The fascinating story of a Manchester drag queen who gave up almost everything – but is determined to find her cabaret rhythm
Ten years ago, you couldn’t walk down Canal Street without seeing or hearing the name of Manchester drag queen Belinda Scandal.
His face was painted everywhere – and bars were named after him.
But then her name practically disappeared … and no one really knew why.
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Over the past two years, Belinda has made a provocative comeback – in her own words – in a drag career that began as a happy accident 24 years ago.
In 1997, Belinda was working as a singer alongside comedy duo Cannon and Ball during a show in Blackpool.
“We had a drag queen playing with us who was a Danny La Rue impersonator and they always ended up drunk on stage,” says Belinda, 42. Manchester Evening News.
“In the middle of singing a song, the drag queen basically fell on stage.
“They quickly got me into the drag to take his place.
“It was my first time dragging and it was horribly scary.
“It was a happy coincidence and then I noticed my pay had tripled because I was now classified as a specialty act – so it really stuck from there.
“I didn’t need to change anything, the beauty was that I could still sing and do the same show that I had always done, the only difference was that I was doing it now in a dress and heels. “
Since that night in Blackpool, Belinda has performed all over the world – from Las Vegas to Cyprus.
After seven years playing in Gran Canaria, hosting her own bar parties and cabaret shows, Belinda returned to her hometown of Manchester in 2010 following a relationship breakdown.
Having started working at the New Union bar, he was soon offered his own bar above the Rembrandt pub.
It would bear her name and be called Belinda Scandal’s Showbar.
“The owners really wanted it to be named after me and I saw it just as a continuation of Gran Canaria where I had a few bars under my belt,” Belinda explains.
“They stuck pictures of me outside the bar, then I walked in, went around the corner and just saw my face stuck all over the wall.
“It was absolutely brilliant – that’s what you’re aiming for.
“It’s one of the best things that can happen to a ‘backstreet’ drag queen.”
But, behind the sequined dresses and the now-recognizable red-haired wig, it hasn’t always been glitz and glamor for Belinda.
“There was a guy walking into the bar above the Rembrant and he kept coming every week,” she recalls.
“He always asked questions and always wanted to know so much about me.
“One night he decided to tackle me in rugby and it was the strangest experience because he squeezed my ankles for five minutes and didn’t want to let go of me.
“We laughed about it at the time, but a few weeks later my partner and I met him on the street on our way home.
“He hit the other half in the street, then started to assault me and attack me. It was horrible, I must have had a new cheekbone after that.
“He was sidelined for a few years, but it had a big impact on me. Everything had already fallen into place by then, I had just lost one of my closest friends and was trying to come to terms with it.
“The only thing I’ve always been taught is that there is no disease in show business. We have to find a way out. “
After three years at the Rembrandt, Belinda was offered the bar on the ground floor of Via Fossa which would be called the bar Cabaret de Belinda Scandal.
In 2018, Madame Phylisann Von Hollywood Aries, the “oldest drag queen on Canal Street”, sadly passed away.
Known to everyone as Nana, she had been a mainstay of the Manchester drag scene for decades.
“Nana was amazing. She was my drag mom and she was an absolute legend, ”Belinda says.
“Everyone still talks about her today, she hasn’t left the village.
“We did a YouTube series called ‘Being Belinda’ together and she played my mom in it, it was a lot of fun.
“We shot three episodes and what’s strange is that at the end of the third episode, his character changed.
“She was going to render the next episode and explain it like a bit of wind but she died between filming that episode and writing the next one.”
Shortly after Nana’s death, Belinda lost another friend.
She says the two deaths – alongside the death of her friend Clive in 2016 – brought her to a low point.
“It completely blew me away, it blew me away,” she admits.
“I didn’t want to do anything for months and had to be strong for everyone.
“I still think I didn’t handle it properly, I didn’t really have the chance to handle it.
Soon after, she decided to take the reins of a big aspect of her drag career.
She moved away from the places that bear her name and found the “smallest, farthest” bar on Canal Street to keep things running.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Belinda said.
“I really wanted to stop everything, find a little storage hole and take out the batteries. “
When Belinda decided to take a little break to regain her spark, the pandemic struck and shut down the gay village of Manchester.
“I’ve tried using time as a way to try to improve myself, but I still haven’t really brought it up,” she says.
At her lowest point, Belinda attempted suicide after feeling she couldn’t go on.
Today, Belinda spends her time working as a host and DJ at The Goose on Canal Street.
She is keen to bring back her famous cabaret shows.
“I have the impression that I may have shot myself in the foot because so many venues no longer want a cabaret,” she explains.
“A lot of cabarets are now overseas and when you’re married you don’t want to be away from someone for six months, so it’s a matter of balancing all that.
“I don’t want to be an old queen, I’m 42 now and I don’t want to be 60.
“But, again, I’m not trained in anything else, so I don’t know what else I could do.
“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Belinda says shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have changed the drag landscape – something that has often made it harder for queens like her.
“Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have changed the way drag is performed,” she says.
“For a while it was about dropping down and dancing, but it’s just not something that I and the more traditional queens would like to do.”
For the past three years, Belinda has also hosted the online video channel Your Manchester, where she interviews people from the city-region about events and shows.
She says it’s also a chance to open up a dialogue to talk about some of the things she’s found difficult over the years.
“It all started with the idea that it would be a talk show,” Belinda says.
“I felt the urge to talk and wanted to see if anyone else wanted to talk too.
“We did a show at Hopefest in front of a live audience last year and it was just scary.
“We don’t take into account the thousands of people who watch it on YouTube, but when we see a small proportion sitting in front of us, it puts things in perspective.
For Manchester Pride this year, Belinda will be working a “busy weekend” of performances and presentations for Your Manchester.
With Belinda’s 25th birthday in the pickup coming next year, she hopes to celebrate the momentous occasion in one form or another.
“The tricky part is that I got so far from the village that I don’t know if there will be anything worth celebrating now,” she says.
“I hope we can have a nice celebration, but we’ll see.”
She also hopes that anything that marks her 25 years of dating will also address mental health, especially among LGBTQ + people.
“If I’m going to celebrate 25 years of dating, I want to do it to open a big discussion within the village,” she says.
“It’s a pretty tough place to work, it’s non-stop, it’s long hours and it can be quite political.
“Everyone has such bravado about mental health and should be seen as strong.
“So many people contact me, they call me Aunt Belinda, but are unaware of the difficulties I am going through as well.
“I think it’s important to start something and have a conversation about how the bravado needs to be opened up and changed.
“Everyone is trying to be something that they might not necessarily be. “
But, until then, Belinda says she will keep working on herself and getting back to the top of her game.
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