Community spotlight: getting to know drag icon Polly Filla

Community spotlight: getting to know drag icon Polly Filla

Each month we’ll champion two amazing drag queens, DJs, or community heroes in the gay scene. This month’s spotlight falls on drag hall-of-famer Polly Filla.

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How did you come up with your drag name?

I first found the name Polly Esther (LOL) in a book called What Not to Name Your Baby. A few weeks later someone said there was already a drag queen with that name, so I needed to change it. But people had already been calling me Polly so I needed a different last name.

That weekend I was out with my best friend and my makeup started falling off, so we went back to his place nearby to fix it and watching me, he commented that it looked like I was plastering a wall with the amount of makeup I was putting on… and instead of using foundation I should just use flesh toned Polly Filla. And that was 22 years ago!

What was your first time in drag like?

Fabulous and horrible at the same time. Horrible because I’m very short sighted – I didn’t have contact lenses then, and I wasn’t wearing glasses, so I was stumbling around in heels with blurry vision looking for my friends all night. Fabulous because – being a tall skinny gay teenager who got bullied at school for being effeminate – when I put a dress and a pair of heels on I underwent an incredibly transformative experience.

Everything that was a negative suddenly became a positive for me. People thought I looked incredible and doors started opening for me… and they haven’t stopped.

Who taught you how to tuck?

No one, I worked it out myself! I used to be a Boy Scout and when we’d go camping, the hardest thing was rolling up your sleeping bag to fit in these teeny tiny bags that would come with them. Basically, tucking is like that.

Who is your drag inspiration?

If you mixed Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan from Annie with Rosalind Russell’s Mame from Auntie Mame, that would basically be me. I love Bob Mackie’s sequin and bugle beaded confections and Thierry Mugler’s fashion of fetish, fantasy, and fashion.

I also learned a lot from studying Bette Midler’s earlier concerts (Divine Madness, and Art or Bust which is basically my bible). I love all-round entertainers like Cher, Liza, and Helen Reddy – women who could sing, dance, act, tell jokes, play characters, and look fabulous head to toe in sequins.

Favourite song to lip-sync?

Generally my favourite thing to lip-sync is a mashup of songs, spoken word dialogue, and sound effects I’ve edited and mixed together myself. I love seeing the audience’s reaction as they don’t expect what happens next.

Most overrated song to lip-sync?

Whatever the flavour of the month is that most other queens are performing at a given time. You may love it, but just stay well away from it as people are already doing it… it’s a sh*t choice. Back in my day everyone was doing “Kissing You” by Des’ree from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

Most embarrassing onstage story?

Falling flat on my face while trying to walk down a step onstage that wasn’t actually a step, it was just a different colour to the rest of the stage which was flat, so I fell down a non existent step! Good one Polly…

Advice for younger drag queens?

Your drag name is effectively your brand, so think about the types of gigs you’d like to be performing at and what style of drag you do… an “Ophelia Cock” or a “Francine F*ckface” is not going to get booked for corporate events. And if you choose a name that is difficult to pronounce or spell, don’t be upset when people mispronounce or spell it incorrectly. Say hi to people and introduce yourself by your drag name when you’re out in drag!

I don’t know a lot of the newer queens only because they’ve never introduced themselves by their name. It’s okay to take inspiration from other performers, but don’t directly copy other peoples looks or performances… stop trying to be a Farrah or an Aquaria or a Valentina. No-one in a club wants to see a ballad after 11pm. And put some damn colour in that cheek, y’all are starting to look like corpses.

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