Michelle DuBarry, 84, World’s Oldest Performing Drag Queen

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Life’s a drag, but in the most fabulous of ways. As more and more cities across the globe celebrate Pride, we’d like you to meet the legendary Michelle DuBarry.

On a particularly sweltering afternoon in late May, the self-described drag queen known as Michelle DuBarry strikes a pose in a sparkling gold gown for our photo shoot in Statlers, a gay bar in Toronto where she performs every week.

“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,” she chuckles, evoking the famous Dolly Parton quip.

Known as Russell Alldread when not in drag, he was recently bestowed the title of World’s Oldest Performing Drag Queen by that esteemed chronicler of record-breaking feats, Guinness World Records.

Alldread moved to Toronto from Bowmanville, Ont., in the 1950s and, in the ’60s, began performing professionally in underground gay bars at night while working as a shoe salesman during the day.

While only now recognized internationally, locals have always celebrated this legend. DuBarry was the grand marshal of Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade in 2007, performed the ribbon-cutting at the ceremony inaugurating World Pride last year and is known for her continuing philanthropic efforts, having raised funds for various LGBT causes in Toronto.

Men dressing as women for entertainment purposes has been around since ancient Greece and the Shakespearean era when male actors played female roles on stage.

Today, drag performances have gone mainstream, thanks to television shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, which show young performers pushing and redefining the boundaries of drag—no longer imitating famous divas but creating original and outrageous personas.

But DuBarry sticks to the class act she’s personified over the years—a mixture of the Queen of England’s comportment and the biting wit of an aging Hollywood screen siren. Which is fitting given that the stage name came from Lucille Ball’s film, Du Barry Was A Lady, based on Cole Porter’s Broadway musical about the court of Louis XV, which included his mistress, Madame du Barry.

The current DuBarry’s performances tend to stick to classics such as Nancy LaMott’s “We Can Be Kind.”

“I love a song with a message,” she says.

And the Guinness World Record recognition—as overwhelming as it is at times, she noted—has given her some renewed vigour.

Her schedule can rival that of a society doyenne half her age where a typical week includes a fundraising performance for Casey House, a gala at the Ritz Carlton, an LGBT awards ceremony and flying off for the weekend. Proof that your twilight years can also sparkle bright.

“An 84-year-old drag queen can easily be forgotten,” she says. “This is making me live again.”

Click through for more of Michelle Du Barry’s looks! Photography Chris Chapman.




“I’ve always loved shoes—ladies’ shoes.”

“I make all my gowns. I now have rolling rocks in my bedroom.”

“I can get ready in an hour. I’m used to it by now having done shows on the road.”

“I like the styles of Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner—stars of that era.”

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2016 issue with the headline, “Life’s a Drag,” p. 20-21.