An interview with Tim Redfern aka Timberlina

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Bearded drag lady Timberlina is sharing her eco-anxiety at Underbelly Festival

Timberlina really cares. Less about being fabulous and more about saving the world through empathy, compassion and songs about fatbergs, recycling and eco-anxiety - whilst still being fabulous, obviously!

London Calling: You describe your act as ‘alt-drag’, can you explain what that means?

Tim Redfern: Alt-drag is not mainstream drag, not something like RuPaul’s Drag Race which promotes a very finished and polished look. I am polished but then obviously I have this beard, so there’s an alt element to that. And also I think my drag comes from an androgynous playfulness with gender rather than strictly speaking passing as a woman. It’s a lot more relaxed. I don’t augment my breasts or shave my legs. There is a bit of an intonation that I adopt once I put the clothes on, there is definitely a character there that emerges. But I think any outfit is drag, really, I think putting on a suit for work is drag. Wearing this outfit brings out a certain confidence in me.

LC: When did you create your drag alter ego Timberlina?

TR: Timberlina was born at the Battersea Barge in 2002. Wow. I’ve known Timberlina for 16 years…

LC: What kind of inspirations went into that character?

TR: There was a British drag troupe, again very unconventional, almost clowny drag, called Bloolips in the 70s and 80s. One of their biggest names was Bette Bourne, who was an actor during the 60s and in the 70s became involved with the queer communes in west London. They were wonderful, they created these magical crazy shows. Then there were the Cockettes in the late 60s and 70s, a San Francisco based troupe. There were all these communes springing up back in the days and one of them was this commune of drag people who had a giant dressing up box and would perform at a local picture house as a sort of opening act for the film. Really super-psychedelic and crazy. Non-conformist drag is my biggest inspiration, just questioning the authority of the establishment in which we live and countering that with commentary and dress.

LC: Your show FFS is a mix of songs and comedy. I got a bit of a Bowie vibe from the music?

TR: Oh nice, I’ll take that, thank you very much!

LC: Compassion, empathy and being nice are central themes of your show.

TR: And also questioning that, doubting myself. I spent all of my life being the nicest possible person I could be because I thought it was a good idea and now, midway through my life, I am asking what is the point of being nice in a world that isn’t.

LC: Being nice or trying to be liked is something that women are often struggling with, so maybe this is your feminine side?

TR: Absolutely. My mother brought me up to be nice and we were talking about the compulsion to do that. It is a bit annoying because you are always putting others first. The first thing you do when something happens is you apologise. I thought it was interesting that my mum picked up on that and she said it in a way that was almost inferring a sense of guilt on her part. I was raised a Quaker so it all made sense to me, respecting the world in which we live in and wanting to adopt a more holistic approach to nature and god. As you get older you suddenly realise that there is a world out there that doesn’t really care.

LC: Was it your mother who inspired the Eco-warrior in you?

TR: My parents were both Quakers so there was a huge sense of being at one with the world and respecting nature. My dad campaigned for CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and to me it made perfect sense. Why would you want to create barriers and make things not nurturing and helpful? But as we discover, this is not how the world works because everything is really centred around money and over the last 10 years, I find we have certainly become a lot more selfish as people. This has been served to us in a really clever, subtle way under the pretence of ‘choice’, but ultimately you don’t really have choice, there is only one way to do things and that is to create as much money as possible under the illusion that that creates freedom. And it doesn’t.

LC: There is a younger generation though that is trying to walk a more conscious, ethical path.

TR: It is very reassuring. I bumped into a friend this morning who has just recently graduated and it was really refreshing to hear somebody looking for a different way of life and self I think there are a lot of people who feel this way. I don’t think it’s very easy to be vocal about it because there is such a dominant culture that suppresses that. Maybe you could argue that the rise of alt-rightism is really just people who don’t know how to deal with their emotions so the easiest thing is to blame somebody else and create this very hostile world in which I am the great I-am and everybody else is the ‘other’ which should be blamed. I am trying to counter all of that through the songs I have written and the stories I tell.

LC: Underbelly is a really fun place to be in the summer. What are you looking forward to?

TR: I am slightly daunted by the big Spiegeltent, I usually work in more intimate spaces, but I’m sure I can still make it intimate. I’m a bit of a sucker for Briefs, that show is amazing, and there’s a show called Soap which terrifies me! It must be a health and safety nightmare!

Timberlina is presenting FFS at Underbelly Festival on 17 May in the Spiegeltent. Tickets are £14.