In 2011, when Jamie Campbell was sixteen and wanting to attend his school prom in a dress, he decided to film a documentary leading up to the event titled Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 which was broadcast on BBC3. Since the show was aired, Jamie became an inspiration to many, including Jonathan Butterell who then went on to create Everybody’s Talking About Jamie alongside Tom MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells and is now a West End hit. Jamie is often attending events with the musical such as London Pride 2018 and can also be seen as his drag queen persona Fifi la True. Talking to us recently, Jamie tells us more about how different his life would be without the documentary, becoming Fifi la True and being involved with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Have you always been interested in designing your own clothes?
I’ve always designed clothes from a very early age. When I was younger I would tell my mum and grandma what type of gown I wanted, and they would make me it out of curtain scraps and old samples from my grandma’s curtain and carpet shop. I hope to launch my own fashion line one day, it will be fabulous, affordable and unisex.
What is your favourite outfit you’ve created?
I think it would be my gown for the 2018 Olivier Awards. Me, my mum and grandma worked really hard on it as a trio. We made it in three days. It was my design but I’ll have to give them credit, my mum and gran did most of the technical work. I was really there to help hold and cut things and keep them hydrated with cups of tea. They’re the pros. I also loved my JAMIE musical diamond paper look for London pride this year. It was inspired by Thierry Mugler and Lady Gaga.
What do you enjoy most about being involved with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie?
Meeting the fans is most definitely my favourite part about being involved with the musical. Getting to hear people’s stories and learn how the show has helped them in their lives in many different ways is so humbling. There is even a group who have come together and formed a community around the show and my story. They have meet ups and chat together and have found genuine friendships.
When did you hear who had been cast in the production and when did you meet them?
I heard literally three or four months before the show premiered in Sheffield. I was brought into Dan Gillespie Sells’ studio where I met him along with Jonathan Butterell the director, and Tom MacRae the writer where they played me the songs and told me about their changes to my story. I first met John McCrea when we did a ‘Jamie meets Jamie’ interview with Attitude Magazine just before the Sheffield premier. I got to meet most of the cast during a rehearsal about a month before seeing it on stage. That was all I knew.
What were your immediate thoughts on reading/hearing the script?
I only read a few pages of the script before deciding to leave it all as a surprise for the press night as I didn’t want to spoil it with any misconceptions. I’m so glad I did as I wasn’t expecting any of it when I first saw it. The script is so clever and witty. There’s so many zinger lines in there. The lyrics of the songs are also very smart if you really listen to every word.
How different was it seeing the show in Sheffield to the West End?
Seeing it for the very first time in Sheffield was mind blowing because that was the very first time we saw it. I’ll never forget the feeling but it’s so difficult to describe. The press night in London was a lot grander than in Sheffield, there were so many celebrities and West End Royalty like Andrew Lloyd Webber… The West End production isn’t too dissimilar to the Sheffield one. There’s just a bit slicker and certain tweaks here and there but it still keeps the very real essence that made the original so popular.
What was your mum’s reaction to seeing the show for the first time?
We were both in complete awe. The cast and creatives brought us onto the stage at the end and all me and Mum could do was hug each other and cry. It was simply the most surreal moment of our lives. I don’t think anyone can understand what it’s like unless it happened to them.
Which song from the musical would you say most relates to you?
There’s many, but most definitely Wall In My Head and My Man, Your Boy. Both feel like they are being sung from my soul on stage. I know Jamie New is a fictionalised version of me, but those songs I feel I relate to a lot. I however think Work of Art is a TUNE! And Out of the Darkness is a really good feelgood song.
📷 : Dave Benett for Getty
How did you find the Apollo Theatre press night?
It was very intense. I had been trying to prepare myself for it for months, but it was so fast-paced. It felt like it was over in a few minutes and I had just been spun up in a tornado and spat back out again. It was incredible though, I couldn’t believe how many people were there because of my story. Me and Mum were both like fish out of water, but everyone was so kind and loving, we were really put at ease.
Have you seen Rebecca McKinnis and Lee Ross in their new roles, and did you get chance to say goodbye to the cast who left?
I have seen Rebecca McKinnis and Lee Ross in their new roles. Both are incredible. Rebecca had massive shoes to fill in those left by Josie Walker, but she has more than risen to the occasion. Her voice has got a beautiful almost country sound to it. I love how each person who comes into one of these roles gives it their own twist.
What’s it like attending award ceremonies?
It’s very surreal. At first I used to get really nervous, but now I’ve learned to enjoy myself. Yes, there are people who are doing very serious jobs, but generally everyone is there for a good time. It’s so strange meeting celebrities, many have even said they are fans of my story. It’s so bizarre! I can’t believe I walk down a red carpet and people scream my name while the paparazzi cameras flash my picture. It’s like something out of a dream. Who’d have thought this would ever happen?
How long does it take to get from Jamie to Fifi?
Around three to three and a half hours. It’s a very stressful process. I do not enjoy getting ready. I love being out though.
How often do you get to perform as Fifi la True and have you had any stand-out funny moments?
I used to perform quite regularly but about a year ago I put Fifi into hiding in order for me to focus on myself as Jamie. She’s making random appearances hosting in clubs around London and Leeds. She has plans to return to the stage very soon, but I’ve got a lot to focus on already. A hilarious moment was when I ran over to the National Spanish swimming team at Madrid pride in full drag. I tripped up the steps and fell right into the middle of them as they were trying to get a group picture. They all loved it and cheered. I never got to see the picture but I’m sure it’ll be hilarious.
What are your plans for your YouTube channel?
I have a few things I’m going to be shooting over the next couple of weeks but I want to have a good catalogue of videos ready before I launch my channel again. I don’t want it to be me just stood there being boring talking about things when I can be showing in a much more interesting way. I’m not sure when it’ll be ready for launch again, but watch this space.
Would you like to get any cast members involved with your videos?
I do have some ideas to get the cast members involved and I’ve spoken to a few about it. Some fun things are coming.
What advice would you give to young people who are in a similar situation to you in your documentary?
Be brave and stand up for who you are. Certainly don’t worry about other people’s negative opinions of you. Do what makes you happy. If you don’t know what that is, go out and find it. Don’t be confined to a certain shaped mould. You can be anyone you want to be.
How different do you think your life would be if you hadn’t filmed Jamie: Drag Queen at 16?
Extremely different. After the documentary when I was sixteen I just got on with my life trying to make it in the world, but I was also messing about a bit. I suppose that’s a part of being young, isn’t it? So I’m just plodding along when all of a sudden this massive thing comes out of nowhere and just suddenly changes everything. I’ve been thrust into the spotlight by pure chance, and although it’s what I always wanted I never expected that it would happen so soon. I’m just trying to stay humble while seeing just how far this whole thing can be pushed now. Documentary, hit musical, movie. It’s far from over. I can’t imagine what my life would be like now without it. I’m extremely blessed.
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