Newcastle drag queen Miss Rory on 20 years in show business and helping save lives

Katie Cole caught up with the North East drag queen whose part-time gig turned into a full-time job of 20 years

The North East’s most recognisable drag queen says giving up a job in retail for a life on the stage was "the best gamble I ever made" as she celebrates 20 years in show business.

Miss Rory first burst onto the Newcastle party scene as a DJ at Bank Bar in the city.

At first, it was a part-time gig but two decades later the professional drag artist is firmly established as the self-proclaimed 'People's Princess' and 'Queen of Comedy'.

Dan Cunningham, who created the larger than life character, told ITV Tyne Tees he could not quite believe he had made a living out of "having a laugh".

"You’re talking 20 years ago - it was a different world, a very different scene," he said.

"I must say before the availability to get any decent gear, it was all joke shop wigs and whatever you could find in the clearance in Boots.

"I also had a proper job all the while as well. I worked for House of Fraser. I worked for Debenham's.

"[I'm] not saying that my departure from either of those led to the ultimate outcome, but I think it was, yeah. So I never did it as a full-time thing. It was always a bit of a laugh."

Miss Rory in the early days. Credit: Dan Cunningham

When cabaret club Boulevard opened in Newcastle in 2010, he was asked to be the compere, it was then he took the plunge and quit his retail job.

Fast forward 14 years and the 39-year-old now performs three times a week.

“I didn’t know whether it was going to last five minutes, five weeks, five months, five years. It was completely new to Newcastle," he continued.

"It was a big gamble. It was a big gamble for me, leaving behind a proper job. But it was the best gamble I've ever made."

Dan’s success is something he has not enjoyed alone - crediting his parents and grandparents as his biggest supporters.

Dan Cunningham said his biggest cheerleaders are his family. Credit: Dan Cunningham

“They are so proud," he added. "I get my sense of humour from my dad, he’s got a great sense of humour, they sit and chuckle as much as anybody else.

“My grandad, who is now in his late 80s is the proudest and he comes from a generation where the world was a very different place.”

Dan is now also a regular on the pantomime circuit and has starred as the Dame at the Sunderland Empire for the last four years.

“Boulevard is my pride, panto is my joy," he added. "I love it and Sunderland now has a very special place in my heart.”

Also close to Miss Rory’s heart is her charity work - and the man behind the makeup has even been praised by a suicide prevention charity for saving lives.

Miss Rory is now a regular on the pantomime circuit. Credit: Sunderland Empire

Miss Rory is a patron of several charities in the region including County Durham-based If U Care Share.

Dan said he has lost many friends to suicide and if his platform as an entertainer can spread the message, then that is great.

“I’ve had plenty of friends that have taken their own lives," he explained.

"Did they know there was an answer? I don't know, that's why this message just needs to be batted out again and again and again.

"There's always another way. Nobody has to suffer in silence. Nobody has to to feel that the world would be a better place without them in this."

Shirley Smith, from Great Lumley, who founded If U Care Share following the death of her son Daniel in 2005, said Dan is saving lives through Miss Rory.

Dan Cunningham has been stepping into the character of Miss Rory for 20 years. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Mrs Smith said: "Through fundraising, along with the team at Boulevard and the kindness of their customers, and in his capacity as a trustee of If U Care Share Foundation, Dan allows us to reach a far wider audience and create awareness of our work in suicide prevention and bereavement support.

"He is not afraid to talk about the issue of suicide, and his contribution and ability to break down barriers has meant that he’s saved lives and raised the profile of If U Care Share Foundation.

"This in turn enables people to reach out at a time of need. His contribution along with our team and trustees continues to save lives, and we are humbled and so very grateful for his support."

Dan is also a patron of the Newcastle Cat and Dog Shelter and The Graham Wylie Foundation.

Miss Rory in her finery.

“When you do this kind of job you have a voice and a platform, and you can use that platform to help other people," he continued.

"You can use that platform for good. You know, people listen to what you say. So if you can tap into a cause and promote it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Dan marks 20 years as his alter ego with a show at the Tyne Theatre on Saturday 18 May, and he is already looking to the future.

“Every year is a surprise, every opportunity, every chance, every offer, it keeps me on my toes,” he said.

And he thinks his alter ego will only get better looking with age, adding: “Think of all the surgery I can have, all the medical advancements in the next 20 years, I'm going to be like Benjamin Button in drag.”

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