From the moment they sashayed on our screens, Black Peppa captivated audiences. The drag daughter of Yshee Black and Mo Heart, Peppa competed on the recent season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, winning the first episode’s mini and maxi-challenge in one fell swoop. This was an impressive feat for their television debut, not least as it set a new record as the first British queen to achieve such an accolade, in a franchise already crammed with crowns and titles.
Over the ten weeks they competed, Peppa defended their reputation, presenting showstopping looks, from their Mr Blobby couture designed by Eda Birthing, to their upcycled motorsport-inspired finale gown created by SPCC Cursed London and TrashyPlanets. Every look from the queen showed a unique and high-fashion perspective, while staying true to their “fetish punk glamour meets futurism” aesthetic.
In addition to their many slayful runways, Peppa was dubbed the illustrious title of lipsync assassin by fans and their fellow contestants, sending three queens packing in quick succession. Episode three’s lipsync battle between Peppa and Copper Top to Jax Jones’ This is Real was so good it made the rounds on Twitter, and showed off the queen’s immense talent as a dancer and performer. As they quite aptly said in a confessional, “when you watch me perform you will be tired, not me, YOU will.” Now the season is over, it’s safe to say that spark helped propel them through to the finale.
Peppa’s vulnerability on the show made them even more admirable as a contestant. In multiple episodes, the artist opened up about their difficult experiences growing up in St Maarten with a deeply religious family, before moving to the UK. Black Peppa was discouraged from pursuing a creative career, instead, focussing on other subjects, eventually landing themself a scholarship at Coventry University to do Biomedical Science.
While studying, Peppa joined street dance societies and explore their queerness, as well as their passion for performing, before moving to Birmingham in 2018. That same year, Peppa’s first drag mother, Yshee, spotted them dressed up as Catwoman for Halloween and encouraged them to do drag. Since then, Black Peppa has taken the UK drag scene by storm, dancing on stage with Charli XCX in 2019, winning Birmingham’s Church Of Yshee contest that same year and taking home the EuroDrag England crown in 2020, ahead of their debut on Drag Race UK.
Black Peppa, like so many drag performers, knows what it is to be a multi-disciplinary artist. From sketching and designing themself, to modelling, choreography and lyric writing, the queen’s creative cup indeed runneth over. Following their success on Drag Race, Peppa has continued to shine their light far and wide; covering the fifth issue of 10 Magazine, attending the British Fashion Awards and releasing their first-ever single Why She Calling?, a vibrant dance remix of Mya’s classic Case of the Ex with a fresh Caribbean twist. Boasting the lyrics, “Dutch Caribbean gyal born and raised / On the dance floor getting my praise!” It’s evident this queen is a star.
BRICKS’ had the pleasure of talking to Peppa about their time on Drag Race UK, growing up in St Maarten, how Mo Heart adopted them from across the pond, the BRICKS 2023 Calendar and so much more. With thanks to Bimba Y Lola.
We read that Mo Heart is your drag mother, is that true?
She is my drag mother, yeah. I have two drag mothers; Yshee Black who is the actual reason I started drag in Birmingham, and Mo Heart came during lockdown when she discovered my profile. You know those online shows we used to do? So, Mo Heart discovered me and was like “Oh my god, you’re sickening!” Can you hear her saying it in her voice? I was like, “Oh my god! You want me on one of your shows? Of course!” Then, she had a show and featured me in it. It was these pre-recorded numbers, so I went to the middle of the park and did this full Rihanna number. And she was like, “Bitch, I want to adopt you.” When she said it, I’m not gonna lie, I thought she was kidding. Then she did an interview with Peppermint and was like, “I have my drag baby over there across the pond in England, Black Peppa.” And I was like, oh, she was serious!
Honestly, I feel so thankful that Mo Heart is my drag mother. We’ve spoken a few times, she’s given me amazing advice, and helped me prepare for the show. She’s honestly amazing, very supportive, just like Yshee is… You can support your child in different ways, a drag mother doesn’t just have to be someone to get you into makeup or whatever, it’s someone that supports you, sees you along the way and guides you in the right direction.
You can support your child in different ways, a drag mother doesn’t just have to be someone to get you into makeup or whatever, it’s someone that supports you, sees you along the way and guides you in the right direction.
How did you get into dance, and has it always been a passion of yours?
Yeah, it’s a passion. I wish I went to dance school. My parents didn’t really look at it as a real career. As much as I used to be like, “I really want to go to dance school!” They were like, “No, that’s not going to pay the bills. Become a doctor or a lawyer or something that makes more sense.” I grew up in a family that wasn’t that well off, my parents had to work two or three jobs for me and my little sister growing up. So they were looking at me and were like “We don’t want you to end up like us, having to get by with jobs constantly”, which I completely understand. I still always did dancing on the side as a hobby, I competed in a few dance competitions back home. I used to go to NIA, which is a dance school, sit outside and watch the classes through the windows, wishing I was inside.
Then when I came to the UK and I went to Coventry uni I was on the street dance committee, I had to come up with choreography for Afrobeats and Bashment, Caribbean-style dances. That’s how I always kept that drive, even though I didn’t do it professionally. If I had made my skills even sharper by going to a dance school, it could have been on the level that I wanted it to be. But either way I dance from my heart, with a lot of fight and passion, and I hope that’s what you see when I perform.
Who or what inspires your drag aesthetic?
Yshee and Mo Heart inspired my drive and my personality, whereas my actual aesthetic is something I think I’ve always had. I just love things that are different and intriguing, I love modern art, things that play with the mind when you look at it. I love things that aren’t literal, like wearing something that would probably make you get injured, things that are just like what the fuck? Anything with a WTF to it, that’s me. I don’t care if this headpiece is heavy, I don’t care if this corset’s killing me.
I would leave the house and see certain buildings, or I might see a picture on a wall or graffiti outside and I’m inspired by these little elements. Then I take that into my drag. I feel like that’s the best part about it because I look at it so much as an art form, I don’t look at it as just being cute and pretty. Everything I’ve seen around me and different stuff that has influenced me, I can bring that into something beautiful.
The fetish side of things, like; I was raised in a Christian family. I went to church almost every single day of the week and I always held back my sexuality, and my sex drive and different things that I was ashamed of. I went to the British Fashion Awards, I had my nipples out, and people were like, “why are you always showing us your nipples?” I did this on purpose, obviously. Why is it that people feel the need to police my drag, you know? My parents told me, “always make sure you’re fully dressed, don’t show this, don’t wear jeans that are too tight.” And I’m past that point where I care what people think. So I’m doing everything as a statement now because I have that platform, and I can do so. I don’t do it for anyone but myself. It is challenging for me, I’m not gonna lie. However, I know that it’s the building block in me getting to where I want, and also people will see that and feel inspired.
A lot of my drag aesthetic is about feeling like you’re that fucking bitch. I feel like a lot of people are not body confident, or whatever it is about themselves, and you can tell from the way they act. Sometimes you need to be like, “Girl, you’re that bitch” like, c’mon, you’re better than that.I don’t think I’m the most beautiful person, I don’t think I’m the most talented dancer, however, I give myself some credit, and I want to be the best that I can be and shine my light wherever I go.
Sometimes to be able to grow you have to be uncomfortable. I could be comfortable and dress the way that society wants me to dress, say things that society wants me to say, but I’m not going to grow.
How did that upbringing influence your goals now?
I want to be the kind of person I wish I had seen on TV. I didn’t have anyone that looks like me, or acts like me, especially being a dark skinned person. So, when I do things now, I always get a bit emotional – I love to cry – because I’m really being that person that I only dreamed of having when I was growing up, and every single thing I do I’m like, thank God I lived to see my life change to this.
Sometimes to be able to grow you have to be uncomfortable. I could be comfortable and dress the way that society wants me to dress, say things that society wants me to say, but I’m not going to grow.So I’ll put myself in an uncomfortable position, such as going on a TV show, and being vulnerable to millions of people, looking a certain way and doing certain things, knowing that my country might not be the best country when it comes to queerness, it’s quite homophobic. I have to take all of these risks in my life.
What was the process of getting ready for Drag Race UK like?
I think I was one of the lucky girls to get the call first, I had a long time to prepare. However, that didn’t change the fact that some designers would have you like a yo-yo, up and down the place, making you wait until the last minute for things to be done. It was probably the most stressful part of the whole thing. You need to bear in mind you’re gonna be on TV in front of so many people, this is your image, you want to do the best you can. You’re thinking about money, you’re thinking about if you have to lip sync in this garment, and you spent all this money on it, you can’t damage it.
Personally, I am not a rich bitch, but everything that I have, I worked really hard for and I just happen to know really amazing designers. Because most of my friends are younger than me, I always feel like I’m old. I don’t think 30 is old, but I think people forget I had a life before Drag Race. I have been living out of drag as a boy in this country, doing modelling and the fashion stuff. All those years accumulated in me meeting people in the fashion world, in photography and the film industry. Who would have known that one day, it would have come together? And, I didn’t have to spend that much money.
A wig designer, Vodka, who’s such a good friend to me – even more than that – she helped me accumulate all the wigs and my looks, so it was not that bad. Another stressful side of it is me being hard on myself, I just wanted things to be perfect.
What was your favourite runway look to premiere on Drag Race and why?
I love so many of the looks. I think the Blobby look was one. I’m so happy it was one of the first runways that we did because I kept thinking, I really, really want to wear this look, and you don’t know the order these runways are gonna be in. You might have a bad week and then get a really amazing runway that you carried. Or, you might have a good week and then the runway was not that amazing.
Also, the punk look, which was probably heavier than me. I couldn’t even walk properly because the hard plastic and the stud nails were scraping my crotch and I had nothing underneath. But, I don’t care, it’s art. It’s meant to be uncomfortable… And the Birmingham look with the chocolate headpiece, even though it fell. Birmingham is where I started drag so I wanted to represent Cadbury, I wanted to challenge myself and also wanted to show that my melanin is beautiful, something that I wasn’t too proud of growing up. Celebrating my skin colour, wrapping it with this purple fabric like Cadbury wrapping paper… It has meaning to me, I look at it and I always feel so happy.
How would you sum up your Drag Race experience in 3 words?
Absolutely fucking brilliant. I got that from Danny Beard, I always hear him say that. When I look back at everything, I kind of miss it. And I know people are gonna be like, “you’re lying, you don’t miss it”, because I always complain about how stressful it was. But I remember times when I was sat in the werkroom with that fucking cold AC on me and I was like, I can’t believe I’m here.
I used to watch the show in my room with my headphones, hiding from my parents and now I’m actually here, this close to RuPaul, having a conversation and Michelle Visage. I am doing something that my parents are probably so pissed off with, but I’m doing me.
What is the queer scene like in St Maarten?
I don’t want to lie and say I know everything that’s happening at home now because I haven’t been home in ages. I always get a little scared of the idea of going back, but I know there’s a few queer organizations there for sure. One of the MPs from back home, who is the first openly queer MP, Melissa Gumbs sent me a message and she was like, “You’re making waves across the globe.”
Where I’m from, because the country is so small, you don’t really think big. A lot of people live and die there, they don’t migrate. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had this big imagination; I want to go Hollywood, travel the world. And when she sent me that message, she was like, “When you left the rock, I was so happy because I knew that you were going to conquer the world.”
At home I did art competitions, I was dancing, designing costumes for Carnival, which is like this big deal where I’m from in the Caribbean. I was doing a lot of sketches and portraits, like commissioned work and all that. So when my parents said they didn’t see me doing art, I was like, are you crazy? I have been doing it my whole life! So getting that from her and knowing that there’s spaces where queer people feel safe back home, I do think they’re taking a step in the right direction.
I think there’s still a lot more to happen, but I have gotten a lot of support from friends that I know are queer that live back home and friends that live in Holland that migrated from St Maarten. They message me and they’re like “You’re honestly an icon and you’re changing things. I know St Maarten may have been a difficult chapter in your life with your development, but just know that we love you and you do have a lot of supporters here” and stuff like that really means a lot to me.
Where would you like to take your career in future?
I want to integrate myself in everything, because I know that I am a very talented person and I do not say that with any arrogance whatsoever. Like, I recently released a song – which I’m gonna big up until I’m dead – called Why She Calling? and it was basically some lyrics I wrote with my friend Nadine, who lives in Birmingham. I had some of these lyrics written down in my poetry book. A lot of people might not know this, but I love and write a lot of poetry. I didn’t think they would ever come in handy, then, for some reason, they go great with music, they’re like lyrics. That’s just something I never thought would have been a thing.
I also love acting, I acted with Danny Boyle in Sex Pistols, I did theatre back home at the Cultural Center in St Maarten, so I’ve been doing it for a while. But, I want to do it on a more professional level. I feel like I can express different characters that make me go out of my comfort zone, that doesn’t have to always be drag. Because I’m non binary, I want to do things that would change the way people look at things. I want to make people feel inspired and be characters that are not represented enough.
Also, I want to have a school for people that are really artistic. They might not be smart up there, but they’re really good with their hands or maybe they’re good at dancing, because where I’m from they don’t look at art as a big career, hence why I had to do science. That kind of made me feel discouraged. Whereas, if I have something in place for people like that, students that are young and amazing at what they do, I can push them into that.
People like Nicole de Weever, another honourable mention, have worked with Beyonce, and done Fela! on Broadway in New York, she’s from St Maarten. She was the first person I knew of on my island that achieved such big dreams and I’ve always looked up to her. Stuff like that makes me want to have my own organisations.
And, I want people to see that I’m human. I think a lot of people look at my Instagram or have perceptions of me from the show, but when they meet me, they’re like “you’re actually so chill” and I’m like yeah, I’m human girl! I also want people to know, fame and fortune don’t mean shit. Being an amazing human being is important, being humble is important. Live life, travel, meet new people and be kind.
How can people support your drag?
You can support me by following me on Instagram, commenting under my posts and liking them, send hearts if you want via DM. Stream my song Why She Calling? on every single platform. Then, we have our Down Under tour which is me, Danny, Cheddar and Jonbers. That’s going to be across New Zealand and Australia next year. And then we have another tour which is also next year, with the whole cast, and I’m really excited about that one as well; I’m going to be performing across the UK with a number that I cannot wait for the world to see because I’ve been working tirelessly on it.
You can buy my merch as well from In The Merch, type in Black Peppa and you’ll see it all. If you really want to meet me, I will be at DragCon next year. I’m going to have my booth, I’m going to have an amazing look, I’ll be performing and I am doing a panel as well, which is dedicated to black queens. We’ll be discussing issues in drag queendom of being a queen of colour.
Liza became part of the BRICKS family in 2020, appearing as a Digital cover star for her anti-racism activism during the pandemic, and has since become the BRICKS Production Assistant and a Staff Writer, focussing on pop culture and sociopolitical issues.
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