Female impersonator Ceri Dupree returns to the White Swan in East London

Female impersonator and international cabaret sensation Ceri Dupree is making a welcome return to the London gay scene next Saturday in a very special show at the White Swan in Limehouse. This glamorous night will not only include many of Ceri’s jaw-dropping impressions from Cher to the Duchess of Cornwall but waiter service and a complimentary glass of Prosecco upon arrival. Dave Cross sat down for a chin wag with this man of many faces and voices.

Hi Ceri, are you looking forward to doing the White Swan?

Oh yeah, of course. Because the last time I was here was over 15 years ago. It was on the evening of a Pride, if I remember rightly.

Well, I first saw you here about 25 years ago in the old bar out the back, and it was a more typical Saturday night cabaret show. This is going to be something very different isn’t it, with waiter service and posh seating?

Yes, it’s more of a theatrical show. And the reason I asked for that is because it’s so difficult to see a traditional drag show in London nowadays. I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful, but in the 80s and 90s there was drag shows – costume changes, beginning, middle and end. And I still do that. My show is not song after song; it’s parodies, gags, lots of dialogue. So when they asked me to come I said “Fantastic!”

Now you were just saying, you don’t do a lot of gay clubs in London…

Because I can’t do them, I can’t take my show there. I physically cannot do it. My costumes won’t fit in the dressing rooms. Places like the Black Cap and the Union Tavern, they’ve gone. And the smaller places, the stage might be big enough but the dressing rooms won’t hold the costumes I wear. And they don’t have the right lighting, so it’s a shame.

And quick change is an essential part of your shows, which, as you said, doesn’t really happen anymore.

No, they don’t do it anymore. They’ll turn up in one outfit and again, if that’s what they do that’s what they do, but it’s not what I’m about. I prefer the older shows where, to me, drag should be – not necessarily spectacular glamorous thousands and thousands of costumes that I wear – but it should be more of a show, more costume changes and more of a show. I feel that’s missing now.

And how did you start?

I will tell you exactly how I started. I mean I could bore you to death by saying I was the school comedian, which I was; I impersonated my teachers, which I did; and I always wanted to go into showbiz, which I did. But I’ll try and tell this story quickly. I was with my mum shopping in a supermarket and a friend of my mum’s was promoting Stork brand margarine, and she had a yellow jacket on with blue edging. And I was going to a fancy dress party, and Hi-de-Hi! had just come on the television and I thought I’d go as Gladys Pugh. So I said to my mum ask your friend and the friend said “Yes, I’m finishing at 5 o’clock, you can have the jacket.” So I got the jacket, got a pair of white shorts, white socks, big earring, went to the fancy dress party, won first prize.

How old were you?

I would’ve been 17. And I was very pissed going up to get the prize. And the DJ was quite cocky as I went up to collect the prize and he said, “Well Gladys, have you got anything to say?”. So I grabbed the mic and I said, “Well yes, hello campers!” and  I got a big laugh and I thought, hang on a minute, I could do this. And at the time my dad was a singer in the clubs and so I told him I wanted to do Gladys in the clubs. And he said, “You can’t just do Gladys, you need to do a few others.” So I did Tom Jones and some rugby commentator, and Gladys. Then I put Shirley Bassey in and then Tina Turner, and then a friend of mine – a Welsh actor, Desmond Barrett – came down and saw my show and said it was fantastic and that I should move to London. He said they were all mime shows in London, which they were at the time, and as I was live I would be a change for them. So I moved to London in 1984 and here we are.

And how do you pick someone? What is it about an act that makes you want to put them into you act?

It’s very difficult because I’ve fallen about laughing with friends at dinner parties thinking ‘Oh let’s do Kylie Minogue – we’ll do a parody for I Should Be So Lucky and my knickers are so yucky.’ And everybody’s laughing at dinner, but on stage it bombed. And we tried again, and it didn’t work. Another one I tried, Judy Garland: didn’t work. Barbra Streisand: didn’t work. And then stupid ones, where you think ‘Why am I doing this?’ They do work like Camilla Parker Bowles. Sometimes the obvious ones don’t work and the not-so-obvious ones do work. The other thing is there are some performers with such longevity that you can always do them. You can always do Joan Collins, Tina Turner, Cher, Amy Winehouse. But I used to do Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street, but she’s gone and forgotten now. Macy Gray I used to love but can’t do her anymore, she’s gone off the boil. But as long as they laugh – if I set it up right and they laugh, then to me that’s all that matters. My dad’s favourite is Björk – he doesn’t know who she is, but he laughs at me doing her.

Which ones do you enjoy most?

I’m sorry to say, but the old, old, old stars. They’re all dead, apart from Shirley Bassey, of course. So Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Mae West, who was so ahead of her time. She was the Bette Midler, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller of her day, and even then Mae West was standing up for gay people’s rights, black people’s rights, so ahead of her time. There are some people around now who I do love, I admire Lady Gaga…

Do you do Lady Gaga?

I do, yeah. But I don’t have a lot of time for the way show business is going, all this reality bollocks. Because…

They’re not stars?

Well no, they’re not. And reality is real life, and real life is sometimes a bit naff. So you want escapism. I know it sounds so old fashioned to say ‘glamour and glitter’ but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Is there anyone that you’ve wanted to do but never been able to get it quite right?

Yes, Barbra Streisand. Cannot do Barbra Streisand. I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried to make it work, but no. Judy Garland, can’t do her. But I’m always looking for new suggestions. I do a Cilla Black thing in this show, which is obviously more of a tribute, tongue-in-cheek. I’m never horrible to any of these women, because I love them all. The only one I’ve done who I’ve never liked is Katie Price, I can’t bear her. I send them up, but I love them. But finding new ones is so difficult.

I was going to say, are there any new people? Do you do Adele?

That’s another one that we sort of tried to do a thing to. We got a wig, a costume and everything. Tried to write a parody to Skyfall, but I just couldn’t make it work.

And is there anyone else who you have your eye on now?

No. I wish.

I have to ask you about your costumes, because as you said earlier, they are not like anybody else’s. Do you have someone that makes them for you?

I design them all; I wanted to be a costume designer. I’ve always spent on the costumes and I would spend my last penny on something for the stage.

And finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

I’ve got a load of cabaret on now and a couple of theatre gigs up until December, then it’s pantomime in Birmingham, until the end of January.

Which panto is it?

Cinderella. I’m playing one of the ugly sisters. Well, not ugly, just wicked. And then I go to South Africa for February.

Advance tickets are £15 from the venue or

The White Swan, 556 Commercial Road, Limehouse, E14. 

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