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Finding Your Tribe: Lady Camden Talks Touring, Ballet And The Road To RuPaul's Drag Race

Tuesday, 20 September 2022 Written by Laura Johnson

Lady Camden is a London-born drag queen who named herself after the borough she grew up in. Born Rex Wheeler, her formative years were spent running around the venue her father managed, the renowned Electric Ballroom, which can be found between a food stall and souvenir shop on the bustling Camden High Street.

Over the years, it’s played host to everyone from Prince and Paul McCartney to L7 and Jack Off Jill, more recently opening its doors to Yungblud and Ed Sheeran. Unable to experience the place like its of-age patrons, for a young Lady Camden the venue was where she fostered the creativity that would later lead her to compete on season 14 of the reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, where she came second and won $50,000.

“The Electric Ballroom was where my parents met, my sister was a DJ there at one point, and I used to go over there after school and dance on the dancefloor by myself while my dad was finishing up office work,” she says. “It was definitely a central part of my life as a kid.” 

Lady Camden is speaking to us via a Zoom call from the drag room of her apartment in San Francisco, with Spice Girls dolls in pride of place behind her. “I think it just let me have a wild imagination, because I had a lot of time by myself to literally do that thing where I’m exploring the different rooms, going up this weird little staircase,” she continues. “You know how kids would run around in your own little fantasy world? Create scenarios like little movie moments, silly shit like that. I would have a good time creating these fun little scenarios in my brain, and my imagination was stretched because of that.”

Despite being grounded in the grit and excitement of Camden’s music scene, her first foray into the arts involved something a little more conservative: ballet. After watching performances in the nosebleed seats at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, home of the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, new dreams began to develop. “I had this feeling of, ‘Oh my god, look at that little world of creativity, magic and beauty.’ It was that same vibe of the Electric Ballroom where I’m in this little fantasy land,” she says. “I was drawn to ballet because of that.”

Having completed the relevant training and enjoyed a stint with the Slovak National Ballet over the course of 10 years, in 2010 she upped sticks and moved to Sacramento, California to dance with the state capital’s ballet company. They allowed dancers to choreograph their own routines, and that freedom was something Lady Camden craved following the discipline and perfectionism she had put herself through in the pursuit of her ballet career. It was not long before she began looking for a new challenge. “I started to get that itch, ‘I love ballet, but I need to do more.’ To create more of something that’s challenging for my brain and my soul,” she says.

In 2015 she relocated to San Francisco to perform with the Smuin Ballet, but due to injury was forced to put dancing on the backburner while she recovered, which subsequently gave her time to indulge an idea she had long been toying with. “I’ve always just wondered, what’s the next big challenge? What's the next best way to stretch myself as a person?” she observes. “I feel like I have more personality and more stuff going on in me than I’m able to express in ballet. I wanted to be more creative as a person, not just as a ballet dancer. So that’s why I started to do drag.”

Having only been a performing drag queen for four years when entering the infamous orange Work Room on RuPaul’s Drag Race, her run on the show was particularly impressive. Camden tackled each challenge with the grace and gumption of a seasoned performer, plus the fashion sense of a Spice Girls-loving ‘90s raver. All her talents came together beautifully during her performance in the Moulin Ru musical in episode 12.

“I’ve always been a little too ambitious,” she explained. “When I started doing ballet, I was like ‘I want to get into the Royal Ballet and be a principal dancer’, and everyone was like, ‘Calm down.’ But I think that level of ambition at least got me to the Royal Ballet school and got me a career in dance. It didn’t get me to the end point, but it got me really, really far. So I took that mentality, ‘If you shoot for the stars, you’ll land on the moon’, and that’s always been something that I still stick by. 

“As you get more into your life and develop as a person it’s easy to become pessimistic and disguise that word with being realistic, and I don’t tend to live in realism, I tend to live in like, ‘Well, if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna really fucking do it. If I go on Drag Race, I’m gonna win!’ I believe in aiming for something that’s way out of your reach, because you’re just going to get further by doing so.”

Immediately after she was announced as the runner-up of season 14 at a viewing event in New York, Lady Camden took her two and a half suitcases and hit the road. She hasn’t taken her foot off the gas since. She joined the Drag Race Werq The World Tour in Las Vegas, as well as organising a solo US tour.

So, what’s next? Lady Camden is nearly finished with a run across North America with the Werq The World Tour, and in October will perform at a handful of US shows as part of the RuPaul’s Drag Race Night of the Living Drag events, where she’ll play the role of Pride in a cast inspired by the seven deadly sins.

Originally hailing from England, you’d expect the drag star would be more attuned to British audiences than American, but she revealed to us she’s actually only performed in her home country once, something that she will have to wait to remedy after the recent axing of the Fantastic Five Of 14 Tour, which was due to go down with her fellow season 14 competitors Angeria, Bosco, Daya Betty, and Willow Pill. 

“I got my drag chops in San Francisco, growing up as a drag queen here, inspired by people in Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento,” she says. “So, I know what American audiences live for, I don’t actually know what English audiences live for, I hope they live for me!”

RuPaul once quipped that he was a marketing genius as he was able to sell subversive drag to Middle America. He’s right, of course, but you can’t overlook the importance of the community that has grown around the show, which has supported the queens in becoming global stars who travel the world. 

Their tours find drag queens followed by fans who camp outside hotels, crying for selfies and presenting gifts to their idols. So, this begs the question: are drag queens the new rock stars? Lady Camden thinks so, and given that they are gifted, resolute in their convictions, and fearless in their performances it’s hard not to agree.

“I feel like this is the generation of rock stars, because we are the most vocal people about politics and how messed up they are, especially in America,” she says. “A lot of young queer people, or people that need to feel some kind of hope, look at us needing confirmation that they’ll find their tribe and something that makes them happy, and feel good, feel seen and feel necessary in this world. I think drag does that for people, it’s a reminder that you might not be in your tribe now, but you will absolutely find it at some point.” 


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