Wrapped up in a duvet, after sharing 20 McNuggets, Big Macs and milkshakes, myself and KEVIN LE GRAND are ready to begin our interview. I can’t remember the first time I met Kevin and I’m fairly certain she can’t remember either. Lack of self-control on celebratory evenings aside, some of the clearest memories I have of Kevin are watching her performances. Over the past year I have found myself, suddenly, very interested in live art. It had always been something I’d neglected or brushed off as “not for me” or inaccessible, until seeing it first-hand. As a recurring performer at Eat Me + Preach at District, Kevin’s uncompromising charisma reaches every audience member. Her drag feels both referential and classic, and the content of the performances is always challenging and deeply honest, somehow, even when she’s being funny. It is entertainment as much as it is art, the exploration of ideas and experimentation with themes is as exciting to see as it must be to do. Not to mention she also probably has the most symmetrical face in Liverpool.
Le Grand is now a firm fixture in queer performance circuits in Liverpool and London. Her charisma has captured the attention of the art world. There is an overwhelming sense of contentment being in the presence of someone who is visibly flourishing in a field so perfect for them, especially when they did not immediately end up there. Starting from the beginning, Kevin doesn’t have much to say about growing up in Maghull. “I was brought up on the gorgeous streets of Maghull, which now thinks it’s a village with their own scarecrow festival. It’s a very quiet place just full of old people and drug dealers.”
Leading up to the point she is at now has been difficult for Kevin; existing on the outskirts of a small town as a trans person is both scary and disheartening. We exchanged stories of growing up LGBTQ in Liverpool and considered the changes we’ve see around us since then. “When I first moved back to Liverpool last year, I stayed in my mum’s house for three months. I remember seeing some teenage boys at the train station in Maghull holding hands with matching bubble-gum blue and pink hair. Which made me feel really happy because me and my friends were them at that age.” Returning to Liverpool from London to find the queer scene to be both growing and so welcoming has made Kevin feel ready and willing to call it her home again.
She had a few false starts along the way, as we all do. “In school I was just a bit of a waster, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I went to sixth form to do performing arts but then I quit because I was failing anyway, and I thought the best thing to do before you fail is to just quit.” After this she continued onto college to do fashion, which she thrived in, leading to a place at London College of Fashion. “LCF was interesting, I think I only went in about four times and just spent the rest of the time partying. The college didn’t know that, and I ended up on the website as ‘successful alumni’. It said something like, ‘Kevin is completing their second year while also modelling for so and so’. My teachers were seeing me in the fashion magazines but didn’t know that when I wasn’t in the magazines, I would just be in some scummy afterparty for, like, seven days.” This chapter of her education went the same way that high school did, she quit before she failed.
Modelling didn’t go as planned, either: “The day that I went to get my modelling contract was also the day that I was supposed to go for a consultation to get my wrist fixed because I had fallen out of a window trying to climb in because I’d forgotten my keys and broken my wrist. So, I chose to miss the consultation and sign my modelling contract instead and my modelling career was a flop so now I’ve got a gammy wrist and a failed modelling career!” Although this anecdote might come across as tragic, it led to what was clearly the best route for Kevin: becoming a performance artist.
She started performing at a night called the Yeast London Cabaret (a name created in homage to the yeast infection, located in East London). This was run by “big green autistic drag queen” Oozing Gloop. “I rang him and said, ‘Listen, I’ve quit uni – can I start performing with you?’ He said yeh, and then I started performing monthly… I just used to sing songs and talk shite. My performance hasn’t changed much, to be honest.” Despite her claims, it seems to me that around this time Kevin had begun to combine all her passions (performance, modelling, fashion and clubs) into one specific artistic outlet. Making more friends along the way, Kevin collaborated with Charles Jeffrey to make a film and create a night in VFD, previously Vogue Fabrics London, until they were sued by Vogue magazine. “It was just sort of a big pop-up party. We’d spend a week making these big cardboard sets, we’d paint them, and I’d perform within the set. It was hilarious, people would always take bits of the set home with them. One time we made a three-headed cardboard monster; my head and the two other peoples’ that I ran the night with.”
The true nature of Kevin’s work is unfettered exploration, subverting ideas of entertainment and the arts. From building cardboard living rooms to decorating venues with reflective heat sheets and spray-paint, the seeds were being sown for more experimentation. Shortly after the night at VFD ended, Kevin moved back to Liverpool. Then back to London. Then back to Liverpool again. “When I moved back to London, I started to get more involved with the live art scene rather than cabaret. It’s different, you can take a lot longer with whatever you’re doing. There are durational things, like I watched a woman roll around on eggs for eight hours and cover herself in glitter. I wasn’t really into it, but never mind – I started making longer work.”
I have watched Kevin crawl out of a handbag, perform an interpretive dance of her life story and explore the darker side of The Cheeky Girls. This last performance was particularly surreal, but behind it lies an insightful observation about the duo’s infamous pop hit. “I first realised that The Cheeky Song was a sad song when I listened to the lyrics more closely – ‘I never never ask where do you go, I never never ask what’s in your mind, touch my bum, this is life’ – and I realised that the song was written by their mother, and it’s the passing down of inherited misogyny and domestic trauma.”
I had to ask what her favourite performance has been so far, what she is most proud of. “The duvet show! I come out in the duvet and some music starts playing. I’m wearing a duvet and pillow as sort of a coat that I’ve made. The music cuts off. It’s all about when you wake up in the morning and you’ve got that fear, and you can’t remember what you’ve done, and it lasts about three days. You lock yourself away in the anxiety of it all, and the shame you feel within that. So, the performance is paired with a track which is me screaming at myself: ‘Look what you’ve done now! You’ve killed him! It’s your fault! What will the neighbours say?!’ Then I whip out a kazoo and start screaming back at myself and rolling around the floor in this duvet. It all climaxes with me and the audiences singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien together to release ourselves from the fear.”
Kevin’s work is therapeutic and cathartic to those who can relate to these chaotic emotions. Kevin often jokes about her mental health and wellbeing. “I look like Siouxsie Sioux tonight, don’t I?… No, not Siouxsie Sioux, more like Looptie Loo.” She is currently writing and developing a musical production for the stage: “Handbag The Musical is going to be a fully immersive theatrical piece all about diving into the depths of the handbag. It’s all about the handbag being a feminine accoutrement, the handbag feeling like home, the handbag becoming your home when you have nothing else.” It sounds like an all-singing, all-dancing existential crisis.
The general feeling in the queer scene in Liverpool at the moment is that things are coming together, and from that different styles and sections of people are emerging. Kevin Le Grand’s performances carry the weight of hardship and struggle, as well as expressing truly what it is like to celebrate yourself and others around you. Her analysis and subversion of mundanity includes the audience’s interaction; everyone in the room can relate and feel celebrated in solidarity. As the boundaries of the scene expand, we can expect to see more experimentation and art come forward. It seems Kevin is a signifier of changes to come and someone I truly believe will be spoken about for years into the future. It would be worthwhile to keep your eye open for the many club nights and performances which Kevin Le Grand will inevitably be involved with.