LONDON - He is known in the UK drag scene as “Lady Imelda”, namesake of the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, who became infamous globally for owning thousands of pairs of shoes.
Miguel Diaz, former cast member of the West End musical "Miss Saigon", created the character Lady Imelda to be able to go back onstage, perform and make a decent living.
He was the last drag queen standing on the British television quiz show "The Weakest Link (Celebrity Drag Queen Edition)", making him the winner and gaining him the reputation as the brainiest drag queen in the UK.
He is riding high because the character he created is now one of the most feted names in the drag scene and the new title under his belt—the strongest link--also earned him offers to perform outside the UK, in the Netherlands and Thailand.
Unknown to many, Diaz repeated the fourth grade and is a self-diagnosed dyslexic. He confessed that he is not at all cerebral but just like how he landed a role in "Miss Saigon", it was more luck and guts that made him win.
“I was not expecting to win. I wasn’t educated in this country. I was just lucky. I’m not smart. I repeated grade four to be honest. Sometimes, I just read things and they don’t register in my brain,” said Diaz.
If he finds it hard to read especially, numbers, his other brain facility makes up for his disadvantage. He has a very good memory which he discovered at a young age. In grade school, for the reading exercises, he developed a good sense of hearing and retention.
“I’m glad my surname starts with letter D because they call you to recite or read alphabetically. By the time it was my turn to read, I already memorized the book by just hearing,” he said.
It was also his first acting role.
It was always his dream to be a performer, a top class actor. But he ended up in the classroom.
When the seemingly far-fetched opportunity came his way, he was ready to take up the gauntlet.
He saw an ad in a newspaper that "Miss Saigon" was auditioning actors in Manila. The team of highly respected composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, maverick Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh, and Tony award-winning director Nicholas Hytner flew to Manila to audition the cast of "Miss Saigon" for the London West End run.
Diaz had no formal training in acting from respected theater companies. But his training ground was the barrio plays and he also often landed plum roles in various small town events.
Manila’s theater and movie stalwarts showed up at the "Miss Saigon" audition. Diaz came via a one-way airfare ticket to Manila and the money was borrowed from a friend. The rest was history.
“Back home in the Philippines, I was a school teacher. I was teaching elementary, high school and college that time. When I came to this country, it just opened doors for me,” said Miguel Diaz.
In his ten years with "Miss Saigon", he has played most of the male roles: ensemble, principal roles and The Engineer. When the musical had the last curtain call in 1999, Diaz had to reinvent himself.
“I needed a job. I needed to feed myself. So I put on a dress and became a drag queen and a showgirl. So, Lady Imelda was born,” he said.
“There are 2 types of Imeldas. One is corrupt and the other one is corrupted. I am the corrupted,” he said lightheartedly.
He chose the name Imelda because there is a ring to it.
“I think it is more of the association that because I am Filipino, Imelda would be the iconic name. Also, I love wearing those butterfly-sleeved dresses, the mestiza dresses,” he added.
On a regular day when there is no work, Lady Imelda is caged in a room, with the makeup set, costumes and wigs.
“You cannot see any costumes here lying around. I don’t want to see her in my house – she is locked up,” he said.
Diaz is aware that some Pinoys have raised an eyebrow at his humor, which he describes as self-deprecating jokes.
“I don’t play with the shoes. People say I look like her sometimes. But I am actually Lady Imelda not because I married a Lord, but because I cleaned houses. In England, If you clean houses, you call yourself a cleaning Lady,” he teasingly explained.
But he actually cleaned houses for a period of time. By accident, he landed a cleaning job when he was out of work as an actor. He said a cleaner should never be looked down on because it’s a noble job.
“My jokes are based on everyday life or sometimes from the news. It‘s all based on my character. Most of my jokes are politically correct. Most of my jokes are self-deprecating jokes. It’s not putting myself down. But I have to base it from my point of view,” he explained.
Diaz has come a long way -- from a ‘promdi’ in Samar who had difficulty reading, to a respected actor and drag performer and just recently, quiz show winner.
He has a regular gig at Half Way to Heaven on Duncannon Street, Charing Cross.
By Rose Eclarinal, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau