A Night with the Lady Boys
Helen Carson has an encounter with a lady boy, as the troupe of sexy showgirls from Bangkok are set to play their last show tonight (Saturday, November 19) in Belfast.
The Lady Boys of Bangkok are now regulars in Belfast having brought their flamboyant cabaret act to the city on more than one occasion.
And while many people from Northern Ireland may have seen the lady boys in their native Thailand, or at least heard about the famous Bangkok show, their performances here have become something of a phenomena with local crowds loving the over-the-top production.
One of ‘the girls’ as they are called was happy to meet up with me to talk about the UK tour and what it is really like to be a lady boy.
I meet Night, real name Nttaya Thatsakorn from Sakonakoin in the north eastern region of Thailand, and he... sorry she, smiles happily at me while pleasantly answering all my questions - except one - which causes her to blush and bat those incredible long false lashes rather a lot.
It seems while she is more than happy to discuss surgery, botox and more... but try asking a lady boy her age and you’ll find out that is just taking things a tad too far.
She eventually admits to being 29 following much cajoling.
Night has been a lady boy for 10-years having secured a place in the Bangkok show following an audition where only the most beautiful girls are chosen to perform.
“We had to sing and dance,” says Night.
The lady boys founder Phillip Gandey, who put The Chinese State Circus on the road as well as being the artistic director for Cirque Surreal and brought The Bolshoi on Ice to England, wanted to take bring the lady boys to a wider audience. In 1988 the Lady Boys of Bangkok show toured Europe for the first time, before eventually becoming the biggest attraction at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Now UK cities including Belfast are familiar with the lady boys unforgettable show.
And while the very idea of a lady boy is confusing to us, it is everyday in Thailand where it is considered a third sex.
Speaking through an interpreter, Night said those chosen to star in UK shows are considered the A-listers of the lady boy world.
“We are the best of the best, and must take part in a contest to find the most beautiful lady boys for the UK shows.”
And there is no ambiguity for a lady boy as to what sex they are: “I am female,” she says, with a shake of her long blond mane of hair.
Indeed Night is a gorgeous blond with full, quivering lips, high cheek bones and immaculate make-up. When I meet her though she is dressed down in jeans, boots and a fitted sweater.
Maybe it’s the Thai physique but with her dainty facial features and shy demeanour, she could easily pass for a really good-looking girl, as opposed to a badly-dressed drag queen. Okay, she’s in civvies when we meet, but there is nothing ostentatious or showy about her attire.
The show organisers admit though, it takes at least two visits to a new city before the lady boy brand of entertainment is really accepted. And even then, the show is de rigeur for hen parties and a predominately female audience, although more men are having coming along.
“The audiences here always enjoy the show and that is the most important thing for me,” says Night. “I have never had anything negative said to me ever. We all do our own make-up which takes about half an hour. My hair is real, not extensions and we all get asked by by women who want o know how we look so beautiful and stay so thin. It is a real compliment.”
The show’s promoters also dispel any rumours that go with the show: “This is not a sex show. It is not the same show you would see in Bangkok. We have an age restriction, but it is mostly because you can buy alcohol here.”
Although with nipple tassels for sale here, I’m sure many would feel this isn’t really family entertainment either.
The Lady Boys stay in shared accommodation when they are on tour, but back home it’s just another day at the office and they go home at night to their families.
When they share digs they do their own cooking which is healthy Thai cuisine so they can maintain those enviable figures.
When we shake hands, though, the game is totally up. She is very gentle, so it’s not a bone-crushing manly handshake, probably because Thai people usually bow - shaking hands is very Western.
Nonetheless, the large hands with long, nobbly-jointed fingers are unmistakably male.
Night makes no bones about having surgery - for those perky breasts, while botox keeps the wrinkles at bay.
And her passion when on tour is... shopping.
“You will always know a lady boy as they will have lots of shopping bags.”
And yes, they have enjoyed many excursions to Victoria Square which is just opposite the Customs House Square venue.
But it seems, it’s not just Ulster folk who may have a few cultural differences to the lady boys.
“In Thailand being a lady boy is nothing, but here we are mobbed in coffee shops with people chasing up for autographs. We are treated like celebrities.”
This is especially the case when the girls are in Scotland. Following their success at the Edinburgh Fringe, they are routinely pursued by fans desperate for an autograph with them.
Catch the Lady Boys of Bangkok last show tonight at Customs House Square