Velma Celli gives us a brief history of drag in Iconic

When musical theatre actor Ian Stroughair branched out into the world of drag he created his alter-ego Velma Celli.

Over the years Ian found himself playing a few drag roles in different theatrical pieces, and eventually he let his live drag persona live on in the world of cabaret. Now Velma’s bringing her acclaimed show Iconic: A Brief History of Drag to Fringe World.

What’s your earliest drag memory, when did you become aware of drag existing?

It was a music video by Queen with Freddie Mercury dressed in a pink top and a black leather skirt. Doing the hoovering to I Want Break Free.

Now you do this in the show?

Yes, but I also do it at home as well, whenever I do the hoovering.

When did you come up with the idea for this show Iconic: A Brief History of Drag?

Not too long ago, I was out in Tanzania, not last Christmas – but the Christmas before, I have family there. Tanzania’s not really a drag friendly kind of place, but I was staying at a friend’s hotel and I had a gig at New Years and the sixteen days until my next gig.   

I was always getting asked to do these classic drag numbers, things like I Am What I Am. I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do these songs, these iconic numbers.” Then after a few wines, I thought I should just shove all the songs in one gig, do them and then everyone can shut-up.”

When I wrote them all down, I realised it could actually be a show, but it’s also a chance to chat about my journey and Velma and my journey in drag.

There’s a creative challenge in performing a song that you’re not in love with.

Yes, you have to find a reason to like it, and the only way to do that is to go back to the source and find out why it was written. Then you find something more interesting.

Iconic: A Brief History of Drag is playing at Fringe World from 16-25 February. Tickets are available at

Graeme Watson  

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