Chris Park meets our own Cheddar Gorgeous
As I walk into Starbucks, I say hello to Michael Atkins and frown at bright blue kitchen bin next to him. He smiles and says it’s for a costume and I’m instantly transported into the world of Cheddar Gorgeous.
In a new series for Canal St Online, we will be putting the spotlight on leading figures from the Manchester scene and who better to debut than the darling of the drag scene himself?
Dr Michael Atkins has a PHD in Anthropology and has worn many hats before the wigs he now favours “I did some teaching assistant work, I trained as a social worker, ran bars and restaurants and was a film maker.”.
This variety put him in good stead to bring a new twist to traditional drag, but how did Cheddar come about. “It was a long and staggered journey” Atkins explains “I started as a club photographer for four years working for Essentials. When it reopened as Mancunia, I did Halloween things involving dressing up. The club asked if I would do drag door hosting and Cheddar Van Der Tramp was born, modelled on Bree Van Der Camp from Desperate Housewives. It was trash drag with big hair and tutus. I then had a break and in 2012 went to San Francisco for six months. It inspired me, the punk scene and playing with gender. I got back in May 2012 and Cheddar Gorgeous came about. Appearing at Pride was my graduation”.
It seems no look is too outlandish for Atkins but where does he draw inspiration from? “Lee Bowery who mastered transformation. Taylor Mac. The Divine David. Local Performers. The Birmingham Scene. I want it to be issue based. I look at make up artists, films and videos. I have to pull something out of myself. I’m not interested in becoming someone. As the saying goes, be yourself unless you can be a unicorn”.
Looking through Cheddar’s Instagram, some of the outfits can be pretty outrageous, has he ever felt that he’s gone too far? He pauses in thought, “I do question myself. I did a Grace Jones look to look at cultural appropriation and was lifting a look from Vamp where she had white tribal body paint. I was interested in doing an inversion of this with a black face but I decided against it and changed the make up. I don’t censor myself for serious issues but I am conscious of what I am doing. At Cha Cha Boudoir we did a war party and everyone said it wasn’t appropriate but the numbers were anti war numbers looking at landmines and IED explosions. We were engaging with a serious topic and you should use art for that otherwise what is the point?”
It takes between two and four hours for Atkins to become Cheddar and he is working with Alex Williams, a costume maker, for the first time which he is very excited about. I wondered if he’d had any disasters.
“The first time I was on stage I was booed. This was in 2010 and a costume competition and I went as a devil and took all my clothes off. Now it’s my act.” He laughs “In 2012 I went to Zombie Pride as an industrial zombie and stripped off, I got the suit caught around my ankles and asked for help from the audience. A young man pulled really hard and knocked me over, but I still carried on, mike in hand”.
But how about when he’s not in the midst of Cheddar’s world? “Going to Spar is a favourite activity of mine after drag. The thing about Manchester is everyone’s seen it before. I have never experienced homophobia or dragophobia except down Canal St”.
What does the future hold for Atkins? “I want to live as many lives as I can. Drag allows me to become different fabulous creatures, life should be varied”.
By Chris Park for Canal-St Online.Read More