The young drag queen, Lewis Bailey was devastated after being banned from performing in a school talent contest that he’d helped set up, but it’s given him a voice and a platform from which to send a positive message to other youngsters
Fourteen-year-old Lewis Bailey who performs as Athena Heart could never have dreamed that something so crushing could have turned out to be such a positive. Being banned from his school talent show at the last minute after working on his act for weeks in the lead up has actually given him a voice.
The support he’s experienced, not just from friends at school – eight people dropped out of the talent show in protest at Lewis’s ban – but from the biggest names in the drag world and some of his heroes has been life affirming.
It’s not clear why the school banned Lewis other than they felt it was ‘inappropriate for the intended audience’ although Lewis is quick to point out that it wasn’t a raunchy act, there was no bad language or sexual innuendo, just him, dressed as a woman dancing to tracks by Ariana Grande among others. Dance is Lewis’s passion which he’s been doing since he was three years old.
Since the story broke, Lewis has performed at various gay pride events as well as at venues across the country. He met the cast of Kinky Boots at the Hippodrome last month who showered him with love and support as well as the cast of Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, a tale that strikes a chord. He’s appeared on This Morning telling his story to Ruth Langsford and an emotional Rylan Clark, not for fame and fortune but because he wants other people to see that it’s okay not to conform.
Lewis remembers first encountering drag while watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race with his sister. He loved it and wanted to create the same art. His supportive mum suggested he could probably do it better. Lewis began experimenting with make-up although it took a while to perfect. He recalls: “I just had these massive black eyebrows at first!” He began posting pictures online every day of different looks.
The talent show was a chance to showcase his act and he spent weeks perfecting his performance to be told just the day before he couldn’t be part of it. As it was a non-uniform day, Lewis turned up in drag instead. The name Athena Heart came from a combination of Lewis’s love of Greek Mythology (Greek goddess Athena) and Chicago (murderous siren Roxie Hart). Juggling performing with school work is about to get harder as Lewis is in Year 10 studying for his GCSEs which will intensify from September. He’s prepared to put in the hard yards though. He explains: “I’m focused on school and if I’m tired from performing on a school night, I don’t show it.”
Opening Brighton’s Gay Pride with one of Lewis’s faves, Martha D’Arthur has been a highlight so far. He says: “It’s just a spectacular art form. I want to show kids that it’s okay to be who you are.”
Although Lewis’s immediate family are hugely supportive, he’s experienced negativity from some members of his extended family as well as random people in the street. Lewis occasionally goes to the local shop as Athena just to see what the reaction is and while most people are nice, the odd one will shout insults like, ‘look at the faggot’. Lewis ignores it.
The Midlands drag scene seems to be lagging behind other regions. Lewis says: “There’s Sequin Show Stoppers, but drag is not that big in Birmingham. Hopefully that will change.” Lewis is focused on a career in drag and wants to travel the world performing. Having made a sizeable impression already and with more events lined up for the summer, we’ll be seeing much more of Athena Heart.