Tutus & Tiaras

Madame Galina in IraqMadame Galina in Iraq

Iestyn Edwards, West End headliner and darling of Joanna Lumley, is coming to Wanstead Library this month to present his best-selling memoir My Tutu Went AWOL as part of LGBT+ History month.

My Tutu Went AWOL talks about my four tours for Combined Services Entertainment – the official provider of live entertainment to the British Armed Forces – in the guise of drag ballerina Madame Galina, raising the morale of British troops in the outlying bases of Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars there. My book talk in Wanstead this month will be a tad unusual, containing as it does audience interaction, ballet skits and opera singing.

When I did my first couple of book shows in Brighton and Aldeburgh, I played them straight, looking serious in my jacket, tie and specs. I gave a bit of background and then a reading about a marine in Iraq hoiking me offstage and outside, eventually onto a tank turret. But folk wanted to know why Madame Galina suddenly looming at the back of a hangar was such a shock. So, I decided I should at least demonstrate a bit of the Galina shtick, which also didn't quite work because they were then missing the visuals. So, right, I thought, whole hog, we're going for it. And I turned up to launch the Essex Book Festival press day in what the First Sea Lord described as "trailing clouds of talcum powder, in full tutu, tiara and excruciating cami-knicker rig". Which seemed to make things clearer.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, I followed onto the stage an evening of traditional stand-up performed by the likes of Rhod Gilbert, Paul Zerdin and Gina Yashere. All of them thought I'd never last more than 30 seconds onstage. That I would get canned off. But the boss of Combined Services Entertainment had always wanted to put drag on a military stage. I looked fluffy enough, had spins to impress the physical monsters that are Royal Marines Commandos, and – I hoped/doubted – enough gob on me to deal with them when they kicked off.

Stacks, the Royal Marine my book centres around, did have a beef with something I said to him onstage, hence my ending up dumped on the tank turret. He's six feet two, baby of face, blue of eye, rocky of outcrop. You don't argue. But we sorted out our differences. He said he respected me for giving as good as I got. I'm still in contact with him. He taught me to drive and when I did Dames in Blackburn and couldn't get home from the digs at Christmastime, he drove over from Manchester on Boxing Day to cook for me. He was taught to drive and cook in the military. So, with his tuition, I learned to pull away on a hill in third gear and to spin sugar into the shape of the Blackpool Tower!

Iestyn's talk will take place at Wanstead Library on 9 February from 7pm (free; booking required). Call 020 8708 7400

To read Iestyn's blog, visit wavidi.co/iestynedwards

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