This Thursday (6 Sep) the team from Cancer is a Drag are back at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for a fundraising evening packed with gorgeous cabaret stars. This year they have chosen to make the night a tribute to the late queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. Dave Cross spoke to founder Alan Bugg to find out more.
Hi Alan, for those who don’t know can you tell us how Cancer is a Drag came about?
I was diagnosed with stage four cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) in September 2010 and initially spent nearly a year off work whilst receiving eight cycles of RCVP chemotherapy treatment. A successful remission was unfortunately met with a second diagnosis seven months later. This meant more chemotherapy and more time off work, which in turn led to me experiencing financial hardship with difficulty finding the money to keep up mortgage repayments and pay the bills. Many cancer sufferers I became acquainted with on hospital treatment wards and various clinic receptions all told me they too were struggling financially. Even though there are many well-known cancer charities out there I found it very difficult to get financial advice or support. I decided that if the cancer didn’t kill me (I was only given two years to live in 2012 unless I tried a stem cell transplant – which I successfully did with my only brother in November 2013) that I would try to set up a small charity that helped people when they needed it most. The last thing someone living with cancer needs to worry about is money, so we try to help by taking away that additional stress.
Why did you name it Cancer is a Drag?
We called it Cancer is a Drag as it’s a play on words, and also because I love seeing drag shows. We started putting on fundraising shows with our launch at Halfway II Heaven in August 2013. The charity is run voluntarily by the goodwill of its trustees, patrons, ambassadors, supporters and volunteers – there are no salary costs. The only costs involved are that of expenses incurred in organising, setting up and carrying out fundraising events.
How is the money used?
Funds raised at our events are given to our beneficiaries in the form of grants ranging from £100 to £500, depending on circumstance and need. These grants support beneficiaries with living costs, travel, medication, household goods, bills, mortgage payments, funeral costs or even a treat to raise their spirits, such as a short break away. Our main aim is to raise people up and make cancer ‘less of a drag’ than it already is.
This Thursday you are back at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, how was the show you did there last year?
Last year we did a special show in honour of Vanilla Lush who sadly passed after a difficult fight with the disease. I personally became quite close to him via messages and phone calls and we supported him financially. He was loved by so many people on the drag circuit that it seemed the only fitting thing to do was to put on a show in his honour. It was a fantastic night with lots of great performers and we raised over £1,600 to help people.
This event is a tribute to Aretha Franklin, why did you decide to do this?
Everybody loves Aretha’s music and all the things she achieved in her life, plus of course she died of pancreatic cancer. My favourite thing she said was: “We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right!” This is why we have named the night R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Can you tell us what we can expect on the night and who’s performing?
We have Danny Beard, LoUis CYfer, Mrs Moore, Topsie Redfern, Bellavie Lady Bee, Heart & Soul, Stephanie Von Clitz singing her new charity single release, Chamonix Aspen, Frankie Sinatra, Vanity Nightmare and Evie Lake. They will be performing songs from the queen of soul and more. Our gorgeous hostesses in attendance are Chris Pig, Miss Sugar Cube and Shady JD. Plus, there’ll be our infamous London Theatre Ticket Raffle too.
And Doctor Woof is the host?
Yes! It’s all held together by our fabulous charity AmBearssador Doctor Woof as MC. He’s literally just returned from his ‘Bears on Ice’ shows in Reykjavik, Iceland. Andy has done so much for the charity and we always ask him to MC now at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. I couldn’t do it without him – he’s my lefthand man and so lovely.
What else does Cancer is a Drag have planned for 2018?
On Saturday 22 September we celebrate our five-year anniversary at Halfway II Heaven with lots of fantastic acts. In early November our ambassador Stephanie Von Clitz will be releasing her first charity song in our honour and by the end of that month we are hoping for our charity Christmas Song – Christmas Time With You, written by Tony Power – to be on the airwaves. Then in December we will release our first Cancer is a Drag EP containing four tracks.