Michelle Visage is an absolute icon in the LGBT community - just ask anybody. This past week, Dale Fox caught up with the Drag Race judge, Celebrity Big Brother runner-up and ‘90s girl group songstress in Manchester to discuss her new book: The Diva Rules.
Tell us about the book.
MV: It's not an autobiography - it's more of a self-help book. It's part-memoir but it’s about my journey to how I got from where I grew up to where I am now but it’s about how many times people told me I couldn't do what I wanted to do and I couldn't achieve what I wanted to achieve and how I looked them dead in the eye and said ‘try and stop me’. It’s basically about how anybody can get the best life they wanna get and it’s never too late to start.
You talk a lot in the book about getting ahead in life. Are you not where you want to be right now?
MV: I’m in a great position and I love where I am right now but I don’t think I’m as far as I want to be but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what I have - it means that I’ve got further to go. I even think that when I achieve what I want to achieve, in my head it’s still not going to be enough.
What’s the next big thing for you?
MV: There is no next big thing - whatever comes your way in life is what it is. I’d love to focus on getting on Broadway or the West End in the next year or do my own TV stuff, still do Drag Race or whatever I can with Ru.
You were part of the underground ballroom and voguing scene in New York in the late ‘80s - what was that like?
MV: Amazing is not even the correct adjective. It was an unforgettable, once in a lifetime situation because you learn so much from those kids. I learned the majority of my schooling, not my education but my ‘real life education’, from them and my years spent with them. First of all: I didn’t know anything about the gay community, second of all: I didn’t know the plight - the history, the fight - that brought them to where they are. I didn’t know what it was like to live on the streets, I didn’t know what it was like to grow up in Harlem and go through what they went through and I was educated so quickly from these people with the biggest hearts and the most beautiful souls and it was the most amazing experience.
Are those people on your mind when you’re advocating gay rights?
MV: They’re always in my mind because those are the people that taught me about love and what true love is all about as a friend and a family. Of course, my family is my family but this is a different kind of family. This is a family that chose me and I chose them and the ones who are still alive, we’re still close today.
Do you still Vogue?
What do you think of Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour?
MV: Unbelievable. Probably the best tour of about 15 years because, for me, I finally saw her as human again. She had gone through a period where she didn’t seem human to me - I felt like she was just creating this thing on the outside and she wasn’t connecting with the audience. On this tour her sense of humour was back, she sang a bunch of the old stuff we wanted to hear, there weren’t really any political statements. Although I love how she stands behind her convictions, I wanted to just see her perform and she did just that. Rebel Heart tour is the best I’ve seen in years.
What’s the situation with Drag Race UK?
MV: If I had an answer you’d know by now. We’re still pushing ahead - there are no definitive answers but I know that we’re not stopping until it happens and I know that it will happen. It’s just a matter of the right home. truTV’s doing a really great job with showing the other seasons - season 7’s starting January 25. You never know - it could end up there.
In the book you talk about how Ru wanted you to be a judge on Drag Race from Season 1 but your boss at the radio station wouldn’t allow you time off to film it. Can you tell us about that?
MV: I had a boss who was a homophobe and I didn’t know it. If I knew, I would have approached it differently but I had no knowledge of him thinking that way. I didn’t pick it up, couldn’t figure it out.
How did you feel when you realised he was homophobic?
MV: I felt awful, I felt disgusted, I couldn’t believe it and the best part of it was that after he said he didn’t think [Drag Race] was a good fit for the radio station, after the show debuted and Ru started to get all this attention, he had the nerve to come over me and say ‘hey, do you think RuPaul would perform at one of our station events?’. I said ‘are you insane? I’m not even gonna ask him.’ It was like salt in my wound.
What happened to Merle? Does she work at Burger King now?
MV: Merle’s a fashion writer so I think she’s fine. She does a lot of work with fashion stuff. She’s a pretty well-known fashion journalist.
I loved the Michelle and Merle challenge in Season 7.
MV: That was my favourite. That was the first time I met her and she was actually really lovely - I can’t say anything bad about her. She did keep my seat warm after all. I mean she was amazing...just not me. The fact that she came back and agreed to do that with me shows what a great lady she is.
Tell us about your appearance on Celebrity Big Brother UK last year.
MV: It’s one of my favourite shows. That’s the reason I wanted to do it - it was nothing to do with money at all. I wanted to be there as an advocate and I think that I did my job really well. It lived up to everything I wanted it to be - it was very surreal and our season was one of the highest rated seasons ever and it was very interesting.
What’s the situation with you and Katie Hopkins?
MV: I got on with her amazingly well and the person I met in the house is the person that I fell in love with and is the person who I think she really is, which is why it’s so disenchanting and disheartening to me that she has to speak the way she does for a living. It’s nothing against her as a person - I just can’t back somebody who says the hateful, awful things that she says ‘cause it’s the opposite of what I believe in.
I believe in loving everybody - I don’t believe in shaming everybody, I don’t. I’m just that type of person. I’m way too liberal for her ‘cause she’s a right-winger. The person I met - I love, and I still love, but I can’t stand behind the things she says publicly.
Isn’t a lot of what she says a facadé though?
MV: That’s worse - that’s blood money. If she was really that way, that’s her conviction but the fact that she can do it and it’s not even real and say such awful things - to me, that’s worse.
You’re a self-confessed Anglophile. What is it you love about the UK?
MV: Everything. What’s there not to love? Except for the weather. It’s the wit, it’s the kindness, it’s the sense of humour - like I don’t have to explain myself. Almost everybody understands me - I can just talk and people get my sarcasm. I come off the airplane and I feel like I’m home. Sometimes you can’t describe what it is - it just is. I feel most at home here. By the way, I’m a proud American, don’t get me wrong.
I saw your interview on Lorraine and I could have sworn you said “I love Brighton, bitch!” to her!
I think I said something else but I did not say bitch - I would never call Lorraine a bitch! I did call it the gayest city in the UK. My friend said I said that too but I worked in radio for 17 years - I know when to hold my tongue. It did not slip out - that would never happen but I bet you was starting to say something and she came in and cut it off. I love Brighton, bitch!
What are your favourite British slang words?
MV: There’s shite, there’s bollocks, there’s arse...minging...erm. There’s a lot of them that I know but first of all I’m 47 so I wouldn’t use them, second of all they’d have to fit appropriately ‘cause I’d sound like a dick when I’d say half of ‘em because I’m American - it’s just wrong. Everybody was making fun of me when I was doing Big Brother and I’m going ‘this is BOLLOCKS’ - they all make fun of me, all the queens.
What message would you like to give to our readers?
MV: It’s never too late to get the life that you want and no day like today. People put it off, people complain, people moan: ‘I hate my job, I hate my life’, but yet do NOTHING to change it. It makes me so angry when people wanna complain about the government all the time and then don’t vote. If you want the right to say something, you have to be part of it so you have to be active in life. You can’t sit back and expect things to fall into your lap - they won’t. So if you’re not happy, find a way to be happy and change something even if it’s something small. If you always wanted to be a doctor but you gave up school because you had kids or whatever, start one credit at a time and get back into school. There’s always ways you can change your life. You hate your job? Stay working there to pay the bills and start applying elsewhere - you can do it. That’s the take-away from the book: it’s never too late to start