Blu Hydrangea is spreading a manifesto of peace, love, and a little bit of shade
Meet the only Irish queen to ever compete within the 'RuPaul’s Drag Race' universe.
Despite the floral name, Blu Hydrangea is not your common or garden variety of shrinking violet. Although that might have been what viewers expected of the baby-faced 24-year-old, when she first appeared in the work room on the debut series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. One of the youngest queens on the show – which has, in one short season, already garnered a cult following that its US counterpart would be very proud of – Blu was a surprise breakout star, making it all the way to the quarter-final episode before finally being eliminated. She emerged as a frontrunner from the beginning. In the show’s first episode, for a ‘hometown look’, Blu created a look based on Belfast’s iconic Harland and Wolff cranes, from the docklands where the Titanic was built. A dexterity with make-up and some serious styling skills allowed her to transform herself over the weeks into everything from a human eyeball to a huge pound coin (for a Queen Elizabeth-inspired challenge).
When we speak, a few months after the show has finished, Blu is exhausted. Not from filming or from turning looks, but from the sudden hectic pace of post-show life. Still half-asleep, she’s enjoying one of her only days off in between non-stop touring, gigs and meet-and-greets with fans. “Before this, I was doing all of that but in one little bar in Belfast,” she tells me over the phone. “Now we’re doing it across the nation. So that’s pretty cool. It’s been a huge change. Nothing really prepares you for it.”
The power and influence of Drag Race, which, in 10 years, has gone from being an indie hit to an international juggernaut, is such that Blu and the other UK queens have become overnight celebrities. “Being given this platform is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I felt I had to push forward on the high standards that had been set by the drag queens who had come before us, and paved the way for a new flock of queers and LGBTQ+ kids, to make it better for them,” Blu says. “It’s what people have done for me so I wanted to do it for future generations.”
If it sounds like a lot of pressure, that’s because it is. It’s also a lot of fun, and a far cry from Blu’s pre-show life. Alongside performing in drag two or three nights a week in Belfast, Blu worked at a make- up counter in a shopping centre. Despite being a fan of the show since its inception – when it aired she was barely in secondary school – Blu, whose real name is Joshua Cargill, only started doing drag in earnest after dropping out of university. “I was a baby of the Ru generation,” she explains. “But as I grew up I was afraid to try out drag for myself. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Then I dropped out of an animation degree and met my partner. The course wasn’t for me – everyone was so competitive and I just wanted to enjoy myself and be happy. So I dropped out and my partner signed me up for a make-up course, and from there it was a downhill spiral into Blu Hydrangea!”
Named after the flowers in her granny’s garden – her family have always been fully supportive of her life as Blu – the drag artist captivated, shocked and delighted everyone who watched the show. Despite being initially billed as an Instagram influencer and “look""queen”, she showed a deliciously countercultural and risqué side to her drag. Whether she was making RuPaul cackle as a foul-mouthed Mary Berry in the Snatch game or creating an already iconic rap for the veritable bop "Break Up (Bye Bye)", Blu proved she was anything but a one-dimensional Instagram star. “When I went on the show I was just a shell,” she says. “I was the outside of a drag queen perfectly but the inside needed a bit of work. Then, throughout the series and since, I’ve become campier and smuttier, but still with the face of an angel. I like to shock people with my jokes and then look like butter wouldn’t melt. That’s just Northern Irish humour though. People on the show thought ‘oh, Blu’s awful shady’ but that’s just being from Northern Ireland, that’s our humour, you know? Nobody is safe!”
The only Irish queen to ever compete within the RuPaul’s Drag Race show universe, she also used her platform on the programme to shine a light on issues in her homeland. “I was aware that Northern Ireland wasn’t a part of the conversation within the community and in the UK,” Blu says of her educational mirror talks in the work room. It was only while the series was being aired that same-sex marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland, and Blu spoke emphatically about this to audiences, telling viewers in an emotional speech about how she was unable to marry her partner. Unapologetically political, she was particularly disparaging of the DUP, an ultra-conservative party who had consistently blocked introducing equal marriage rights to Northern Ireland. During a Pride performance in Belfast last year, before appearing on the show, Blu performed a triumphant lip sync to Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way" with a demand for “full equality”. The performance included audio of several local politicians’ homophobic views, where they described gay people as “disgusting” and “an abomination”.
“I think there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Blu says of the recent advances in human rights back home. “I mean, our government is a shambles, but I always say the people in Northern Ireland aren’t reflective of the government. People are so welcoming, so lovely and accepting, they don’t care who you are or what your background is. They just want to say ‘What’s the craic?’, have a good time and find out all about you. But some people are stuck in the past, in the days of the Troubles; they still believe you need to be a Protestant or a Catholic, that you still need to be straight and get married to a woman and live your life like that. Just to be able to open a few eyes – that’s what my continuing journey after Drag Race is.”
And that journey is just beginning. Along with the current tour with her co-stars, Blu is preparing to make her way to Australia to perform on the other side of the world. She’s also buzzing to perform for her mum and dad live for the very first time (and keeping an eye on All Stars UK announcements with fingers firmly crossed). Throughout it all, though, she’s spreading the Blu Hydrangea manifesto of peace, love and a little bit of shade.
“I want to show people that I’m just a human being,” she concludes. “I’m just trying to live my life the way I want to and to embrace the ethos of ‘live and let live’, you know? Let people be who they wanna be, live how they wanna live, love who they wanna love especially. Nobody should be able to stop you being happy.”
Photography Scott Gallagher
Photography assistance Ryan McStravick.
Post production Ink Retouch.
Special thanks Chan Photographic and Olin Brannigan.