INTERVIEW: PlastiQ on pretending to be Lady Gaga, going “totally off the rails” and gracing the stage at the O2 Academy


Newcastle DJ and cabaret performer PlastiQ is on the bill of what promises to be one of the most exciting shows of the year for drag fans. Stars from mega hit US TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as home grown talent and the odd living legend, will be taking to the stage at the O2 Academy Newcastle next month for the Klub Kids Comedy Christmas Extravaganza.

And looking at the now polished performer who is quickly becoming one of the best-known faces in North East drag, she’s certainly come a long way from once being described by Boulevard’s Miss Rory as “a little bit sloppy and a little bit messy.”

“I first got into drag for a talent competition back when I was a member of the youth Parliament (really) in 2010,” she tells me. “It wasn’t really drag – I was pretty much a boy in a lace jumpsuit and blonde wig dancing around the stage pretending to be Lady Gaga.”

Donning wigs and commanding an audience would become more prominent in her life when she entered Drag Idol, an X Factor-style contest for amateur drag queens, last year, which she describes as her “first true attempt” at drag. 

“My make-up was shocking but my outfit was cute.”

Each week in the competition, much like The X Factor, the performers take on a theme as they are eliminated one by one before taking to the grand stage at Boulevard in the final. Although there was no backstabbing or Showgirls-style sabotage in the race for the crown. “Drag Idol never felt like a competition. I feel we had a really strong year and it gave birth to a lot of the new drag queens that have become regular faces on the Newcastle scene,” she says, with a flip of Marilyn-esque blonde hair. “But everyone was really good friends and we all wanted to see each other succeed.

I was happy with my experience and owe my entire career to it.”

She came third in the contest and went out on a high, with praise from the judges and local press, although the good times didn’t last for long. “After Drag Idol, if I’m 100 per cent honest I totally went off the rails. The popularity of the competition opened me up to a lot of people who were poisonous to my life without me realising. I fell into the wrong crowds and doing things I really shouldn’t have been and it wasn’t until months afterwards I started getting my life together. I have no regrets when it comes to the decisions I made following the competition, I’m just glad I learnt from them.”

Weeding out said ‘poisonous’ influences allowed PlastiQ to kick start her career properly. “When I finally sorted myself out I started working for Project:Homo in Sunderland. Then around Newcastle and I think I’ve worked everywhere now!

In January, I had the pleasure of performing in an interim show at Funny Girls in Blackpool and hosted the main stage at Newcastle Pride with the fabulous Gloria Hole.”


Above: Hosting the main stage at Newcastle Pride with Gloria Hole


The Christmas Comedy Extravaganza, which will play host to Drag Race alum like Alaska and Willam, as well as legendary drag queen Lady Bunny and Newcastle’s own Miss Rory, is being produced by Klub Kids. The alternative club promoters, headed up by DJ and businessman Andrew Hoyle and inspired by the cult film Party Monster, has become one of the most popular outlets for more left-of-field performers. What do you expect from a company whose newest club night is called Hooker Knees?

“Klub Kids has opened a lot of opportunities for me, including the Christmas Comedy show. It was a really exciting opportunity for me and obviously I jumped at the chance,” she says, adding that she is most excited to see ‘legendary’ drag queen Lady Bunny perform. “I’m looking forward to it as it’ll give people an opportunity to see me in a different light as most people aren’t aware that I do stand-up as they’re so used to seeing me in a DJ box.”

And after the show is over?

“I’ve loads of things in the pipeline. I’m going to continue working with Gloria and Anna (Morphic, another Newcastle queen) on our shows. I’m also working on producing a solo show that I hope to debut next year at some point. It’ll be a good mix of cabaret and stand-up. Well that’s the hope!

I have a lot of TV stuff that I wish I could say more about but I’m sworn to secrecy. But it’s all very exciting!”

She may have lost the Drag Idol competition but she won a host of fans, and in bagging high profile gigs, she’s proving all that glitters isn’t always gold…sometimes it’s PlastiQ.

Klub Kids Newcastle presents…Comedy Christmas Extravaganza is at the O2 Academy on December 11. For tickets, call the box office on 0844 477 2000 or online here

Photos: LAH Photography, Louise Crosby and Junkyard Studios


INTERVIEW: Alison Carr on her new play Iris, wanting to be Victoria Wood and cock gags

alison carr

As we can confirm after seeing it last week, the Live Theatre’s latest production, Iris, is quite something (read our review here) Written by Alison Carr and starring former Coronation Street actress Katy Cavanagh, the play looks at how loss and grief can just as easy bring a family together as it can tear it apart. And whats even better is that Alison is a Geordie lass. Amazing. We chatted to the writer about the play, wanting to be Victoria Wood and ‘cock gags’.

iris and gerry

We loved Iris. What inspired you to write it?

Well, even though we’re in to the final week I don’t want to give too much away. I think it’s nice for audiences to see it as spoiler-free as possible. But, it all started with the idea of Iris’s strange bequest to her daughters. From there it built up into thinking about the kind of family it would need to be for that to happen. Why? What are the resentments, the secrets? And what are the consequences of their inheritance? I was interested in exploring ideas about legacy, motherhood, sisterhood, guilt, grief, all that good stuff. With a few cock gags thrown in for good measure!

The three actors in the show are fantastic. Did you have any part in their casting?

Yes they are fantastic, and yes I did! Myself, Max Roberts the director and the casting directors spent a couple of days in London auditioning and we held auditions in Newcastle, too. We saw an awful lot of talented actors and at many points I wished it was a cast of thirty rather than three we were looking for. We got it right, though, and Katy, Sam and Joe (below with Alison) are all great in the roles and brought a lot to the rehearsal process, too.

iris cast

How did you get into writing?

I wrote my first play when I was a student for the Uni Theatre Society. It wasn’t great but we all have to start somewhere. I kept writing after I graduated and got a play picked up by a company called 5065Lift for their Edinburgh Festival Fringe line-up. That was my first professional work and gave me confidence to think ‘maybe I could do something with this’. I’ve kept going ever since, really. I did the Old Vic New Voices quite early on that led to me getting an agent, and I left my full-time job to go part-time to give me more time to write about ten years ago.

You won a bursary from the Live Theatre back in 2013. How did that come about and how did it help your career?

The bursary was for my one-woman play The Soaking of Vera Shrimp that I had been developing with director Rosie Kellagher. We’d been working on it in various forms for a while, and we were re-imagining it when we entered it for the award. We were delighted to win it, it gave us time and space to work on the play further with actor Tessa Parr and get it to a really good place. We were then able to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, with some support from Live, where it did very well and was seen by a lot of people.

You wrote a touching piece on your website about Victoria Wood’s death. How did she inspire you and who else inspired you growing up?

It was my deep desire to be Victoria Wood that got me writing in the first place. I loved her from when I was a teenager and wanted to emulate her. Obviously as I wrote more I started to find my own voice and style, but that inspiration to start in the first place was largely down to her. She was also bloody funny and talented and amazing and worked damn hard. What better role model?

It’s always exciting to find new writers and inspirations – I remember reading Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and it blowing me away. I like Tennessee Williams and Martin McDonagh. I love classic films like Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? programmes like Psychoville, The Mighty Boosh and Nighty Night. If it’s dark and funny and maybe a bit odd, chances are I’m a fan.

You had success with Soar in Salford and Vera Shrimp at the Edinburgh Fringe. Are there any plans for Iris to play elsewhere?

Watch this space…

And finally, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I’m working with Forward Theatre Project on their Clothes Swap Theatre Party at the Derby Theatre in July. There’s some other stuff pending, but subject to various factors so I can’t really confirm them at this point. I’m developing an idea for television, and am getting ready to start with a blank page on something brand new for the stage. Always exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

Iris is playing at the Live Theatre in Newcastle until Saturday April 30. For tickets and more information, click here

TBT INTERVIEW: Cheryl on The X Factor, working with Pharrell and how there’s too much sex in the charts

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Cheryl Cole attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

With a new album, new job (sort of) and a new hair colour, Cheryl seems like she is on the cusp of something special. She has come full circle, recently announcing she was returning to The X Factor. We chatted to the Geordie pop goddess about what she’s looking for on the show, recording with Pharrell and why there’s too much sex in the charts…

She enjoyed huge success as 1/5 of Girls Aloud and has thrown the girl band rulebook out of the window by enjoying a post-group solo career, releasing three hit albums. She’s been on the cover of Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. She’s a judge on the biggest show on TV. And she’s a modern-day style icon, although not in her own mind. She is most comfortable when kicking back in pyjamas and Ugg boots, watching trashy TV with her dogs and a Chinese takeaway. Are we ruining the illusion? Sorry. Let’s get back to the glamour.

With a huge smile on her face, the newly blonde singer seems happy. The interviews she gives are few and far between, but she has made an exception to talk to us about a very exciting comeback. She recently announced her return to the show that cemented her place in the nation’s hearts. Having quit The X Factor back in 2010, after winning the show twice with her acts Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry, she decided to focus on other projects, mainly the day job: Pop superstar. Three number one hits, the Calvin Harris-produced Call My Name being the most recent, showed us she was more than just a talent show judge and could still hold her own in the music stakes. That song is played in every bar and every club, every Saturday night. It’s everything a pop song should be. Was it obvious she had an anthem on her hands? “You never really know how the public will react when you record a song but the level of success it has achieved is amazing. Amazing.”


As well as the show, there’s a new album on the way. She will debut the first single, Crazy Stupid Love, with a performance on Britain’s Got Talent later this month. What can we expect? “I want the new record to be something I would want to listen to,” she says. “That means going back to my pop roots but having some songs with an R&B feel.” She’s also dabbled in the fashion industry with a successful line of shoes for StylistPick and even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2009 for Comic Relief (“I’d do something adventurous again, but another mountain is definitely off the cards!”). But it’s clear that music drives her.

girls aloud

During her Girls Aloud days, the band was lauded as the first genuinely good act to come from a reality show. They were put together on Popstars: The Rivals, the predecessor to Pop Idol and The X Factor. They won the show and in turn, clinched the Christmas number one spot in 2002 with Sound Of The Underground, a song that any pop act would have killed for. The girls released hit after hit, including Love Machine, Biology and The Promise, which won them a Brit Award for Best British Single. After a hiatus in 2009, the group returned to the charts with Something New, as well as a greatest hits album and tour. Then, they announced it was over. 10 years on top of the pop industry, they were ready to abdicate their thrones.

On her own, Cheryl is on to her fourth album. Her first, 3 Words, spawned a number one in Fight For This Love and garnered positive reviews from ‘proper’ music critics from the likes of Q and The Guardian. The follow-ups, Messy Little Raindrops and A Million Lights continued her success and produced a further two number ones. Like her or not, she’s paid her dues.

One thing I’ve always admired about Cheryl is the feeling of sisterhood she has instilled in her. She’s a girl’s girl. She loves other women and supports them. Maybe it comes from having a sister herself, or being in a girl band. Or the fact that her mam is her best friend. But, when I ask her about which other female artists she admires right now, her response is somewhat shocking. “No one. I feel like it’s all become a bit too sexual for my liking. People can do whatever they like, but it’s not for me.”

She hasn’t had the easiest ride of the music industry rollercoaster. She’s had to withstand rumours of feuds with band mates, relationships that have been played out in the national media and a very public battle with malaria in 2010 that left her fighting for her life. However, her fans, affectionately named ‘soldiers’, have stuck by her through thick and thin and if anything, she seems to have come out of every bad experience stronger and more resilient. And having family around her during the tough times is vital to the singer. “It’s so important. To have people you trust and who are loyal is rare so having family around is comforting. It feels like home and keeps you firmly grounded.” Cheryl’s mother Joan is by her side whenever possible and her younger brother Garry, 26, now lives in London and works with her.

cheryl and kim

Speaking of family, Cheryl’s band mate and best friend Kimberley Walsh is expecting a baby this year. She’ll be the second GA member to become a mother. “I literally can not wait for the baby! It looks so weird to see Kimberley with a bump because I’ve known her for 12 years.

“It’s going to be like having another niece or nephew.”

I bring up the reason hers is the name on everybody’s lips: The X Factor. Why now? “It felt right. I’ve been asked to go back for the past three years but it hasn’t felt right until now,” she says. Simon Cowell recently said he had to beg her to return but it’s clear she’s buzzing to be back on the panel. “The excitement to find new talent is stronger than any reservations I had.” She was the winning mentor twice on the show, winning her first series with Alexandra Burke and second with Joe McElderry. She got to the final with Rebecca Ferguson in 2010, the season that found One Direction and Cher Lloyd. Fans of the show will remember her excitement when Cher auditioned. “No one else saw her potential but me and she turned out to be one of the most successful contestants from the show. She didn’t win, but has gone on to sell millions of records not only here, but in America too.” She says that was her ‘wow, we could have something here’ moment but when I ask her if there’s any contestants she wishes she had in her category, she’s loyal. “I’m actually happy with who I had. I helped two winners and took two others to the final. I feel like I got the best out of my acts.”

cheryl x factor

So, we know Cheryl is back. We know Mr Cowell is back. But there are still two empty chairs at the judging table. Over the past few weeks, names banded about to fill them have been as varied as Ellie Goulding, Mel B, Robbie Williams and Olly Murs. I ponder over who would be Cheryl’s dream panel. “Beyoncé and Pharrell,” she replies without missing a beat. “Artists like that would be genuinely driven to find talented people and would get the best out of the contestant once the show has ended.” Speaking of Pharrell, I wonder if he’s on the new album. Cheryl has famously worked with Will.I.Am, Snow Patrol and Gary Barlow in the past. And Pharrell is no stranger to collaboration, having produced for some of the biggest artists in the world. And he’s partial to a beautiful woman…”I would absolutely love to work with him. He’s a genius! He’s not on this record, but there’s definitely a few surprises,” she says coyly.

The X Factor auditions have already begun. Well, the pre-auditions have. Cheryl and co will begin their search this summer. She obviously wants to add a third winner to her list of acts. What is she hoping for?

“I’m always looking for original and fresh artists. I don’t want a cut out of someone who is already established because that’s not exciting for me or the public.”

And finally, any advice for her fellow judges, whoever they may turn out to be?

“I hope they’re all bringing their A-game because I left with mine and I’m bringing it back!”

Now, that’s fighting talk. This soldier is ready for battle.

INTERVIEW: Metro’s Steve & Karen celebrate 15 years together on the airwaves

steve and karen

Steve Furnell and Karen Wight’s voices are two we don’t mind hearing first thing in the morning. In fact, we love them. One of the North East’s best-loved double acts, today they celebrate 15 years of presenting breakfast radio together, first on the now-defunct Galaxy and currently on Metro. Here they tell Man About Toon how they got their break, what they could be doing if radio hadn’t worked out and why a 90s girl group once walked out on them.

How did you two get started in radio?

Steve: I was 15. I joined a hospital radio station in South Shields and presented a show on a Wednesday night, eventually moving to Saturday morning. I left college at 17 to get my first paid job at Radio Topshop. They used to have their own in-store radio station broadcasting from the Metro Centre. A year later I got offered a job in North Wales where I worked for five years before moving back to the North East to launch Galaxy in 1999.

Karen: I did a media studies degree at the University of Sunderland and got involved with the student radio station, Utopia FM. At first I was working behind the scenes as a producer but when our newsreader didn’t turn up for their shift, I had to read the news! I was in at the deep end but loved it and caught the bug for live radio. From there I went on to become a journalist at Sun FM, then to Galaxy in Leeds. I came home to read the news on Steve’s show in 2000 and we started hosting together in 2001.

How long have you known each other?

S: We both went to the same primary school. Time has gone so quickly!

K: We actually went to the same school but never met there and only realized years later.

What’s been your highlight of working on the show?

S: I feel very privileged to do my job. The fantastic listeners make the show what it is. My highlights include launching Galaxy in the North East and taking the show to number one. Then when we moved across the dial to Metro – I’ve never been so nervous in all my life!

K: We really are privileged. Every day is different and we love talking to the listeners. People here in the North East have such a great sense of humour and their stories are always brilliant. We’ve had some amazing guests on the show, like Sir Bobby Robson, Ant and Dec, Beyonce and Paloma Faith, who I absolutely love.

Any difficult interviews?

K: I don’t think either of us enjoyed interviewing (90s girl group) All Saints. I’ll let Steve tell you why!

S: The interview wasn’t going that well to start with. It felt like they didn’t really want to be there. I made matters worse by calling them Girls Aloud by mistake. They weren’t impressed and walked out on us.

If you weren’t radio presenters, what would you be doing?

S: I would have loved to have worked with animation. I used to make films when I was a kid.

K: I always wanted to be a barrister when I was younger so maybe something to do with law, although I was a children’s entertainer at the Sea Life Centre for a couple of summers and I loved that!

Us North East folk are so passionate about where we live. What is your favourite thing about it?

S: For me, it’s being so close to the beaches (Bamburgh being my favourite), the countryside and the cities. We’ve got the best of it all here. I think our mams and dads bring us up to feel very proud of where we’re from. Football definitely helps too!

K: I think we’re so passionate about our area because it really is special. We have some amazing stretches of coastline, vibrant cities with music and arts to rival any other city in the UK, fantastic landmarks and of course, the sense of humour. My favourite thing about the North East is without a doubt the people.

Listen to Steve and Karen weekdays from 6am on Metro Radio