Drag icon Panti Bliss says she’s doing Dancing with the Stars to fight ‘far-right bulls**t’

Drag queen Panti Bliss wears a pink and patterned dress with her hands raised in the air. She has pink hair on the left side and blonde on the right. She is standing against a pink patterned background in a promotional shot for the RTÉ show Dancing with the Stars.

Panti Bliss is twirling on to Ireland’s version of Dancing with the Stars to show queer kids that it’s fine to be who you are – and to remind people what drag is all about.

Dancing with the Stars kicked off on 8 January with Panti Bliss performing – in spectacular queer fashion – to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.

It marked the first time two men had competed together on the Irish reality show. And while it may have looked effortless, it didn’t come without plenty of hard work from Panti and her dance partner Denys Samson – a “big straight bloke”, according to Panti.

“He has zero qualms about the same-sex thing,” says Panti, real name Rory O’Neill.

“He just thinks it’s fun and interesting and he’s thrown himself into it. From the first second, it’s just this odd relationship where you have to be fully comfortable being all over each other all the time, swinging around in each other’s arms for hours a day.”

Drag legend Panti Bliss is pictured on the left wearing a pink patterned dress and high heels with a pink and blonde wig. She has her hand on the face of Denys Samson, a professional dancer, who is standing on the right wearing a blue blazer and black trousers. Both are posing against a patterned pink background for the RTÉ series Dancing with the Stars' promotional images.
Panti Bliss with her on-screen dance partner Denys Samson. (RTÉ)

She suspects it might be harder to settle into that level of intimacy for two straight people of different genders – there’s got to be an awkwardness there.

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“For me and Denys, there’s none of that. He’s a big straight bloke, I’m twice his age, we’re just having a laugh the whole time about it.” 

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When I was 14 years old that would have blown my mind.

Panti Bliss

Panti and Denys earned high praise in their first week, ending with the joint second-highest scores. But her appearing on the show is about more than fame or success, which is why she plans to dance out of drag some weeks.

“It’s important that you have no hiding away from it – two blokes dancing in your living room at 6.30pm on a Sunday evening with the whole family,” she says.

“I hope the impact will be that it’s just the most normal thing in the world. Why can’t two men dance together? When I was 14 years old in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, that would have blown my mind.”

That said, dancing in drag does have its perks.

“I mean physically it’s easier to do it as Rory, it’s easier to dance in flats than it is in heels and corsetry. But obviously, I feel more comfortable doing it as Panti because that’s how I’m used to performing.”

Given the current climate, Panti thinks “it’s also important to show drag queens doing what they actually do, which is just being fun entertainment”.

“Especially nowadays with this weird uptick in this nonsense about drag queens and fear of drag queens – they’re calling us paedophiles and all this nonsense”.

Far-right doesn’t believe it’s own ‘bulls**t’ about drag queens

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Like so many others, Panti Bliss has watched on in horror as far-right attacks on drag queens have intensified in recent years.

She had her own run-in with the far-right in July 2022 when they descended on a book store in Mayo where a drag queen story hour event was being held.

Panti, ever the legend, decided to confront the protesters. When asked by one if she had “Garda [police] clearance” to be around children, she replied: “I’ve Garda clearance to tell you to go f**k yourself.” 

Dr Panti Bliss-Cabrera reads to kids during a Mayo Pride event
A drag queen reads to kids during a Mayo Pride event. (Twitter)

It made headlines, and the phrase has been immortalised on tote bags and Pride-related merch all across Ireland – but Panti’s acerbic wit shouldn’t distract from the real issues at play.

“I think a lot of these far-right actors, they don’t even believe the bulls**t they’re saying about drag queens. They know damn well it’s a stupid, weird lie, but unfortunately, I think there are people who are under their influence who do believe this nonsense,” Panti explains.

“They’re using drag queens as a way to say things about all queer people, and I think it’s dangerous nonsense. So I do think it’s important to have drag queens on your family entertainment to remind people that drag is actually art, and not what some people are being told we are.”

If nothing else, the simple fact is “drag queens are made for performance and for television”.

“If you’re sleeping on having drag performers, you’re an eejit,” she laughs.

Dancing with the Stars continues Sundays on RTÉ One at 6.30pm.

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