and representing her – it was intense.”
Perhaps one of the most striking things about the Virgin Xtravaganzah isn’t her different journey into drag or her signature style, but her presence in non-traditional drag environments and her connection to non-queer audiences. “Someone asked me recently about being a queer performer in non-queer spaces. There were comments about the owning of queer spaces and keeping it within queer venues for queer audiences, which is very important,” asserts Burt. “But I am all about integration. I have come from the queer community and those are my roots but I want to believe as artist, even a drag queen, I have the potential to expand to a broader audience and take queer art to non-queer platforms. For me, that’s when the real magic happens. Otherwise we are always preaching to the converted.”
Virgin’s stage isn’t a pulpit. Her messages are far more nuanced than that. She rewrote Don Mclean’s American Pie as London Dies, commenting on the closure of the city’s queer venues and its commercial gentrification. In Let Us Pee, a rewrite of the Beatles’s Let It Be, she discusses the controversial bathroom laws in America which discriminate against trans people. At face value, Virgin’s parodies are just funny rewrites; when you listen to the lyrics, you realise that this Virgin isn’t some quiet and serene idol like Mary – Xtravaganza has a lot to say and she isn’t afraid to say it.
The Virgin Mary may be an icon of the Catholic faith but the Virgin Xtravaganzah is fast becoming an icon of London’s queer and performance scenes. From the dark rooms of fetish parties to the great halls of museums, this drag queen is serving sass, style and sanctification with her incredible outfits and provocative pop parodies. She pushes the boundaries of drag, religion and art while challenging social issues and politics, and does it all in sequins and stilettoes to a Taylor Swift song. Amen to that.
Catch Virgin Xtravaganzah in the Redemption Xtravaganzah at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on 19th April 2017. Click here to purchase tickets, pull up a pew and get ready to worship the Mother of Gawd.
Photography: Haley Ballard
Styling: Darcy Rive
Clothing Credits: Charles Jeffrey / Beyond Retro / Hysteria Machine / Misty Couture / Arma Medusa / Mark Fast