Being locked down at home over the past couple of years wasn’t much fun for anyone – but for Island farmer’s son Henry George, the enforced isolation incubated a quirky new alter-ego who now has given him a whole new career as a drag performer.
Until 2020, Henry was working in a pretty conventional job as a project manager with the NHS, and dressing up was something he might have done just for the odd Hallowe’en party.
But what he calls “the madness of being locked up at home” changed all that. Cheerfully admitting to having something of a hyperactive personality, Henry found a way to keep himself and his close group of friends entertained by dressing up and hosting a series of socially distanced “game-athons” via Zoom.
The crazy quiz-type game show ran to 13 sessions over three months, and bore the distinct influence of Henry’s camp celebrity favourites, Julian Clary and Paul O’Grady (aka Lily Savage).
His audience of friends loved it – and for him, the project proved to be the perfect escape from boredom by keeping him busy virtually every hour of the day, making costumes, writing scripts and experimenting with his over-the-top make-up.
In the process, he birthed the character now known as Quivers, the drag queen through whom he says he gets to express ‘a wildly exaggerated version’ of himself.
Following sell-out shows at her home venue, Bar 74 in Ryde, Quivers is now in demand all over the Island, averaging three shows a week and with bookings stacked up until next January. As a result, Henry recently took the decision to quit his job as project manager with a design company and throw himself full-time into performing.
He reckons that timing has played a large part in his rapid success, thanks to the popularity of recent TV shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“I probably wouldn’t have done this 10 years ago, certainly not on the Isle of Wight, which is hardly the most diverse place to be – but the whole atmosphere has changed now and audiences are really enjoying the shows”.
Henry’s parents Harold and Andrea also “couldn’t be more embracing” of his new path, he says. He also has the support of younger brother Will, a well-known local bodybuilder, about whom he jokes: “Physically, we look like a ‘before and after’, and temperamentally we are like chalk and cheese, but we’re both quite in touch with our emotions and we get on like a house on fire”.
Nobody is more surprised than Henry himself by the way his life has taken its own distinctive turn. He describes himself during his school years at Binstead Primary, Swanmore Middle School and then Ryde High, as a quiet and withdrawn kind of child who had no real strong idea when asked that familiar question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.
“Because I was from a farming family I guess it was always assumed I would follow that path but nothing really felt like a ‘fit’ for me. I suppose I was always generally creative but had no clear focus for it”. Surprisingly, he didn’t even get involved in stage shows at school.
But on leaving school, he opted for some reason he can’t quite explain, to do a Degree in Comedy Writing and Performance at Southampton’s Solent Uni.
This proved to be a tough period in his life, marked by anxieties and some difficult experiences, and in the end, he only completed two of the three years of the course. He left, somewhat disillusioned and uninspired, to take a series of jobs back on the Island, in hospitality, admin, and later, the project managing.
It might have seemed back then that the Comedy Degree had been a waste of time – but several years down the line Henry’s ‘lockdown madness’ finally brought it into flower.
Now, life is looking very different, and his bookings schedule is beginning to include venues on the mainland. He was especially thrilled that his first full show in London, specifically Clapham, is run by the same man who first launched Lily Savage into the city.
“Ideally, I’d like to build to the point where I do 50% of my shows off the Island, just so I have the opportunity to do more varied things” he says.
He’s full of ideas for new cabaret routines, stand-up comedy and original songs, and excited about the potential to build a name for himself.
“I’ve always been very restless and thrive on having lots of things going on” he says. “I can identify with Joan Rivers, who once said that her idea of hell was seeing empty spaces in her diary!”
But whilst he’s keen to perform on a wider stage, as a true Islander, Henry says he can’t ever imagine leaving the place altogether.
“I tend to feel claustrophobic after a while in the city” he says. “Like most Islanders will say, if I’m too long away from the sea, I start to feel hemmed in”.
His ultimate calming therapy is a long walk on Ryde beach with his faithful companion Labrador, Elphie – who he is considering taking along to some of his Island gigs in the future.
“I started doing drag because I just love to make people happy, spread some joy, and give people a really good laugh” he says. “The support I have received from my audiences on the Island has been overwhelming and I’m so grateful and excited to see what comes next!”
• For more info and show dates, visit quiversdrag.co.uk