He’s been featured on the cover of express four times, was the headliner at a 90-year-old’s birthday bash and in a few weeks is turning the big 4-0! It was a joy catching up with the man behind the dress: New Zealand’s queen of high camp – Kevin Dunseath.
I immediately know I’m at the right house when out the front sits a rubbish bag overflowing with obnoxiously bright sequinned offcuts. Before I can say ‘friend of Dorothy’, the door swings open and I am greeted with a booming and all too familiar “Hello darling!” by an enigma sporting a beige dressing gown and the glittery drag equivalent of panda eyes.
Kevin, best known to Auckland as the fabulously loud and colourful drag diva extraordinaire Miss Ribena, opens a cupboard in his modest, suburban apartment to show me a selection of newspaper and magazine clippings that his drag alter ego has earned over the past decade. And by selection, I mean the cupboard was wall-to-wall with clippings and I swear that the addition of another express cover would pop the door off! “I really should get around to filing all these…”
One can hardly be surprised at the amount of media coverage Kevin’s had since he birthed Miss Ribena. He says the craziness began over a decade ago when a friend of a friend needed someone to pose on a float in a custom-made gown. Although he was sceptical, Kevin went along with it and loved every minute of the fabulosity! From there, as a joke, Kevin entered the Miss Staircase Competition and won second runner up! Since then he’s had an impressive 12 years of gigs, with eight of them spent appearing regularly as Miss Ribena at Family and Caluzzi. Amidst all that he has also appeared at numerous clubs and events including GAY nightclub, Wonder Bar, Family & Navel, Boobs on Bikes and the Hero Parade, with his favourite gigs to date specifically being the Air NZ Pink Flight, a 90-year-old man’s birthday party and various gigs in rural towns. “I love doing rural town drag! Those people are just totally blown away by drag”.
Speaking of birthdays, Kevin’s 40th is coming up and he couldn’t care less about running from his impending milestone. “To me, turning 40 is just another number! I don’t think I look 40! Plus, it feels like just yesterday that I was 18 and walking up the staircase to my first gay nightclub! Time’s just flown.”
However with all his successes, there stands one remaining ‘to do’ that’s been left unticked – to find a husband before he turns 40. “I’ve still got a few weeks… so if you know of any hot, straight guys…” Any applications?
Normal people would probably have a holiday when they turn 40 and maybe slow the pace down, but not Kevin. “I’ve got Gay Ski Week, the Pink Boat Cruise, a gig booked already for Christchurch next year, Caluzzi’s going to be action packed with Christmas coming up and Family will keep pumping! I’ll be around for the next 20 years at this rate!” We hope so!
Perhaps the thing I find most fascinating about Kevin is that over the years he has somehow managed to transcend Miss Ribena beyond gay bar entertainment and penetrate the straight world. “I get hired for so much straight work these days. It’s great!” You only have to watch Miss Ribena in action at Caluzzi, emceeing a book launch or performing the crap out of “a party for 12 out the back of a house in Kohimaramara” to see why his wit, costuming and hilarious emceeing have his act in high demand at mainstream events. “I’m not trying to be a woman and straight guys love that. They come up to me and ask me if I play rugby!”
Unfortunately, with success also comes the hater brigade and with drag having been Kevin’s fulltime job for over seven years now, there comes the tall poppy syndrome from other queens on the scene.
So how does he deal with the criticism? “I just don’t get in on their buzz. I simply say to them, ‘Well how about you get out of bed and walk a parade or how about you bucket collect?’ Plus, like I always say, for every one person who doesn’t like you, there’s a hundred that do!”
We talk about the gay scene as a whole and what it lacks – a subject that obviously strikes a chord with Kevin. “With the parade coming back, it should generate the visual-ness of gayness in our community and add some colour. We need a parade to say ‘Fuck you, you fuckers! Alright you right-wing people… fuck this!’”
Kevin signs off our interview with a quote of his own that he lives by: “Positivity leads to success and there’s only one thing that comes for free and that’s a smile. So keep smiling”.
| Amie Wee
Celebrate 40 years with Miss Ribena at Family Bar on Saturday 17 November. The first 100 people through the door by midnight receive a free house drink. Also make sure you check out the special drag shows at 1am!