‘I’ve since learnt that my heritage is my strength’
How drag queen Lady Bushra went viral
Covered head-to-toe in a black burka, a delicate figure stands at the door of Pot Kettle Black in Manchester’s Angel Gardens as the start of Lady Gaga’s Alice blares out from the speakers. But within seconds, the traditional garment is ripped apart to reveal an almost too-lifelike impersonation of Boris Johnson hiding beneath.
The moment, with clumsy Prime Minister dancing and shenanigans included, has since gone viral on social media and, for many, served as their first introduction to South Asian drag queen and comedian Lady Bushra. But for those who know her, it’s just part of the territory when it comes to the ‘OG Bradford bad girl’.
Originally from Bradford, Lady Bushra – also known as Amir – now lives in Manchester with husband Aamir. The decision to venture into the world of drag and comedy only began two years ago, but it’s one that she hasn’t looked back on.
“I’ve always been told that I’m funny and that I should do stand-up,” Bushra – who says she uses the pronouns ‘lifesaver’ and ‘icon’ – tells the Manchester Evening News . “When I was younger, I used to do bits of modelling and singing in religious places but I decided to start doing drag and comedy seriously in February 2020, and then the lockdown began.”
Using the lockdown as a chance to hone in on her drag skills and gain a reputation through virtual shows, Bushra was ‘booked and blessed’ when it came time for venues to reopen last year. “Myself and a lot of other queens had to take it upon ourselves to lighten the mood during what was quite a difficult time for everyone,” she explains.
“It also meant I got to challenge my creativity and channel my angst that I was experiencing into my art. I was able to make mistakes at home and it thankfully turned out to be one positive of the lockdown.”
In 2021, Bushra was shortlisted for the BBC New Comedy Award – something which the likes of Joe Lycett, Romesh Ranganathan, Sarah Millican and Tez Ilyas have also been nominated for. The drag persona of Bushra comes from Amir wanting to pay homage to his South Asian heritage, something often overlooked in not only the LGBTQ+ and drag communities, but also in comedy.
“She was created after I started discussing things with my friends. She really is that perpetual 19-year-old teenager from Bradford. I’m very pleased to be able to find a way to shine a spotlight on those Asian girls who don’t always get to be themselves and show off their personality.”
Growing up, Bushra says she never had a persona like her to look up to – the closest was Meera Syal’s characters in Goodness, Gracious Me. “When I was younger, people would bully me and I had to experience a lot of racial abuse,” Busha explains. “I started feeling embarrassed of who I am and what I’m about.
“I tried to fit in and whitewash myself. I did it with the hair, the clothes and my mannerisms – I definitely tried to tone down the brown. But I’ve got to a point now where I don’t feel the need to do that. I’ve since learnt that my heritage is my strength.
“I have a unique position where I am British but I am of a south Asian background and I’ve found a way of being able to tap into that. When you’re confident in knowing who you are, people are drawn into that confidence, and that’s something I’ve come to realise.”
Seven years ago – at the age of 25 – Amir came out to his family as gay. He says it’s something that had been building up over time, but the experience was sadly not a positive one.
“I don’t have a relationship with my family these days,” the performer explains. “They kicked me out as a result of being gay and I haven’t had any contact with them since then, really. But I’m the one laughing all the way to the bank now.
“It was like death by a thousand papercuts. After university, I started getting a lot of pressure from my family to marry. When I came back home, they were putting that pressure on me and I just told them that the reason I didn’t want to marry is because I was gay.
“Over time, it was like a slow snowball of deception. There is a limit, and I eventually reached that point. They might have kicked me out but I’ve since learnt that it’s in my best interests to stay away. I think it’s quite a profound way of looking at it, really.”
Through discovering drag and finding her husband – who she met through a mutual friend in 2014 – Bushra has learnt that authenticity is the way forward in life. Bushra explains: “Doing me and being my authentic self has been the only logical way to deal with things. I tend to find that not everyone has the ability to find their true calling.
“Too many times I see people within my community doing things while fearing what people will say. I’m not here for Brownie points with toxic people and I’m pleased that, as a gay south Asian man, I’m able to say I’ve dismantled that and can do whatever makes me happy. It’s worked well for me so far.”
The couple wed in 2019 and hold the title as the first South Asian gay couple to get married in Bradford. A year later they moved to Manchester. The couple also host their own You Don’t Love Me podcast where they discuss their perspective as a gay South Asian couple. To date, they’ve recorded more than 80 episodes on everything from Ramadan to beauty standards.
“I firmly believe the universe conspires,” Bushra laughs about the couple moving to the city-region. “We fancied moving to a bigger city but Manchester was never something on my radar at all. Despite that, it was one of the best decisions we ever made. It’s such a welcoming, open city. The drag scene here is fantastic and it’s a lot of fun. I’m happy to be a part of Manchester now.”
In the last year, Bushra has performed at Manchester Pride – and will perform again this year – alongside events in London and Cardiff and even further afield in Prague, Berlin and Budapest. She says she loves getting the chance to surprise people during her cabaret shows.
“Drag is a very varied art form and people sometimes forget that,” she explains. “Bushra is certainly very varied – there’s not many places you’ll see Boris Johnson dancing to Lady Gaga.”
Going forward, Bushra wants to continue to perform their cabaret show – which is currently touring the country – and do stand-up when the opportunity arises. “I feel there’s a tiny gap in the market for Bushra to slide through with her nimble shoulders,” she says.
“Coming to a Lady Bushra show is like entertainment on acid, you’ll have a fabulous time. It’s absolutely chaotic but in the best possible way.”