THE past 12 months have been big for Dolly Diamond. Melbourne’s queen of cabaret — the alter ego of UK-born performer Michael Dalton — celebrated 10 years of involvement with the ChillOut festival in Daylesford, and took out the Globe Community Award for Best Performer, and has been performing non-stop.
She has a reputation for quick-witted confidence, but even after years of experience Diamond said the doubts familiar to most performers still run through her head when she’s about to step onto a stage.
“I used to learn how to relax by emptying the contents of a bottle of wine. Now I can just enjoy a couple of glasses. I like the taste, and it does take the edge off slightly, but I don’t rely on booze any more.”
It’s been a long time since Diamond cut her teeth doing shows in Cardiff pubs before performing across the UK.
“It’s a tough baptism of fire, but I think if you can survive that you can survive anything,” she said.
“It’s a no-shit sort of place — if you’re not good enough, they’ll let you know it… I’ve seen people be booed off stage, and it’s a tough way to go. If you’re not ready, if you’re not prepared, then that’s what happens.”
Her next show, Dolly Diamond Under a Big Top, will take her into the beautiful Melba Spiegeltent as part of the 2015 Midsumma festival program. Diamond’s association with the festival goes back over a decade, when she brought her solo cabaret show over from London. That same year, she made contact with Daylesford’s ChillOut Festival, and in 2015 Diamond’s relationships with both festivals endure.
In fact, over the course of her time living in Melbourne, Diamond has become one of the most recognisable faces in the city’s LGBTI community — a fixture, particularly in Melbourne’s queer arts scene. Few would have been surprised by her win at last October’s inaugural Globe Community Awards.
Diamond has been a champion for a number of LGBTI-related causes over the years. Notably, she’s become a regular at marriage equality rallies in Melbourne, and has started to get involved in the Australian Equality Party, a newly-formed LGBTI political party.
Diamond holds support for community as a fundamental value.
“No matter how successful I may or may not be, I think I will always continue to do that because that’s just the way I was brought up: you help others,” she said.
While she might be an icon of the LGBTI community, Diamond’s performing roots are less in the drag community of Melbourne’s gay pubs than the city’s cabaret scene.
“I think it’s absolutely thriving,” she said.
“One of the reasons that I love being in Melbourne and living in Melbourne is because of that. I find it actually more in the forefront possibly than in London. It’s far more accessible.”
Diamond mentioned Melbourne Cabaret Festival — now in its sixth year — and institutions like popular cabaret bar The Butterfly Club as driving the city’s diverse and vibrant cabaret offerings.
She argues there’s a lot of natural overlap between the queer community and the cabaret scene.
“I think they go hand-in-hand, they always have, I guess,” she argued.
Diamond regularly appears with other cabaret performers, and her Midsumma show will be no exception. Melbourne cabaret stars like Rachael Dunham, Sexy Galexy and Jonathan Duffy join her on stage, along with Diamond’s own four-piece band and an impressive list of other musical guests.
Even with that talented roster at her back, Diamond argues her work will be cut out for her in what she said will be her biggest show yet.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that being in the spiegeltent means I have to turn it on even more, but these days I find that an exciting challenge rather than a nerve-racking one,” she said.
In what is shaping up to be a huge few months for Diamond, she will also be taking on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for the first time, with a new show called The Real Queen of Moomba. It will tell the story of Diamond’s campaign to be crowned queen of the Moomba festival, held over the Labour Day long weekend in Melbourne every March.
Former queens have included Cathy Freeman, Kate Cebrano and Marina Prior — Diamond thinks she’s in with a shot.
“In the new year I shall be starting a campaign to get Melbourne behind me, to support me in my bid,” she said.
Despite the rise and rise of Dolly Diamond, when asked when she first knew she was something special she deflected the question with ease — a small laugh, a touch of modesty.
“I don’t know if you ever think of yourself as a star, do you?”
For the full Midsumma festival program visit www.midsumma.org.au
**This article was first published in the February edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.