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Commonwealth Games


NZ's top drag queen celebrates 74th birthday

Friday 09 Oct 2009 11:42p.m.

NZ's top drag queen celebrates 74th birthday
By Tova O'Brien

She's been in drag for 60 years, living in Sydney for 30, and today Carmen Rupe, the most recognised New Zealand queen, came back home to celebrate her 74th birthday.

Impossible to ignore and never one to shy away from a grand entrance, Carmen came back to Wellington in style.

It's a style that came from trying on her mother's dresses as a kid, and honed where you'd least expect it - military training school.

"I got up and sang one of her songs in drag, and got all dressed up and I got a standing ovation, so as you can see my hair's still swollen since then," says Carmen.

Dana de Milo met Carmen in 1961, a time when it was common for a person to be beaten because of their sexuality or the way they dressed.

"Things have changed so much now from my day," says Dana. "I mean, it was terrible in my day, you got beaten up, police beat you up, you know people would jump out of their cars and bash you 'cause they'd think you were a paedophile."

And both de Milo and drag sensation Mika say it was Carmen who helped pave the way out of a shameful time in New Zealand's history.

"Carmen was the first Maori drag queen as such in the '50s," says Mika. "What she's done is she just went ahead almost like this Concorde ice breaker, not even considering what she was doing."

She opened a string of businesses throughout Wellington - coffee lounges, nightclubs and brothels. But for the first time, they were places that were openly gay and indiscriminating.

"Treated everyone the same, no one was better than the other, whether you were socialite society or down the gutter you know you're all the same to me," says Carmen.

The same people made up the 400-odd guest list at tonight's birthday bash.

For the sea of fans wishing the Aussies hadn't pinched this Kiwi gem too, there's still hope yet.

"I heard a rumour they're [Auckland] looking for a new mayor next year, so I might come back to it."

3 News
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