- Words Bailey Slater
- Photography: Aidan Zamiri
- 1st and 2nd Photo Assistant: Nathan Perkins and Joshua Heavens Onabowu
- Fashion: Ignacio de Tiedra assisted by Charli Dennett and Beca Montenegro
- Hair: Ross Kwan assisted by Amy Luthwood-Graham
- Makeup: Byron London assisted by Matilde Ribau
- Production Agency: Object & Animal
- Location: Wolf & Badger Studios
Sitting down with Notion, Bimini talks us through their Drag Race rise, embracing imperfection and the importance of keeping queer venues afloat.
Tommy Hibbitts, known affectionately to the world as Bimini Bon Boulash, has taken on all kinds of roles this past year. We’ve had the sweet Haggerston hipster, the footie hooligan who nearly lost it all, the lovable underdog, the straight-up cis-tem offender, even the Prodigy loving London street rat. But as of right now, I’d say they’re doing a cracking job of the main character in a 00s fashion flick.
In fact, the setup that precedes our interview could easily be a deleted scene from The Devil Wears Prada, if the montages of Anne Hathaway’s style evolution were swapped out for static shots of our favourite Drag Racer clad in a bald cap as the ethereal ambiance of Madonna’s Ray of Light — one of their favourite Madge albums — takes us to another dimension. Wigs are being curled, mugs are being painted, clothes steamed and dried. The Norwich-born drag queen is perched in a monogrammed Juicy Couture set (of the hot pink variety) speaking in that signature, challenge-winning Katie Price drawl about a few upcoming projects that may or may not involve an iconic member of the British pop monarchy…
Rumour has it that Bimini’s snatch game twin and one-time “Mysterious Girl” is also in this very same building, but a tight schedule means these glamour-pusses are like two sensuous ships passing in the night. Probably for the best too, I don’t think anyone could handle that much star power in one room.
Being in the presence of what many of us would consider the shining beacon of this past lockdown would ordinarily be pretty daunting. But whether they’re telling me their ultimate girl group lineup (which consists of Pete Burns, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse — “and me!”) or sat munching a leafy salad in the shaded area of the studio’s outdoor rooftop, all that warmth and light-hearted charm we fell in love with week after week is still well intact.
These past few months have been nothing short of a total rollercoaster for Bimini, a journey they’ve embraced with open arms, but such heights of fame hadn’t always been the dream. “I always knew that I wanted to do something creative and really do something in this world, but I was always told that I couldn’t,” says Bimini. “I was always pushed academically. I studied journalism, and I was doing all of that side of things, but I always had this flair. I was a gender bender, and I loved that.”
Like many who flock to the UK’s major cities to find themselves away from the stiff and prying eyes of bleak suburbia, Bimini soon found their true calling in the many queer pubs and clubs of London. Getting their start with drag sister Barbs in the early 2010s, the pair could always be found raising hell in their local Haggerston watering hole, The Glory. “We were not taken seriously, we were just messy East London, book us for a good time, that sort of thing,” Bimini reminisces, “but no one was paying us.” Too punk — and often too drunk — for their own good, it wasn’t until Bimini landed Miss Sink The Pink in 2019 that things began to really take off.
Fast forward to now — with a fuck-off big reality show under their belts — they couldn’t be in more demand if they were 4OD, signing on with Next Models, having Dalston’s Brewdog name a colourful charity burger in their honour, and, just days before our meeting, even finding themselves embroiled in a 20-minute cancellation on Twitter. What had been an innocent selfie referencing the blonde, spiky updo of their Beastenders character, and the trope of the beloved British pub landlady (we love you Peggy!), had allegedly revealed our Vegan empress as a class-traiting landlord who was worthy of nothing but being spat at on the street. All a day in the life of a Drag Race superstar, I suppose.
Amidst all of this post-show chaos, the star has somehow also found time to write a book guiding us lost souls through life, but only just though. “I see it as an anti-self-help book,” Bimini explains of the soon-to-be Penguin classic. “Not in the sense that I’m telling you to fuck it all up, but it’s also telling you it’s OK if you do.” Armed with a potent mix of gender theory, stories of queer life in the 21st century and musings on Kate Moss, they’ve teamed up with writer Shon Faye to help craft the project, meeting semi-regularly in between blockbuster fashion shoots to put their thoughts to paper. “The most important thing I want people to take away from it is that no one’s perfect,” says Bimini. “You don’t have to aim for that.”
Though it’s hard to believe considering their ever growing legion of devoted fans — including the likes of Kathy Burke and Jonathan Van Ness — Bimini’s initial stint on Drag Race was far from exemplary. Landing themselves in the bottom two on the very first episode, life as they know it could have been completely different, had it not been for a killer lip sync that sent Brighton’s drag veteran Joe Black packing. Though a disastrous homage to Alexander McQueen and shocking halt to production by way of Covid-19 might’ve been waiting on the other side, nothing would stop the tenacious star as they clawed their way back to the top. Well, except Lawrence Chaney of course.
Some may even say the dramatic eight-month break in filming — a first since the show debuted back in 2009 — might’ve been Bimini’s lifeline. “I believe in the universe, and I think the universe had a plan for me,” they say, welcoming the late game break as a chance to regroup and recenter, even using their downtime to become a master at chair acrobatics. “When I got back, I just wanted to let loose. The most important thing about doing drag, or Drag Race, is to not take it too seriously, and that if you’re having fun, other people are having fun too.” With time — and an abundance of recentered gravity — on their side, Bimini would go on to knock every subsequent week out of the park, showcasing not only their wit and creative ingenuity, but also a penchant for song that would have the likes of Elton John shaking in his clunky platforms.
Having already “unleashed the beast” in the show’s oh-so-camp, Big Ben-inspired hit “UK Hun?”, hitting up the studio seems the most logical next step for the star. “I think everyone, especially us queers, grew up wanting to be a pop star,” says Bimini. “I never thought it was gonna happen; I never went to school for singing or anything like that, but I do like to write, so I gave it all a go.”
Armed with a husky drawl that sits somewhere between The Streets’ Mike Skinner and your local party girl 10 hours into the session, the result was the most left-field offering from a Ru Girl in recent memory. “It all happened so organically,” they tell me; “it felt so natural and right, because I do often wonder what my sound would be.”
A big fat “Oi!” introduces us to “God Save This Queen”, the first track from the star’s forthcoming (yet to be titled) new project. “I want to have all the things people liked on the show, but apply that to everything I’m doing,” they say, pondering the work as a continuation of their Drag Race legacy. “What I tried to do in the music was bring all of that together, but in a catchy way. It’s not preachy, it’s uplifting. It’s positive, but it also has a message — and that’s what’s important to me.”
The track itself is a culmination of Bimini’s experiences growing up as a queer person, and all the furore, judgement and emotional baggage that comes with that. “There’s still pain in there,” Bimini admits, but you won’t find them totally woe-is-me-ing about it. Instead, their middle finger is permanently raised in the faces of all those naysayers and bigots who tried to dim their shine.
The whole carry-on is admittedly “very British”, they say, a poignant mix of the Sex Pistols’ anti-establishment ethos fused with the playful silliness of Blur, and a couple of lessons in the Lily Allen School of Acerbic Lyricism, where Bimini definitely bagged an A+. I suppose you could call it Britpop with lashes on, an undeniably cheeky take on the genre that gave us Cool Britannia, only this time, the queers have full control.
Of course, it wouldn’t be our Bimini without the offering being laced with more than a few digs at our current political climate, with the patriarchy, classism and falafel wraps bearing most of the brunt. They wanted something raw, geezer-y even, but with enough Disney cheese to keep the gays dancing. And believe me, they got it, alright — even sneaking in an ode to their mum after a smorgasbord of dynamic one line choruses. “That’s why it fits with me. I feel like that’s the kind of message I would always be sending,” says Bimini, “referencing all the music I was listening to growing up that wasn’t queer or focused to me, but it’s also, ultimately, for everyone.”
The Drag Race star tells me they were fairly taken aback by how cathartic the whole experience has proved to be. While all their friends have been getting therapy, Bimini has opted for the power of words to bandage some of their toughest wounds. The process has worked so well that some of these classics have even made it on a few test runs around Hackney Marshes, a rigorous vetting process that ensures they have as much spunk and tenacity as humanly possible.
As we bring our conversation to a close, talk inevitably turns to the most serious topic of all… Our return to the pub. I should add that we’re not talking about Bimini’s own, before Twitter wages another class war in their mentions. Now that beer gardens are open, and nightlife’s raucous return is also on the horizon, I wonder where East London’s premier boozing babe is hoping to head first? “I want to be out for at least three days,” they tell me, half-joking, “but probably The Glory, and then Dalston Superstore. Everyone needs to go support these places, they’re trying to keep them afloat because we’re already losing so many — over 50% in London since 2010.”
Bimini argues that these spaces are indispensable to the culture, not only to foster a community where queer life is celebrated and raw, but also to provide refuge for all the baby queers figuring out their place in the world. “If I was 18 and I had moved to London in the lockdown, I’d need that time to find out who I was,” they say. “I come from a small town; I thought I knew myself, but there’s so much going on — and you need that. These places are vital for queer people and queer expression, and I really hope that’s going to continue and that they survive.”
This determination to preserve the few remaining LGBTQ+ enclaves left in the big smoke is testament to Bimini’s fighting spirit, the one that won our hearts on telly, or on Twitter, or wherever you can perch and hear their words of wisdom. It’s a commitment to making life better in whatever way they can, keeping a PMA — that’s a positive mental attitude, Lawrence — when the world is taking the piss. And when we can finally rejoice in pubs in groups far more than six, and rally together to save our beloved venues, you can bet the first round is definitely on them.