The concept: take four of Sydney’s most eminent and infamous drag stars and give them complete control of a busload of hapless tourists. Now go terrorise the decent straight folk of downtown Sydney.
It seems a scandal that this city didn’t strike on the ingenious notion years ago of submerging tourists into this palpable Priscilla scenario.
But clearly Tour Sydney’s timing for the launch of its new brainchild Sydney By Diva -“ hosted alternately by Claire de Lune, Maxi Shield, Mitzi Macintosh and Verushka Darling -“ was impeccable, coming as it did in the week that the Sydney gay scene exploded via a wave of Gay Games-related tourism.
As terrifyingly camp as Sydney By Diva might seem, what the Diva team offer is a professional grade, somewhat well informed and partially luxurious (strictly for the first-class passengers only) tour of east Sydney and the CBD with a focus on the gay and lesbian community’s favoured haunts and historical landmarks.
As the five o’clock departure time for the Diva tour kicked around we took our place in the coach’s boarding line outside the Oxford Hotel amongst a gaggling, upbeat crew of Americans, Canadians and curious locals.
Our guide for the evening was the legendary Mitzi Macintosh. Draped in an effulgent single-breasted creation of UBD street directory maps in silk (her own creation, it was later revealed), Macintosh had already begun warming the brood with glasses of champagne while bestowing us with drag queen/king pseudonyms that we would have to wear as a label on our chests for the remainder of the tour.
Tales had already been circulating about Sydney By Diva’s mischievous tour guides and their propensity for enforcing the necessary boundaries between first and economy class.
Apparently, we first-classers were to be given the glamorous drag names while economy travellers were burdened with trashier drag monikers. Sadly, my new identity as Wilhelmina hardly executed the point -“ my first-class drag baptism more reverential to a dowdy European housewife than a glittering showgirl.
At the head of the coach Macintosh was bravely keeping the tourists entertained in the creeping peak hour traffic with savage anecdotes about passing attractions: gym bunnies outside City Gym, the seediness of Kings Cross, the homoeroticism of Woolloomooloo’s navy docks, something about the good karma associated with rubbing the penis of the brass boar statue on Macquarie Street -¦
First port of call was the Sydney Opera House where passengers are usually forced to don a wig before heading out into the crowded open forecourt. Mercifully, the wigs seemed to have gone missing for our tour. As I was dressed in a football guernsey, I had been dreading the idea of strutting around the harbour looking like a yobbo performing a comedy bite for The Footy Show. Not today.
But the spectacle of Macintosh in immaculate drag leading a litter of nervy tourists across the Opera House forecourt proved too much of an attraction for the public. Growing clusters of fascinated onlookers girdled the tour group to eavesdrop on Macintosh’s spiel about the scandalous fall-out between architect Joern Utzon and the NSW Government during the landmark’s construction, amongst other salacious snatches of Sydney gossip.
Fifteen minutes later and back in the subsiding peak hour traffic, Macintosh maintained the frivolity by stripping down to a miniskirt and launching into a gallant rendition of Beach Blanket Bingo for the group while battling to stay on two feet as the coach swayed towards Bondi.
Within 20 minutes a magic Sydney By Diva moment unfolded as Macintosh -“ in platform stilettos, pill box hat, miniskirt and G-string -“ dashed along Bondi Beach before clusters of bemused surfers while the tour group straggled behind in stitches. Sydney can be remarkably tolerant in the right places, and it would appear the weekend buff boy crowd of North Bondi have broken more ground with the straight locals than I had anticipated.
The final port of call was Newtown’s Imperial Hotel where the tour group settled in for a few stiff drinks while a tireless Ms Macintosh treated the group to a Nana Mouskouri number in full garb complete with false hooked nose, Coke bottle glasses and ankle-length gown.
Heading back to Oxford Street involved some golden Macintosh banter with the North American members of the tour group, prospects for sham marriages, green cards and sex, while our third (or fourth) glass of champagne was being served.
As a whirlwind three-hour entertainment tour, Sydney By Diva hit the mark spectacularly, leaving behind a buzzing and slightly tipsy tour group to take on the wilds of late-night Oxford Street.
The tours run every Sunday from 5pm to 8pm, with tickets costing $66 for first class and $55 for economy. Sydney By Diva can be booked via 9360 2227.