This article first appeared in the July /August 2022 edition of Style of Wight magazine
Today we’re on a sunny (and quite blustery) Ryde Esplanade to meet the Isle of Wight’s most witty, distinctive, and well-known drag performer — Quivers. Fresh from a late-night appearance over the water in Portsmouth, and accompanied by their two enthusiastic labradors, we meet Quivers (real name: Henry) in the Ryde Castle courtyard, before ordering some drinks and taking a seat within sight of the sea.
Since first donning a wig and testing out early routines on friends back in 2020, Quivers has gone from strength to strength, becoming a regular feature at many a local venue, reaching the semi-finals of Drag Idol UK and, more recently, releasing their own EP of characteristically unconventional songs, too. So, with the seemingly unstoppable rise of our very own lycra-clad Lily Savage, we thought it was high time we found out more about the one and only (and slightly mysterious) Quivers.
“I was born in 1994 and lived on a farm in the middle of the Isle of Wight countryside. Growing up, I was a bit of a loner, a bit of a weirdo and I was absolutely obsessed with Doctor Who. I had no performing background whatsoever, but I always liked making people laugh and was always creative too, making things out of old cardboard tubes I found in the farm’s packing shed. When I first went to Bestival at the age of fourteen I was really inspired by it and later on, in 2011, I also saw Sink the Pink (the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ collective and club night) which made me think, I really want to do something like that!”
Following on from school, a degree at Southampton Solent University was on the agenda, studying for a B.A. in Comedy Writing and Performance, “although” Quivers explains, “being shy, I told everyone it was Comedy Writing and Production so they wouldn’t ask for any performances from me.” Sadly, the course fell apart during the second year and following a string of bad relationships and a major confidence knock, Quivers returned to the Island and took up a job in hospitality.
“Luckily, since high school, I’ve always had a really good group of friends around me, and they helped build my confidence back up. Then when Covid hit and I was living on my own, I decided to invite them all to a group video call, where we played games like Catchphrase, and I’d start each weekly session with a little comedy skit. As restrictions began to lift, I thought maybe I can try this stuff that I’ve always wanted to do, like seeing what drag was like and performing to an audience. So, in December 2020 I started creating my character, Quivers, aiming for a real-life performance in front of a crowd of strangers at Bar 74 at the bottom of Union Street in Ryde.”
Stepping out onto that stage, microphone in hand, blonde wig in place, and eye shadow generously applied, Quivers was an instant hit, soon becoming known for their inventive and inexhaustible selection of handcrafted costumes. Memorable outfits include a black and white cow costume (complete with pink cotton udders), an Isle of Wight-inspired ensemble (with a headpiece in the shape of The Needles), and a nostalgic 1990s outfit based on the (slightly terrifying) children’s TV character Mr Blobby.
“I make all my own costumes. I knew from the outset that if I did this thing I’d want to do it completely by myself. It usually starts with an idea, triggered by anything from seeing a dog poo bin on a walk around Ryde to listening to a nostalgic song from Lily Allen. Then I’ll have a look around charity shops or Hellerslea Fabrics in Newport and see what can be adapted. The other day I found some old bedsheets and a sweatshirt in a charity shop and made a Winnie the Pooh outfit, sewing every piece myself.”
As the act evolved, so did Quivers, soon realising they no longer needed to compare themselves to other drag artists. “It started out as a character but has quickly become just a heightened version of myself. I used to aim for big and shiny costumes but I’m much more comfortable now in a bodysuit and trainers. That’s why I don’t use the term ‘drag queen’ as I’m not trying to be glamorous, I’m much closer to a Julian Clary or Lily Savage vibe, which is why I describe myself as a ‘drag performer’ instead. Alan Carr is also a massive idol, if I ever met him in real life I think I’d just die on the spot.”
Much of this transition and renewal took place during the Drag Idol UK competition in 2022, when Quivers successfully reached the semi-finals. After winning heats in Soho, Clapham, and Walthamstow, they placed second in a semi-final held in Manchester, and came second again in the semi-final after — just missing out on a spot in the final round. Performing at historic venues such as The Admiral Duncan pub (supposedly one of the oldest gay bars in London) and receiving high praise from famous West Bromwich-born drag queen Baga Chipz, Quivers discovered a new-found confidence.
“Drag Idol 2022 really helped formulate who I am. Meeting other people made me realise I’m actually quite good at this. It was great to get my name out there and it was around this time that I gave up the day job and started doing drag full-time. During one performance I had a bit of a technical issue which meant the music wouldn’t play and I still had ten minutes to fill. So I just started to tell a funny story instead and I had a super positive reaction to that. Now, my performances are always a mixture of music, comedy, and storytelling.”
Earlier, within minutes of meeting us, before notepad and pen were at the ready and before the interview had started properly, Quivers modestly joked “I’m still waiting for people to get bored of me.” However, that seems far from likely, especially with their almost constant writing, re-writing and creation of brand-new shows, from ABBA-inspired musicals to performances based on Lady Gaga or even the iconic early-noughties children’s TV programme Tracy Beaker. This summer, Quivers’ biggest show takes place at the Ventnor Fringe Festival under the black and white canopy of a 200-seater tent known as ‘The Magpie’. Held on Sunday 23rd of July and entitled ‘Eat, Slay, Love — A Quivers Stand Up Show’ it will include an hour of original songs, ukelele playing and of course Quivers’ trademark humour.
“I’d describe it as an existential crisis on stage… but with jokes. I’m prepared to risk all remaining dignity to make the audience laugh and bring a little joy too. The overall theme is about ageing out of your twenties and into your thirties. Everyone around me is settling down and having kids while I’m still bumbling around, barely remembering to tie my laces. I’ll spiral out of control, live on stage, talking about relationships, proper jobs, fitting in, inner peace, and what it means to be an adult in 2023.”
Whilst performances at 200-seater venues are pencilled firmly into the diary now, the journey to becoming a respected and accepted part of the Isle of Wight’s entertainment scene wasn’t always plain sailing. “It was scary to begin with, being a drag performer, but people on the Island have been surprisingly accepting,” Quivers explains. “Usually, the person in the audience who is rolling their eyes at the beginning of the show ends up laughing along with me by the end. I think being an LGBTQ+ performer I have to work extra hard to earn the respect of some people, but I normally manage to worm my way in there somehow and I don’t worry about anyone’s reaction anymore. So many people come up to me at the end of a performance to say they didn’t think they’d enjoy it but they did, and I think that’s great.”
Feeling super proud of Quivers and everything they’ve achieved on the Island and for the Island, we wrap up this mid-morning interview by asking about plans for the future. “Well, I’ve recently released my new EP called Gay & Weird which feels like a big achievement. It’s made up of eight original songs, including one I wrote to myself while bawling my eyes out, which you can have a listen to on Spotify, YouTube, or via my website. Ultimately though, I’d love to be able to tour theatres with my shows but also to do more events with other local creatives. What’s really nice about the Island is there are people who put on really creative things and provide amazing opportunities for others — like Joe Plumb from the Horse Box Theatre Company. I’m also a massive fan of my friend Millie Joliffe, who I’ve performed with for a long time. She’s off to do cabaret on a cruise ship for nine months shortly. So ideally, I’d love to be able to work closer with the other wonderful artistic people who live here. Also, I always encourage people to take the risk to get involved with things that maybe wouldn’t normally be on their agenda, like my own shows, and if, like most of my past audiences, they enjoy the performance, hopefully, it’ll be a gateway for them to experience other unusual arts on the Isle of Wight too.”
Words: James Rayner