16 February 2024

The top 5 most iconic drag queens in history

Once upon a time, drag culture existed solely underground, with those dressing as a member of the opposite sex often risking arrest. Today it’s more widely accepted: popular culture is littered with movies, stage productions, TV shows and more featuring drag queens. Indeed, it’s the success of hit film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and multi-award-winning show RuPaul’s Drag Race that have catapulted drag into the public consciousness. 

Beneath its humour and flamboyance, drag has a serious side, promoting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. And for centuries, drag queens have been daring to express themselves and disrupt societal norms. With that in mind, here are five of history’s most important and iconic drag queens.

1. Princess Seraphina

Otherwise known as John Cooper, Princess Seraphina was an 18th century gentleman’s servant who is considered to be England’s first drag queen. In a time when one could be executed for homosexuality, Princess Seraphina frequented gay bars (known as molly houses) and took part in early drag acts. She is known to have been a ‘molly-messenger’, perhaps facilitating trysts between gay men, and almost certainly keeping the secrets of many queer men who daren’t reveal their identity in public. 

2. Julian Eltinge

Born in 1881, Julian Eltinge performed the most popular drag act of his day. Performing in drag from an early age, he mimicked contemporary female mannerisms so exactly that many audience members were shocked to learn, at the end of his performance, that he was a man. He was a key figure in Vaudeville theatre from the 1910s until the 1930s, when the art form began to wane and society became much more prejudiced against drag and the LGBTQ+ community.

3. Danny La Rue

Rising to fame in the 1960s and 70s, Danny La Rue changed the face of female impersonation. With his act, what had for some years been rooted in the derision of women became all glamour and elegance. Drag had been seen as coarse and vulgar for several decades, but La Rue elevated it to an art form, winning thousands of fans and earning millions in the process. 

4. RuPaul

RuPaul is one of the biggest drag names today, with his Drag Race showcasing the talents of countless queens. He began performing in drag in the 1980s and made his name with the hit song ‘Supermodel (You Better Work)’ in 1993. An array of screen appearances followed, and in 2009 RuPaul’s Drag Race first aired, making him a household name. 

5. Bob the Drag Queen

Christopher Caldwell, best known as Bob the Drag Queen, rose to fame when he won Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in the U.S. He uses his wit and charisma to spread a message of confidence and self-expression, as well as to advocate for important causes. He exemplifies the modern ethos of drag, showing how it can spread joy while promoting social change. 

If you are a drag fan, don’t miss Priscilla The Party, an immersive play in London. Hosted at HERE at Outernet in Soho from March to September 2024, it’s one of the most joyous and dazzling examples of immersive theatre in London. Guests can choose from a range of dining options and even sit around the dance floor to truly join the party. Book your tickets to this fabulous interactive theatre show in London with KX Tickets today.