While all the accolades at DIVA are indeed highly coveted, there is one honour that brings more than just praise and prestige and is close to many of our hearts: DIVA Hall of Fame.
I can absolutely assure you, choosing an inductee is about the most serious and important task a board, a judging panel, a community of peers – even a tribe of drag queens – can do.
Look at our list. It includes the pioneers Rose Jackson, Robyn Lee and Simone Troy. Those that gave us our most notable playgrounds: Leigh Jennings with the Albury and Dawn O’Donnell with the Newtown and the Imperial. The famous household names Carlotta and Carmen. Those we lost, way too young, who despite illness shone: Leggs Galore and Fanny Farquhar. And of course, the many talented queens who made a mark: Mogadonna, Mitzi, Chelsea and others – there all on our roll.
As we celebrate this the 2015 inductee, I caught up with a medley of our treasure to reflect on their special moment in the Hall of Fame spotlight.
Resident at the Albury Hotel in the 90s, she was one of the performers behind the famous Scary Fairies who literally changed the face of drag, creating what is now fondly referred to as the Sydney drag style.
Cindy entered the DIVA Hall of Fame in 1995.
“I remember the night. It was in the RHI at the showgrounds and I sat with my son, Adam,” Cindy recalls.
“We had just finished doing the opening of the second half for the Best Costume Award. He played the preacher in ‘Sugar Baby Love’ by The Rubettes, used in the 1994 film Muriel’s Wedding, while I actually was in a wheelchair playing Rachel Griffith. Benina Bodd was Muriel and Lana Turnip did the big line, ‘You’re terrible, Muriel’, while hoeing down a hotdog.
“It was a very special time with the old girl and son present as the community saluted me for my work,” Cindy said.
Pollys Follies is an institution in our community and the platform for up and coming new performers to showcase their talent. The show, hosted by Polly Petrie, began in 1991 at the Albury Hotel and these days she holds court every Sunday at Stonewall Hotel.
Polly remembers a wonderful night at the Star City Showroom in 1999. It started off rather nervously for Polly, as she was presenting an award with the hunky Ian Roberts. When she retired to her favourite table – always at the back and closest to the bar – she and her girlfriends noticed they were being monitored by a couple of DIVA judges.
In those early days, the Hall of Fame recipient was a closely guarded secret, known only to the judging committee. It was a massive surprise for the audience.
When Polly ducked to the bar, the DIVA judges swooped on her, taking Polly by the arm and quickly escorting her to the stage as the envelope was opened and her name was announced. Polly recalls being in total shock as she sashayed through the room, and each table rose to a standing ovation.
Monique Kelly is a legend of Sydney drag and has been performing for 40 years. She first stepped on stage at Gilligan’s, Bondi Beach in 1972 and has never stopped. In 1973 she took up residence in Kings Cross and starred there at the Carousel Cabaret and Les Girls for 14 years until it closed.
Monique has stared at almost every gay hotel and club on the golden mile: Unicorn, Patches, Capriccios, Tropicana, Flo’s Place, Paddington Green Hotel, Albury, Taxi Club and Annie’s Bar.
On her DIVA Hall of Fame induction, she recalls: “In 2002 I was onstage at the Sydney Town Hall with Colleen Windsor to present the Hall of Fame Award. Colleen and I did our meet and greet dialogue, then Colleen started to read out the bio for the recipient. After a couple of minutes I realised she was talking about me. Then she announced my name and the entire room erupted. I was in shock, excited – what an honour. After the award I left the stage down a catwalk clutching my statue and a bouquet of flowers to a standing ovation. It was a night I will never forget.”
Very few performers have taken artistic risks with great fervour and frequency than Christy McNicol. Throughout her career, fellow performers have admired Christy’s ability to push new boundaries and succeed. Her journey is definitely an amazing success story.
Christy starred in Les Girls Kings Cross before joining the prestigious Simone and Monique’s Playgirl Revue on their long-running Australian casino tour.
With the birth of The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, director Stephen Elliot asked Christy to produce a show to entertain guests at the Australian premiere of the movie. Christy brought together some of Australia’s finest trans showgirls to create The Original Priscilla Show. The show was an overnight success and embarked on a national tour, garnering nomination for a Mo Award in 1997.
“When I received a phone call in 2011 telling me I would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I burst into tears,” Christy said.
“All those years of working my arse off in the scene was finally being recognised by my peers.
“That night the frock, hair and makeup was perfect but I was never as nervous on stage before.
“I gave my acceptance speech that I’d rehearsed over and over to a noisy crowd – this memory I will cherish forever.”
CLAIRE DE LUNE
Claire De Lune is one of a very small drag segment who has done it all. Claire hit the scene with a bang in the 90s as a performer, producer and media identity. She broke new ground with her cooking segments on The Midday Show and worked in TV for Foxtel and Channel V.
One of Claire’s most important achievements was From D’Rags To Riches, Claire de Lune The Musical part of the Mardi Gras Festival in 2001. This show, part sung part mimed, was the first drag show to headline a MG Festival.
Marc Kuzma, the man behind Claire, has had great success as a producer through his association with Slide Lounge and these days is busy with his award winning restaurant, Claire's Kitchen at Le Salon.
“I was thrilled to receive the Hall of Fame in 2013,” Claire said. “It gave me a great opportunity to reflect on my career and achievements of the previous 25 years. A very humbling experience made even more special, as Verushka, my friend and partner in crime presented the award.
“On the night a group of friends and co-workers joined me in the celebration including my nephew Tom representing my family.