model and drag star jacob mallinson bird is taking ibiza
Photography Louie Banks
The model, Cambridge music graduate, and drag star Jacob Mallinson Bird is Skyping me from Ibiza. As he tries to find a quiet seat I get glimpses of a sun-blinding swimming pool, an open hawaiian shirt and a 'no hotdog' sign on the wall. I take it, he's having fun? "So much fun," he answers, "it's absolute carnage."
Due to turn 22 in just a few weeks, Jacob is spending much of this summer as part of Sink The Pink's residency at Glitterbox, under the title Savage Disco. But, unlike many of the hedonists pounding Balearic dancefloors this summer, Jacob is due to start a Master of Studies at Wadham College, Oxford next month. A drag queen, boarding school-educated, gay male model, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dance, is writing a second dissertation on late Beethoven and regularly parties with Hedi Slimane dressed as his female alter ego Dinah Lux? Is this the face of the 21st Century polymath? And if so, how does he juggle so many apparently contradictory ambitions?
Let's start at the beginning. How did you first get spotted?
I was sitting on the steps outside Liverpool Street Station. I used to have such bad acne that when this man asked if I was a model I thought he was taking the piss. But he gave me his card and I ended up calling him. I quit modelling when I went to uni but then got spotted again in a New York make-up shop, waiting for Amanda Lepore to perform.
You started doing drag as a student. Was it odd to be doing that in such an establishment place as Cambridge?
I've always been in pretty establishment places. I went to Charterhouse boarding school, which was all boater hats and cravats. But when I came to Cambridge there was already a huge drag night put on by students called Denim; you'd have 800 people turning up to this place where the Dalai Lama would be speaking the next day, all in drag, heels and make up.
What I wouldn't give to see the Dalai Lama do drag.
Oh, tell me about it.
The artist and performer Scottee has described modern drag as being post-gender? Is that how you see it?
I definitely agree that a woman can be a drag queen. It's not about expressing an opposite gender as much as about expressing a charactered version of whichever gender you're choosing to do. It doesn't make any sense when people say Carmen Carerra shouldn't do drag any more because she's trans; she's still a performer, doing the same thing she's always done.
There's far more to drag that wigs and genitals.
That's very true. Drag should be pure, unadulterated pleasure. If you're doing that right then everything else should fall into place.
Do you have a signature move when you're performing as Dinah Lux?
The jump splits. If you don't know what to do, jump in the air, fall into a splits and the crowd goes wild. Every time.
How did you come up with Dinah Lux?
Drag became less of a character and more about presenting myself in a more female way. Jacob in the Bible has a daughter called Dinah who gets kidnapped, forced into a relationship and then is saved by her brothers, so it's a story about overcoming adversity. There's also the Roman legend in which Lucretia is raped and then kills herself, and Lucrezia in Mrs Dalloway, which is one of my favourite books.
I also like the idea of a phoenix rising from the ashes. If you put Lucretia with phoenix, you get lux, which also means light. It's a ridiculously complicated drag name, really.
When you talk about rising from the ashes, is that related to feeling unattractive when you were younger? Or something more profound?
When I was in my early teens I had my trust abused in ways that just shouldn't happen when you're that age, by someone that was very important to me. I won't go into particulars, but the whole situation really shook me up for a very long time.
That's why Dinah is so overly sexual in her appearance; she has that ability to take an apparent 'vulnerability' and turn it round. She subverts the male gaze. She creates power from her own sexuality. The world's a dangerous place for any minority, and there have been several instances where bad things have happened; I was almost raped in the back of a taxi dressed as Dinah and then thrown out of the moving car. When Dinah's put in those situations it's awful, because she's meant to be the indomitable Dinah Lux. But then, she is the perpetual phoenix; she has to rise back up and so I have to too, because I created her. She's very powerful and very comforting in that way. It's amazing to have created your own means of feeling better.
You say she's overtly sexual--what's Dinah wearing on stage at the moment?
Not very much, to be honest. A very 80s-inspired high swimsuit; my colour scheme is gold, pink and black. It's very Baywatch meets Xanadu.
Do you shave your armpits?
Oh yes. Hair is the bane of my life. I'm naturally very hairy-chested. I don't mind it as a boy but it's perpetually at that 4mm stubble stage. And I always do it too quickly, drunk, in the shower. It's an absolute nightmare.
Tell me how you ended up performing as Dinah Lux at the Saint Laurent party.
When I was beaten up in Paris a Saint Laurent model came to my rescue and got a black eye in the process. Hedi Slimane phoned up my agency to ask what the fuck happened and why this model had a black eye. When they told him the story he thought it was really rock and roll; he was going to give all the models black eyes. Then Hedi called me and invited me to the show and the afterparty. I carried on getting the invites every year and always go in the most ridiculous drag.
Does Dinah ever cross over into your music projects?
Well as an academic, my music stuff is mainly me, sitting in a library. But my dissertation was on pop music's role in the creation of an egalitarian community at Sink the Pink; how music connects the gay and straight communities. And I'm planning a series of videos where I play repertoire pieces as Dinah in Oxford; Chopin's First Ballade in Wadham College, that sort of thing. But I get so nervous; I would so much rather go on stage and strip than to play the piano.
What would be Dinah's anthem?
Well the thing I listen to most at the moment is Liebestod from the Wagner opera Tristan und Isolde. I don't know how Dinah would perform it. But maybe some day.