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BEN DELA CREME

TERMINALLY DELIGHTFUL

TEXT BY
ANNIE QUEERIES

INTERVIEW BY
FRIENDS OF DOROTHY

07.12.21

BenDeLaCreme, from the Latin benusdelacremus, meaning ‘she who is terminally delightful’, is certainly not afraid to take risks.

Joining her for our much-anticipated interview in the exclusive Presidential Suite of the Eiffel Tower, Paris (so named in honour of the delectable Président brie cheese), the Dreaming team is stunned to discover DeLa deftly abseiling in through the bay window.  Whipping off her harness with a sultry sensuality that attests to her origins in burlesque, she is just a shimmy and a shake away from the nearby, fromage-shaped chaise, where she gracefully settles without a hair out of place and with both nipple tassels staring deep into our souls.  With her signature jet-black coiffure piled perilously high and her sumptuous curves heaving seductively under a glittering bodice, she is every bit the campy showgirl we adore. 

 

Although we are clutching our breastplates with dizzy excitement, we are by no means shocked at the excellence of this exquisite display.  DeLa’s death-defying commuting style is echoed in her bold and courageous career choices. Indeed, when the wretched pandemic brought all live shows to a screeching, shrieking halt in 2020, this ‘sweet as pie and sharp as cheddar‘ queen decided to focus her significant talents on creating her most ambitious project to date: a high-production value, feature-length film celebrating all things Christmas, with her best Judy and fellow Drag Race alum, Jinkx Monsoon.  Not only did she co-write, direct, and produce ‘The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special’ (through her very own production company BenDeLaCreme Presents), but just two days after its online premiere, it was picked up for an exclusive license with the streaming service Hulu.

 

‘I’m so overwhelmed and overjoyed with the response we’ve gotten to it’ she gratefully enthuses, sipping from a 14ft long twisty straw firmly planted in a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot located down the corridor.  DeLa admits she was nervous about how it would be received: ‘It’s so scary to work so hard...and put so much of yourself into something.’  Speaking about the contrast to creating a live show, she describes being somewhat rattled by the lack of a live audience. ‘It’s so different from a live performance. For a live performance, you’re working towards opening night, and then you get onstage and you get immediate feedback, you know what works and what doesn’t and you can adjust it for the next night’. Not so for an online production, which can feel as if it is released into a vacuum. ‘You put it out into the world and you wait.’  Her fears were thankfully unfounded; the response has been outstanding and it is easy to see why.  The film feels like the culmination of all of DeLa’s and Jinkx’s fantastic creative synergy (and holiday obsession) distilled into one high-camp, high-glamour, high-Christmas extravaganza.  Where else could one find the spirit of a grandmother living in a glass of eggnog, a Santa-seducing lap dance and a song about the shared trauma of the festive season in one show?  The film is destined to become the campest of Christmas classics in years to come.

When DeLa briefly excuses herself from the interview to accept another nuisance call from the Hemsworth brothers, the Dreaming team cannot help but reflect in awe on what has truly been a meteoric rise to stardom for a quirky, queer kid from Connecticut. From storming the Seattle burlesque scene, achieving Drag Race super stardom, and touring the world with self-written and produced theatrical variety shows, this gal really has leaned into her queer power. Like many LGBTQ+ kids, DeLa experimented with gender expression and dressing up even before she knew what drag was.  In fact, she made history as the first baby ever to emerge from the womb wearing 301 lashes and acrylic nails (refer to the Connecticut Communiqué article ‘Dragged from the Womb; Baby Born in Full Geish’).  Returning to the interview looking flushed yet satisfied, she cites PeeWee Herman and Elvira as her childhood inspirations; those characters that were simultaneously camp-to-the-max but so fully-realised that they could almost be real.  ‘They not only had their shows and films but they were also going on talk-shows and interacting with these characters and I was just fascinated.’  Later, her drag inspirations followed the same vein; campy storytellers such as Coco Peru, Varla Jean Merman and Charles Busch, whose theatrical yet authentic characteristics create immersive experiences for their captive audiences. Oh, and honorable mention goes to Marla Bloodstone, the flame-haired, neurotically hyper-New-Yorkian business woman from Gremlins 2: The New Batch. 

As one of her muscular male aides brings her a venti, triple-shot, extra hot, no foam, caramel, soy latte, served in a go-go boot, DeLa recounts how she moved to Chicago for college and started her drag career in the competition circuit.  While lip-syncing and dancing were the dominant forms of drag performance there, her relocation to Seattle in the mid 00’s opened her eyes to the rich and diverse world of burlesque.  She was soon adopted by the city’s thriving cabaret community and cut her teeth as a performer in its collaborative, variety-show style environment. As host and MC for countless shows, she finally got to ‘scratch that itch’ that, for her, was storytelling through drag. ‘I started to ask people ‘Would it be ok if I wove these numbers into a story?’’  From there, she started to assemble casts of her favourite performers (from all genres), assign them characters and write scripts.  One of these cast members was, of course, her future festive fave Jinkx Monsoon, whom she first saw performing with Major Scales in a Starbucks at four o’clock in the afternoon and immediately cast them as ‘Dickensian Waifs’ in a holiday-themed production. ‘The holidays are in our blood’ she titters.

It is this collaborative approach to creating and curating shows, synonymous with the Seattle arts scene, to which DeLa accredits the richness of her own drag and productions. ‘It’s so important to expose yourself to different artists and different genres’ she professes (at which point the Dreaming team rushed to prevent one of our staff from taking this statement literally).  She believes interacting with as many forms of drag and art as possible can only drive one’s own inspiration and enrich the creative process. This interest and enthusiasm for different art forms led DeLa to a brief sojourn as a member of Seattle’s own Foo Fighters, during their years as an interpretive dance troupe. She declined to comment on this phase of the band’s history (citing an iron-clad NDA that is still in effect) but a close friend and Seattle-based chiropodist commented to Dreaming that a member of the band insisted they return to making music when DeLa’s acclaimed chiffonography began to pull too much focus.  

 

Undeterred, DeLa’s star continued to rise as she took to the global stage on Season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014. Her time on the show was nothing short of masterful, her skill for characterisation never more obvious than during her victorious Snatch Game performance as a Downton Abbey version of Maggie Smith (at this point in the interview, another muscular assistant offers the Dreaming team a citrus-infused libation.  What will they think of next?).  Her triumphant return to Season 3 of Allstars four years later not only set Drag Race records (she was the first queen to win the first four consecutive main challenges, to win Snatch Game twice, to win five challenges in a single season, to name a few) but also resulted in one of the most iconic Drag Race, nay, reality TV, moments in herstory.  At a point when DeLa was destined to be the runaway winner of the series, she chose to eliminate herself (and also demonstrated surprisingly good penmanship using a bottle of white correction-fluid).  Her reasons were authentic and noble; she had undoubtedly proved her mettle as an incredible drag artist but, as a queen who commits to kindness as her MO, she had found the requirement to eliminate fellow competitors with each win more than a little disquieting.  While not confirmed by DeLa herself, an anonymous source and part-time fluffer in the adult entertainment industry also intimated to Dreaming that DeLa declined an offer from the production team of a wine-tasting trip to LA’s little-known wine district of Pacoima (courtesy of AlandChuck.travel) to stay in the competition.

 

DeLa’s creative output has always been prolific, but since her stint on the so-called ‘Olympics of Drag’ she has been able to scale up this output significantly.  She has garnered glorious critical acclaim for her sold-out solo shows ‘Cosmos’, ‘Inferno A-Go-Go’, ‘Terminally Delightful’ and ‘Ready To Be Committed’ and toured internationally with her mega-hit holiday shows alongside Jinkx ‘To Jesus, Thanks for Everything! -Jinkx and DeLa’ and ‘All I Want for Christmas is Attention’.  She also starred in the hilariously camp web series Capitol Hill, written, directed and produced by Wes Hurley, which she calls a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Seattle scene (fellow stars include Seattle burlesque star Waxy Moon, Jinkx Monsoon and Robbie Turner).  In 2014, San Francisco drag legend Peaches Christ cast her and Jinkx in a dragged-out production of Hocus Pocus, in which DeLa played the iconic Kathy Najimy role of Mary Sanderson (a casting decision that couldn't have been more perfect).  Later In 2019, Peaches, DeLa, Jinkx  and Heklina got together for an equally bonkers drag parody of Death Becomes Her (‘Drag Becomes Her’), a production so deliciously camp and queer, it is a wonder there was not a poppers-shaped tear in the space-time continuum on opening night.  Add to this her appearance in the Hulu original ‘The Happiest Season’ (2020), a festive lesbian romcom starring the Kristen Stewart, and most recently, Paramount’s ‘Dragging the Classics: the Brady Bunch’ a drag reboot of the nostalgic tv show played entirely by Drag Race faves, and there is no denying this queen is truly booked and blessed.  

 

As she completes a brief spot of parkour up in the rafters of the suite to stretch her legs, DeLa rejoins the Dreaming team, casually serenading us with a performance of Cher’s ‘Believe’  on her polka-dot theremin. When discussing how to achieve a balance between her ‘bread-and-butter’ drag work and her passion projects, she saye,’'I am very fortunate in that where I’ve gotten now is less of a divide between those two things, however, that hasn't always been true. Obviously you are taking a huge risk every time you self-produce and there are no real guarantees behind it.’’  The advantage of having the platform she now has, apart from the priceless works of art, the property portfolio valued at over $100 million, the bejewelled speedboat, and the endless engagement proposals from handsome Russian oligarchs, is the creative freedom to build her brand and take her work in any direction she chooses.  ‘Sticking to my guns,not really answering to anybody else - that's really what I was doing when I was scrambling to keep the lights on over a decade ago so being able to do that now, in a larger sense, is really rewarding’’.  She recognises that ‘getting to say ‘no’ [as an artist] is one of the most powerful things in the world and urges artists to try to ‘’embrace the power of ‘no’ even before it gets easy’’ in order to ‘clear the way’ or make space in their lives for those passion projects that will ultimately be most fulfilling.  ‘’Thinking you have to say ‘yes’ to everything is not true for anyone. ‘Work smarter not harder’ is always a good motto’’.

 

When asked how she maintains her aforementioned ‘commitment to kindness’ amidst her considerable success, and also in the face of the often-toxic Drag Race fandom, DeLa takes her lead from her drag idols.  ‘’The through line [amongst successful drag artists that were established before Drag Race existed] is generosity, paying it forward, because that’s how queens have had to operate in order to flourish as a culture’’.’  She describes how queens like Peaches Christ and Varla Jean Merman do not hoard success; they share resources, knowledge and experience in order to elevate the entire community and create art through a familial bond.  Indeed, when discussing the process of preparing to make her festive feature film, DeLa lovingly describes the help she received from a range of industry professionals who were willing to contribute their time and expertise to get the project off the ground. Peaches (‘one of the kindest and most generous queens I have ever met’), an experienced film-maker herself, was instrumental in helping DeLa realise her vision. ‘‘I called her up and said ‘I’m thinking of doing a film, it seems so overwhelming, is it even possible in this amount of time? To which her response was, ‘It’s not possible, it’s totally stupid and if anyone can do it, you can.  I already know you’re going to do it, so I’ll help you’’. The success of the film is testament to the synergistic power of kindness and collaboration in the queer and art communities.

 

Completing an entry in her daily gratitude journal, DeLa sets down her marabou feather quill, gazes wistfully over the Parisian cityscape and astutely observes that ‘‘drag developed in different cultures, before the internet, before there was awareness of what was happening everywhere else, so we know this is a really deep thing that exists within certain people’’.’  She sees drag artists as ‘leaders, figureheads’ within the queer community and as such, they have a role in defining the culture.  ‘‘We are speaking to rooms full of people at a time; do we want that room to be at each other’s throats or do we want them to be kind and gentle with one another?’’  She touches on the need for safe spaces for queer people who may be intimidated entering the LGBTQ+ community, as so many often are initially (herself included).  ‘‘Any time we can cultivate that culture of kindness, it does nothing but help all of us to have a more bonded experience’’.  Never has this been more important than the p ast 18 months, at a time when support within queer communities has been difficult to access for many due to lockdown.

 

Despite the personal and professional challenges the pandemic has presented, DeLa has demonstrated that even a global disaster is no match for her creativity, tenacity and love of performance. With the vaccine rollout mercifully gaining traction across many countries, what can we expect from DeLa once our beloved nightlife returns?  ‘‘[Jinkx and I] hope to be back in full effect for the holiday tour this winter and we are going to try to get that as far and wide as possible; more stops in the US and over on your side of the pond’’. Be still our queer little hearts!  On that note, DeLa signals to the muscular assistants to bring forth a selection of gifts for the Dreaming team.  Squeals of excitement erupt amongst the group as we each unbox BenDeLaCreme Signature shoe horns, specially monogrammed with our initials in finest cubic zirconia.  Truly, this queen of kindness never fails to delight, to a terminal degree.

Purchase a limited edition copy of Dreaming Issue One with BenDelaCreme here

 

Catch 'The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special' all-year-round on Hulu and at www.jinkxanddela.com

Keep up with Ben Dela Creme via her Instagram

Thank you to Robbie at WitchHousePR

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‘‘Any time we can cultivate that culture of kindness, it does nothing but help all of us to have a more bonded experience’’

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