A: Yes, I’m an Ipswich boy, born and raised there. My dad is from the Caribbean and my mum is from London. So I have a good mix there. At first a lot of people ask me ‘why do you do Beyoncé?’ and in fairness, there are not a lot of acts I can actually do because of my skin tone and my big bum, so it just happened that I picked one of the big superstars. But you know, growing up in Ipswich, I always saw myself as a very creative person, I was always the one that had ideas and would make things. It’s quite nice for me to be where I am now but that journey was enormous. I’m very influenced by what I watch; I’m a very visual learner. I used to watch shows like E.R. and then I wanted to become a doctor and then I’d watch shows like Batman and I’d want to be Batman, so I’ve always had these ‘wow that’s what I want to be’ moments. So growing up in a very small town that isn’t very gay, and not very, I wouldn’t say accepting, but unknowing was difficult. It’s a very small Suffolk bubble. I always knew I was going to go out and do something but I didn’t want to go to University. I felt that wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to study and I was like why at the age of 17 would I choose to do something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I think that’s why I joined the police. It was an alternative for me. It was a way for me to get out of a small town into a job without a lot of experience. I had good qualifications but they were around design, technology and graphics but I wanted to the police.
A: No, no one at all. Pretty much everyone in family has a good job, not necessarily went to University but they’re hard working. There’s a really good work ethic in our family which thank god, I’ve got. On top of that, choosing to go into the police, my family weren’t really happy about it. Mainly because they thought it was going to be a very dangerous job. I joined when I was 18. I was skinny and small. I didn’t look like a police officer; I looked more like a Smurf. But they were quite happy for me and they’ve been supportive in everything that I’ve done. Obviously I was famed in the police for dealing with Jade Goody which was a total fluke.
M: What happened with Jade Goody?
A: There’s not much I can say as I’m still under the Secret Service Act as a former police officer but the first time we dealt with her was a domestic violence case. This was back in 2004 and the second time was when she came to the police station to report that her nanny had stolen money from her and that’s actually where the paparazzi photos are from.
M: I heard that you arrested her?
A: At one point, yes, but I can’t really talk about it. It’s weird because I go into the police with the idea of getting into media. I’ve always been into media but I’ve never known how to get into it. So that gradual step in the police actually gave me a big curve ball of life experience. I think I needed that. I had such a sheltered childhood in so many ways that it actually broke me out of that in about 3 seconds being on the beat. You instantly wake up and realise it’s real and I’m actually doing this.
M: So were you a performing child?
A: Yes, totally. I was the Pied Piper in the school play and there were two nights of it and I was only allowed to do one night because I shared the role with someone else and I was fuming. I think it was my first ever diva tantrum because I only got to do one night and I think I even tried to jeopardise and make sure that the other girl didn’t turn up on the night. I said to her “if you don’t want to come, I’ll do it! I’m obviously the better one”. I am extremely competitive with everything.
M: So Jade Goody, and then three and a half years in the police and then you’re like I’m bored of this?
A: It’s one of those things, when I joined the police, I worked on the response shift so it’s all about blue lights and going to the jobs and it’s “999, emergency” but you soon discover that they’re all very repetitive, especially in a small town. A lot of the time it’s the same people. So actually the excitement goes very quickly, another blue light run, another fight, another drunken person, another arrest, it gets very repetitive. I think that’s actually where the police get stumped as when something like the riots happen they’re not really prepared for them. You’re used to the normal, mundane things and get into a routine even though it’s the police and anything can happen and what does happen, it’s very dangerous. You get into a routine and that’s probably the worst thing that can happen to me, especially a shift pattern routine. You know when you’re working and you know when you’re not. I got bored of it. I really got bored of it and I did lose my passion for it, so I would come to London on my days off and basically network. I’d meet people who were in production. There was one time I was in a bar and I overheard someone say “oh, I’m shooting a music video tomorrow” so I grabbed and said “what are you doing?” and I said “I’ll come along, I’ll carry the bags, I don’t care” and I was just involved. The first music video I did was actually the Sugababes.
M: So why video production?
A: I don’t know. I always had the idea that I wanted to do media. That’s what I love but when I found video like the music video, I was asked to do another one and then another one. I was just building it up and I was seeing the behind the scenes and I was thinking “I could do better than this” or “why are you doing it that way?” or “why are you doing that?” and “what about doing this?”, my business mind kicked in and I thought that this could be done so much more efficiently. So I actually started working for a number of online companies that did online content and again, I would go along for free. For a year, I worked for free on my days off. For me it was something to stimulate my mind. It was something else. I did it for quite some time and it got to a point where I was asked to do things that was supposed to be part of my shift so I’d take a day off and they’d pay me. So I was slowly going from free to paid, based on the demand of me actually being there.
M: And then the jump?
A: The jump was horrible. I finally got the ongoing support of my family that accepted me in the police although it was dangerous. However I said by the way I’m leaving that job now which is secure to do something I have no qualifications in, what I have no experience in and what I don’t have a job in. They were like “what the hell?!”. I think my mum was relieved that I left the police but at the same time she was like “so what are you going to do?”.
M: So how do you start a company?
A: How do you start a company? That’s a good question. I didn’t know how and if I did know how I probably wouldn’t have done it. I think that’s something that I do quite a lot. I go into things with a lot of naivety. I think it’s the best way. If you over-think something or overanalyse it, you can put yourself off. You spend some much time worrying, that it’s actually out of date. So I just thought “sod it, do it!”.
M: But you do have passion for it, don’t you?
A: I do have a passion for it and that’s key. With anything I do, it’s all or nothing. If I have a passion for it, I will give it my life. If I’m not that keen on it, I won’t do much, or anything.
M: So when did you start the company?
A: So I started the company six years ago. There was a gap of about two years from when I left the police until when I actually started the company and during that time, I actually worked for a financial consultancy. Mainly as a Sales Executive, so I would bring business in for them. I think my business brain has always been there. I was the one selling sweets at school to other kids so I’ve always done something. So to then actually move into finance, I actually found it quite easy because it’s money, it’s numbers and I’m good with that. Within a year of working for them, I actually became their top consultant and in that first year, I earned £100,000 and that was a good thing for me. It was a year after I left the police and it was a good decision to make. I thought I made this money. It’s not a salary. It was 100% commission and I made that. It was a good confidence boost for me to say “yes, I’m going to do this!”. So I used some of that money the next year to start the company and pretty much lost it all. I probably sunk around £30,000 or £40,000 into the first iteration of Carve, but it just didn’t work, but I learnt a lot. You only make that mistake once; you only lose £40,000 once, I’ll tell you that. In that process, one of the police officers I worked with, his partner worked in Matalan but then again, had a passion for video production. So I went to a party of theirs once and I just happened to look at video of his that he was making and I was like “wow, what are you doing?” and he said “oh yeh, I just do editing on the side” and I looked through some of his videos and they were amazing. They were really good and I basically said to him “I’m going to pimp you out”. So I started getting him the odd very small video job. A small edit here, a small edit there and it actually grew with him coming on board and working with me in my company that I was working with, but they had no idea what they could do with video production. If you think, this was the early days of social media; it was still very early days of video production and it being affordable for a lot of businesses. I thought there was an opportunity here, online is going to grow, videos are going to grow. It’s going to happen. So that company actually went bust. At that point I said to my business partner “look, we should just do this on our own” and he was like “yeh, sure” and that was it.
A: We worked from our own homes. I was living in Blackheath in London and he was living in Harlow. We would Skype each other all day every day. We borrowed equipment to do our first couple of jobs but we made no money.
M: But with all the networks you had built, did you start to use them?
A: I started to but it was only a good network in terms of people knowing me but not to the point where I could say “let me do a video from you”. They were like “well hold on, three months ago you were carrying our bags, now you want to produce the shoot?”.
M: And how did you make that transition from being part of the shoot to directing it?
A: Very gradually. I literally spent every evening out networking. I would find events; I would find things going on. I’d go and meet people and talk to them. Just slowly built it up and help out. We did a lot for free in our first year. We had to say “we’re a new company, please take a risk on us, you don’t have to pay us” and they were like “yeh, sure why not!”. So we did a huge amount for free.
M: And I imagine it gave you a lot of experience?
A: Yeh, it gave us experience. It gave me experience on how to actually manage these productions as well. So I was learning on the job again and that’s how I like it. I like to learn on the job. I like to see a gradual journey in everything that I do. If you do it amazing the first time, you’re not going to do another one. So I like to grow it, I like to do different things.
M: And wasn’t it one of your clients that suggested you do Britain’s Got Talent?
A: It was. Again we have some big clients now; Channel 4, Sunseeker, Coca Cola. Actually Coca Cola emailed me today with a long email and said at the end “by the way, you were absolutely amazing on Britain’s Got Talent!” I hadn’t told them but now the whole office has seen.
M: How has it affected the relationship with the clients? Knowing that you do a Beyoncé impersonation?
A: It’s fine. I’ve had a lot of people say “you run a really successful company and I don’t think it’s going to go down well if they find out that you do a Beyoncé tribute drag act” and I said “well if anybody wouldn’t want to work with me because of me doing a drag act, I wouldn’t want to work with them because we’re not on the same wavelength”. I have my own company so I can work for an easy life. We don’t do jobs because we need them. We do jobs because we want to work with these people. We like the brands and we know that we can do really amazing things with them. If you can’t even talk to someone and have a friendly conversation with them, why would you want to work with them, especially if someone is judging you based on something you do for fun, why would you want to put yourself in that position?
M; And wasn’t it in Sitges that you first did drag?
A: Yes. We actually filmed Sitges Pride back in 2011 so we knew the organisers of it and we kept in touch because I love that place. It’s a gorgeous town, a really old town and we’d been there for a couple of years for pride. One of the big drag queens there, Gabbi, in 2011 asked me if I would stand in as a dancer for one of the opening acts and I actually took the limelight off of her. I think it was my energy. I learnt the dance routine very quickly. I thought everyone was doing it the way I was, until I watched the video back. I was really going for it and everyone else didn’t seem to be putting the effort in. So everyone’s eyes were directed to me. When I went back a few years later, one of the resident drag queens said “you’ve got to do something on stage” and I was like “no,no,no” but the friends I was going with were like “let’s do a drag night”. None of us had done drag before and this was just last June. None of us had done anything of the type. It was all very new. It’s just another example of those things that I do where I give it my all. We went and bought some crappy stuff from Primark and bought make up and heels. I just chucked it all in my suitcase and I thought I’d sort it out when I got to Sitges. When we got dressed up, I remember looking at my best friend Matt and laughed so much because of how bad he looked. He’s such a fun character that he pulled it off effortlessly though. I looked at myself and I thought “oh, not bad”. The organiser saw it and said “you’re doing Beyoncé on stage, but not tonight, on Saturday night!”. We had a little bit of a drag night that night but on the Saturday, I had a make-up artist and it was the same person who did on the make up for Modern Family, the TV show. He just happened to be in Sitges and word got around very quickly that there was going to be a Beyoncé act on and he said to me “are you doing the Beyoncé drag?” and I was like “I’m going to try” so he said “I’m doing your make-up!”. We had like Primark make-up, so it was essentially crayons, so he did the best he could but it was amazing.
M: And how many people did you perform to?
A: It was around 10,000 people all along the beach.
M: So weren’t you really scared?
A: You know it was one of those things, because we were recording it, if we hadn’t have done I wouldn’t be able to say what happened. I couldn’t have said did I do the dance? Did I not? It just went so quickly. I remember standing backstage saying “this is probably the last chance you have to back out” and then I heard my name, so I thought “oh I better get on stage”.
M: Did you do ‘Single Ladies’?
A: No, I did Grown Woman. So I wanted to do a song that hadn’t been done. Single Ladies had been done. I needed girls to do that or people to be my backing dancers. They actually gave me backing dancers but they weren’t good enough. They were like “no, you just stand out too much”. Instead I just did Grown Woman and it was a last minute change. Watching the performance back, I learnt so much from it.
M: Was it hard to go from there to the stage of Britain’s Got Talent?
A: Well we got a lot of people come up to me to asking me if I would do Miami Pride, San Francisco etc. and I was thinking this isn’t actually an act. This was meant to be a one off performance but they said “if you had an act, we’d book you”, so I thought about it.
M: Did you go to Miami and San Francisco pride?
A: No, not yet. This was only last June. It’s taken me a while to get the act to a point where I knew it’s what I wanted to do. When I got back to the office, we played it on the big screen and the client happened to walk in and she was like “I can’t believe that, that’s amazing, you have to go on Britain’s Got Talent” and I was like “no, don’t be silly, I’ve only done this once”. So this was back in August, she said “you must apply for Britain’s Got Talent” but I was like “no, no no”, but obviously I was looking at developing the act. I do loving dancing. I’m not a professional and I’ve never had any classes. I do love to dance so for me I just do it for fun. That was another thing, similar to Carve that stimulated my brain. Then people were telling me “you’ve got to do Single Ladies”. I was like “okay, let’s do this!”
M: Were you not scared because it’s such an iconic dance?
A: You know what, I never really get scared or nervous. It’s probably not a good thing. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it works in your favour and other times, it’s like you need to think about the severity of the situation. I thought okay, so I started learning it from the video. It’s something at parties that everyone would always ask me to do. Even before I did Beyoncé, people were asking me to do the dance because I kind of knew it. I’ve been doing it since 2009; when it came out, so I thought okay, let’s put this together. I thought if I’m going to do this, let’s go all out. My best friend got a choreographer who knew two girls. We had two hours to learn the dance and it just so happened that someone I was working with worked at Channel 4 and they said you should use one of their spaces there to film it. So I emailed them and they said yes, but they could only give us 2 hours. So within two hours, we had to make a music video. Watching that video now, I hate it because I can dance so much better than that but we learnt it in 2 hours. The day before I climbed up and down Ben Nevis in Scotland so my legs were killing me, my feet were killing me and then I had to do a dance in heels which were so flimsy. The video went up and it got really good attention and people were enjoying it. It’s just slowly grown and once a month we do something, and then someone says “let me do your makeup” or “I want to do this with you” etc. There are a lot of passionate people who just want to be part of it.
A: So eventually it came round to when you could apply and the client said “look, here’s the link, have a look at the website, what’s the worst that could happen?”. So I sent them the Sitges video and they replied back in October and they said “you’ll hear by the 15th February if we want to see you”. So I just thought okay and left it and forgot about it. The next day they called me, and I said “oh, I didn’t think you’d be in contact until February” and they were like “oh no, that’s the end point”. They thought the video was fantastic and wanted me to audition. Then I thought “hang on a minute, it’s the biggest show in the UK”.
M: Although you said earlier you don’t get nervous, you must have been nervous about performing on the Britain’s Got Talent stage?
A: I didn’t get nervous at all. We rehearsed a lot more. We put the medley together. Then we thought let’s go back as I was worried that people wouldn’t realise that it’s Beyoncé that I’m doing but luckily everyone knew. I wasn’t nervous about it because I had so many things going on at the same time. I think that’s the thing because I have the production company and I’ve just started another company which is a mobile app which is very much video based as well. My mind has always got a million things in it and I have no room, or in fact time, to actually think about it. I actually didn’t get nervous until I was backstage waiting to go on in front of the judges because seven people got buzzed off before me and I kid you not, in less than about ten minutes so they were literally on and off. The audience were shouting “off! off! off!”. I was thinking “this is real”. My left leg was just shaking. Then all of a sudden I was on. The first step I was on the stage the audience just went crazy and that calmed me down. It felt like they accepted me and it’s true how they portrayed it, people didn’t realise I was a man. I had a little bit of banter with Alesha that wasn’t shown and I got the audience to shout “hey! Miss Carter” a couple of times. Then Simon asked me my name and it began.
M: Other drag acts like La Voix have been on Britain’s Got Talent, so how do you make yourself different from other drag queens performing on the show?
A: I think the difference between myself and La Voix, and the way I stand out, is that it’s always been that very traditional English drag which is slightly panto. They look gorgeous but everything is very much exaggerated; the eyes, the wig and the dresses. I’m trying to keep it real. That’s why I think the audience were slightly confused because when they see a drag queen, they’re like “that’s a drag queen” but if you look at my Instagram or Twitter, people say “I don’t know if this is a man or a woman”. I wouldn’t say I’m doing a Beyoncé drag, I would say I’m doing a Beyoncé impersonation. I wouldn’t define myself as a drag queen. I would define myself as more of an impersonator. For drag queens I think there are a lot of different contributing assets, yes it’s your look but it’s also the attitude. How do you perform? Do you lip sync? Do you sing? Do you dance? It’s an array of different things. If you look at the drag queens on RuPaul, for instance, they are all very different but they are drag acts. They’re all characters. I’m not a character. I’m solely a performer.
M: So do you plan to impersonate any other stars?
A: I would only ever do Beyoncé. The good thing about Beyoncé now is that there are so many different looks, styles and songs as well. She has over 70 songs and they’re all very different. I think like any act, performers evolve over time. If it was like Madonna for example, you could have 5 different people do a Madonna and it would be very different according to the song, the age, the music and the style. I’m very much about perfecting doing one thing as oppose to doing lots of different things. For me, it’s a fun thing that I’m doing. I’m not doing it because I want to be a diverse performer. I think if you want a Beyoncé impersonator come to me. If you want someone else, find it elsewhere.