Callum Tillbury talks about his drag persona Lady Aria Grey

Since June, Lady Aria Grey has been sharing her web series on YouTube and unpacking pertinent topics like white privilege, gender and subjectivity. She’s a drag queen with a venomous pen and a sagacious mind, keen to talk about all those “grey” issues people gloss over and pretend to be clued-up about. And did we mention that she’s sassy, outspoken and loves using emoticons to illustrate her explanations?

The creator behind this glamorous drag personality is performing artist Callum Tillbury, who after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, fell in love with the art of drag due to its “electric combination of wit, humour, gender theory and fabulousness,” he says. We had a quick Q&A to find out more about Lady Aria Grey’s aspirations and the art of drag.

Lady Aria Grey

How did you arrive at your drag queen character Lady Aria Grey?

When I started thinking about what my drag name would be, “Lady Grey” just felt right. It was the name of my favourite character from my favourite video game (the Fable games on PC and Xbox). Then I added “Aria” later to make it a bit more elegant, and a play on the phrase ‘grey area’. So it sort of evolved over time.

There are different styles and genres of drag. How would you describe yours?

I think most people would classify me as a theatre queen, which is fine by me. But I’m also on YouTube, so I don’t know. I think the thing about my drag that remains constant across both platforms is that I write my own material, so… I’m a writing queen? I like that.

Who or what influences Lady Aria Grey’s sense of style? 

I’m not a huge fashionista, but I love the idea of style that never goes out of style. So I’d say my fashion sense is influenced by the classics, and fashion icons who kept it simple and classy. Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Adele, Janelle Monae, Kate Middleton… those gals.

Lady Aria Grey

What in your opinion, is most misunderstood about the art of drag? 

Many people tend to equate the term ‘drag’ with cross-dressing. But that definition excludes a lot of drag artists (for example, female drag queens, or male drag kings). The best all-encompassing definition I’ve heard is from Bob The Drag Queen: “Drag is blurring the gender lines, and making art”. That can mean many more things than cross-dressing.

Traditionally a lot of drag queens begin their careers on stage. You performed at Alexander Bar and then began creating online content. What inspired this decision?

We live in an age of technology, and while theatre is my first love, digital platforms have a lot more potential for reach and exposure. I’ll always love theatre, and I’m not leaving it behind. But it felt important to expand to online platforms as well.

Lady Aria Grey

How do you choose which topics to talk about on your series? Is the initial process carefully planned or more organic? 

As a person, I (Callum) am pretty polite and non-confrontational. I get very uncomfortable talking about serious topics, and I find utilising humour to be the best way of engaging with them. So I choose episode topics based on things I want to say (or shout or scream or argue about), and write about them in a way that feels right for me. When I started conceptualising my first batch of twelve episodes, I had the topics very carefully planned out. But in the process of writing and filming them, the original plan shifted slightly and it’s become quite organic. I’ll usually plan and write two to four episodes at a time before moving onto the next batch. But the underlying objective has always remained the same: to get conversation started about things that people don’t want to talk about, or don’t know about.

Much of your web series educates viewers. Do you feel a responsibility to do that and if so, why? 

I didn’t realise how educational the episodes would feel until after I’d made a few, and I began hearing from teachers, mostly in high schools, that they were using them to teach their students. I don’t feel a responsibility to teach specifically; rather I feel a responsibility to engage with these topics and discourses. I think everyone should be. This series was just the means of engagement that felt right for me. But I’m very glad it’s being used to educate!

Lady Aria Grey was really chuffed to find heels at Woolworths. Would you regard heels as an extreme expression of femininity and what makes them so empowering to wear? 

The reason I was so chuffed to find heels was because I’m a size 10, which makes it VERY hard to find heels that fit (well OK, the heels I found at Woolworths were size 9, but I could squeeze into them). But yes, there is something very empowering about wearing heels. I think it’s the “cluck cluck” sound they make – it makes you feel important and powerful. And sexy. But more than that, what feels so great for ME about wearing them is that most of society would have me believe I shouldn’t. The reality is that anyone can wear heels, men or women or whatever you choose to call yourself. The idea that one’s sex or gender has anything to do with the acceptability of wearing heels is just silly. (In actual fact, nobody should really be wearing heels because they’re very uncomfortable after long periods of time, and very bad for your back. But they’re also very fabulous, so we wear them anyway.)

Lady Aria Grey

Tell us about a dream collaboration Lady Aria Grey would love to work on.

Tannie Evita! She is my biggest role model. I think she’s also my grandma (we’re awaiting the DNA tests). Oh, and Jemma Kahn too. I have such a theatre crush on her.

If Lady Aria Grey could host a dinner party with six guests, who would she invite and what might she ask them? 

1. Thuli Madonsela – “Will you give me a photocopy of that report you wrote? I’ll publish it and face the repercussions. Jacob doesn’t have to know.” 2. Max Malanaphy – “Will you marry me?” 3. Tannie Evita – “Will you adopt me?” 4. Tina Fey – “Will you give me a job?” 5. RuPaul – *wild screaming and tears of gratitude* 6.The Ghost of Charles Ludlam – I wouldn’t ask him anything, I would just gaze into his dead eyes and try to absorb his spirit.

Lastly, what’s next for Lady Aria Grey? 

At the moment I’m just powering on with my YouTube episodes until the money from my crowdfunding campaign runs out. I’m hoping to get another five episodes up by the end of the year. As for next year… who knows yet! But I’ll think of something.

Follow Lady Aria Grey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and watch her on YouTube.

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