h

LGBTIQA heroine Dolly Diamond reflects on 15 Midsumma years

It’s not quite 9am and Dolly Diamond is multitasking like the queen she is. 

Boarding a tram – glamorous AF in a Gucci-esque print – she bemoans the hour, while maintaining the last word in charm on her way to the Athenaeum to rehearse her latest show Dolly Diamond’s 15-year Anniversary Gala. “I can do both,” she says. “I’ve got style.”

The show, a celebration of each year she’s turned in a showstopper for Midsummer Festival, has a run this Saturday, featuring a slew of special guests including the acapella group The Phones (with John Fleming and Rusty Berther from the Scared Weird Little Guys), the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, Footscray-Yarraville City Band and Melbourne Rainbow Band. It’s busy times, because the show comes straight off the back of her a month-long residency at the Arts Centre Dolly Diamond’s Piano Bar. “The beauty of it was that I’d get up there and swan around, but it was all about the guests really: I got them to do most of the work,” Diamond observes, wryly.

In terms of history, Diamond’s alter ego and manager Michael Dalton hit our sunburned shores with his UK family when he was 12, growing up in Ringwood. Although relatively unscathed by the eastern 'burbs, Dalton returned to London for a stint in The Rocky Horror Show, later touring as a backing singer for Julian Clary and in Richard O’Brien’s post-Rocky production Disgracefully Yours. Eventually, though, Dalton was lured back to Australia, moving here permanently from London nine years ago and becoming a citizen in 2013. From the start, Diamond carved out a niche for herself: at a time everyone else was lip-synching, Diamond had a voice to give Liza a run for her money.

Since then, it’s been a bit of give and take. As much as we hailed her performances, Diamond says we shaped her. “You hone your craft as you go along and years of working with an Australian audience toughens you up,” Diamond explains. “I got my grounding in London, but I flourished in Australia. I like to have an audience that knows how to have a good time, and they do over in the UK, but this country’s made for it.” As to why Melbourne more specifically, Diamond has a pithy response. “I was embraced here and who doesn’t want to feel that they belong? Also, I love that festival atmosphere that Melbourne’s got, I mean there’s a festival on every other day."

Preparing for the Gala has given Diamond cause for pause and she’s reviewed how life’s unfolded over the last 15 years. “I began trying to be the one who always had the last laugh,” she reflects. “Nowadays, while I’m still like that, I’m happy for the audience to be involved as much as possible as well. Sometimes you get pearls of wisdom or an absolute corker from someone in the audience.” All of which accounts for why you can find Diamond hosting events such as Stonnington’s Christmas Carols (plus, as she once explained, she’s a performer who can be trusted not to drop mother fucker in front of kids). Diamond hasn’t mellowed too much though – she’s still happy to describes herself as “a force to be reckoned with” – it’s more that no-one is flayed alive. 

“It’s not about destroying anybody, it’s about making everybody laugh. I love that. I aim to make as many people laugh as possible. Like a clown, if you would, I don’t mind admitting that.”

Catch Dolly Diamond on Saturday February 3 as part of Midsumma Festival