Drag big wig works it for Priscilla

Self-taught Lismore milliner and wig-maker Michael Gates with the creations he sent off to Sydney this week for the musical stage show of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Lismore boy Michael Gates has been hailed the inspiration behind the Guy Pearce character from the hit film Priscilla Queen of the Desert. And hes now landed the contract to create wigs for the musical stage show which opens in Sydney next month.

Throughout the nineties Michael was an award-wining drag artist performing with the Scary Fairies in Sydney, and he said the three Priscilla stars regularly visited the dressing room to research their roles.

Michaels drag persona Maude Boate was well-known for her flamboyant, sculptured wigs, which Michael first created out of polystyrene before deciding foam was a better material. He said budgets were small and wigs were expensive so it was simply a matter of getting creative.

Guy Pearce was my character wearing the sculptured wigs... although hes better looking than me, said Michael. Tim Chappel, who won an Academy Award for the costumes, was the barman at the Aubrey (where the Scary Fairies performed) and told me: we plagiarised you quite a bit and we owe you a lot for the movie. So they decided to throw some work my way.

Michael said the 12 wigs he has created for the show will be seen when the bus undergoes its Priscilla transformation and in the Broken Hill pub scene.

Michael gave professional drag away in 2000, but is creating an outlandish and lavish outfit for the musicals red carpet premiere, which he will be attending with his mother Helen on October 7.

After 10 years of drag you get a bit burnt out, he said. You get to your mid-30s and start thinking, you cant be a showgirl all your life. Its so taxing health-wise and energy-wise with the tight corsets, wigs, six-inch heels and boozy, late nights. But its been an illustrious, fabulous career. Ive performed with Kylie Minogue, Ive made costumes for Boy George and I was in the closing ceremony for the Olympics. I feel like Ive left my mark on the world.

He predicted Priscilla could follow in the footsteps of The Boy From Oz and head to Broadway if it was a local hit.

It will probably come back to Australia years later and be a bit more refined, he said. So theres bigger and better things ahead.

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