Earlier this month Key West crowned its 33rd Queen Mother at a festive event at the famed La Te Da Hotel on Duval. After an evening of performances and proclamations Charlize Angel (aka James Harcup) walked away with the title, becoming one of only a handful of contenders in the pageant’s long history to earn the coveted crown with their first attempt.
Harcup, a popular performer at 801 Cabaret is still shocked at his accomplishment. “A queen usually enters several times before winning,” he stresses modestly. “One contestant has tried and failed 17 times!”
Stripped of his gown, wig and make-up Harcup is in a bathing suit sipping a cocktail by the pool at Bourbon Street Pub’s garden bar. Charlize Angel, his onstage alter-ego, has a Latina flair so I’m surprised to hear Harcup recount his journey from New York to Key West in a relatively thick Long Island accent.
“I was sick of the rat race,” he said. It’s is a familiar tale, told by many locals who have walked away from the grind of big city life. Harcup stepped away from a career in advertising and moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2006. Drag was not part of his story … and then it was.
“Halloween is when baby drag queens are born,” Harcup proclaims with a smile. “And that’s how it happened for me. Charlize Angel evolved over time but one thing led to another and before I knew it I was performing at Lips and Rosie’s and the Tranny Shack.”
Harcup moved further south to Key West on Dec. 30, 2013. Queen Mother rules state that a queen can only enter the contest after they have lived in Key West for two years. This year was Harcup’s first year of eligibility but he had decided to wait until 2017 in order to have a polished performance for 2017. But then he had a last minute change of heart. He threw his name into the ring, quickly conceived a mash-up of Liza Minnelli’s New York, New York and her rendition of Single Ladies. And the rest is history.
There is nothing new about drag queens being heavily involved in fundraising. Community service, like feathers and Cher, is clearly part of drag DNA. But Key West’s Queen Mother pageant is different. This is according to Gassy Winds, a former Queen Mother titleholder who, as J.B. McLendon, is also a frequently cast actor in town. “The Queen Mother pageant is the crème de la crème of Key West pageantry,” McLendon insists.
“Every pageant in Key West is connected to one charitable organization or another. But it’s not just the one organization that benefits with this event.” Both Gassy Winds and Charlize Angel stress the same fact: the reigning Queen Mother is a goodwill ambassador for ALL local charities. And she raises a lot of money. “During my reign we raised $20,000 for the Studios of Key West,” Gassy boasts. “In just 2 hours. We raised $225,000 in total during my year when you combine all 31 functions I participated in.”
Charlize Angel will find out what this all means soon enough. She won a crown and is still basking in waves of well-deserved glory, but she has a significant job ahead of her. This year the key beneficiary is the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of the Florida Keys. So, Charlize Angel will be performing at a variety of events for that organization. But she will also appear and perform at other functions upon request and she is obligated to produce three of her own fundraising events. First up is an underwear auction that is already in the works.