Ian Stroughair aka Velma Celli has the voice of an angel, is as hilarious as they come and truly knows how to put on a show. After seeing Velma Celli’s West End Christmas I was completely overwhelmed and have since been following Stroughair’s career (and life) on Twitter. His latest venture is Iconic – A History of Drag which will be playing at the Edinburgh Fringe.
How did Velma Celli come about?
Well, I have always been a singer much to my siblings’ annoyance. At age 14 I auditioned for a new musical called Kes at the York Theatre Royal. It was a professional show which needed an ensemble of kids. Much to my surprise I was cast. It was my first time on stage. I joined a ballet school in York just before my 16th birthday. Three months later my ballet teacher sent me for an audition for a theatre school. I got in and started that summer.
After two and a half years I was out into the world and working as a singer/dancer/actor. I have appeared in West End and musical productions of Cats, Fame, Chicago, Rent and also appeared on EastEnders as myself… I know, camp!!
When I was in Chicago I was asked out for an evening of drinks by the “girls” in La Cage and Priscilla. I bought a dress and some makeup and dragged myself up and met them at Madame Jojo’s. Apparently, I ended up on stage belting out some Queen and dropping into the splits. I can’t remember this, #gin! When I was leaving, the manager asked me back the following week and I have never looked back.
You’ve had a very varied career, what’s your favourite part of performing as Velma and creating your own show?
The freedom. When you are in a West End musical it’s very strict. You are directed to give the same show every night and there is little room for your own creativity and interpretation. Velma is mine and she can do whatever she wants. Sing whatever songs she likes. It’s very freeing.
You’re taking your show, Iconic- A Brief History of Drag to Edinburgh. What can people expect from the show? Iconic – A Brief History of Drag is a journey through my most favourite moments in drag history, whether it be music, pop culture, film or theatre it’s those Iconic unforgettable drag events that inspired me to do drag and cultivate me into the queen I am now. They can expect to laugh (a lot) cry (a bit) and learn a bit about drag, things that people may not know. The past hero’s. A blooming good night if anything else!
Can you sum up A Brief History of Drag in 5 words?Heartfelt, funny, camp, belt and emotional
You have a stunning voice. How do you keep it strong and healthy whilst facing the strains of touring?Thank you. Lost of water and vocal rest. Healthy food!
If you could go back to any era, when would you go to and why?I would have to say the 1960’s. I believe I am quite the hippy!
What’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring performers who would like to carve their own, unique career?WORK HARD. Work harder then repeat. This business is not for the faint hearted. It’s tough at times and the competition is high so armour yourselves with as much knowledge and learn as many skills as possible. Bring something to the party too. The odds of getting cast are extremely slim so I encourage all my students to write their own material and / or shows.
Thank you to the incomparable Ian Stroughair/Velma Celli for your amazing advice and story. Iconic- A Brief History of Drag will be at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 1st-26th August, at Assembly Checkpoint.
Interview by Editor, Olivia Mitchell