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Entertainer Gerry Walls on twists of fate that led to career in drag


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Gerry Walls dressed as his character Sadie Devine for his new 'Belfast Ma' play.  Gerry is pictured at his North Belfast Home. 
Picture Colm O'Reilly

Gerry Walls dressed as his character Sadie Devine for his new 'Belfast Ma' play. Gerry is pictured at his North Belfast Home. Picture Colm O'Reilly

Gerry Walls dressed as his character Sadie Devine for his new 'Belfast Ma' play. Gerry is pictured at his North Belfast Home. Picture Colm O'Reilly

Life has been a drag for Gerry Walls for the past 25 years entertaining crowds as his alter-ego Tina Leggs Tantrum.

But now he has another woman on the go - playing no-nonsense 'Belfast Ma' Sadie Devine in a new stage show.

Billed as a "hilarious new one woman comedy based on everyone's Ma", it marks the latest chapter in an incredible career that was launched thanks to Game of Thrones actor Kristian Nairn, Mrs Brown's Boys creator Brendan O'Carroll and Paul O'Grady.

Gerry said seeing O'Grady perform as Lily Savage in Belfast was his "inspiration" to have a crack at being a drag queen himself - then in 2001 came a life-changing moment when Kristian encouraged him to enter the Alternative Miss Ireland contest.

The event was being judged by comic O'Carroll, better known now as Agnes Brown in the BBC comedy series, who took a shine to Gerry and they crowned him the winner - and the rest is history.

He said: "Kristian was a drag queen called Revlon back in the day and I had bumped into him one day in the street, I had worked in the Parliament for quite a number of years doing a little bit of drag.

"And he had said to me, why were you not at the Alternative Miss Ireland? This was 2000 and I didn't know what it was.

"So the following year I took a troupe of dancers and went down and entered and in 2001 I was the first ever drag queen from Northern Ireland who had ever won the crown.

"And that was the moment that everything changed. I just thought, 'Wow - I've done it'. And if it wasn't for him that wouldn't have happened.

"And then one day years later after a ruckus with drag queens leaving and trying to keep the show going (as Tina Leggs Tantrum) I bumped into him, he was sitting at the bar having his lunch and he had stopped doing drag and he was in Game of Thrones.

Gerry Walls

"And he said, can I tell you something, 'You're the cork of drag queens - you'll never sink, you're always going to float.' And it just resonated with me during quite a stressful time trying to keep a show going that I was in love with.

"And he just spotted me at that moment and said that one really true kind thing from the heart and it really inspired me and made me think, 'Do you know what you've done? You've just saved me - you've saved my little drag life!'"

West Belfast man Gerry (52) agrees that life has been stranger than fiction but it's not all been about twists of fate, he's had to work hard for his success too.

He said: "It really is and it's just the most wonderful thing and I think from Tina came along into my life it certainly made me look at things differently and think about myself differently.

"It's not all glitter and stage and fabulousness, it's not. It's hard work. But you have to be in love with the ups as well as the downs. You have to be creative and when you're on stage you have to be on the ball.

"The thing I love most about myself is my brain, because it never stops thinking and I like to look at things positively, and I like to look at things and sprinkle comedy on it. And it works and it's a good life."

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Gerry Walls who is character Sadie Devine for his new 'Belfast Ma' play.  Gerry is pictured at his North Belfast home with his mum Terry.  Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 25-02-2020

Gerry Walls who is character Sadie Devine for his new 'Belfast Ma' play. Gerry is pictured at his North Belfast home with his mum Terry. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 25-02-2020

Gerry Walls who is character Sadie Devine for his new 'Belfast Ma' play. Gerry is pictured at his North Belfast home with his mum Terry. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 25-02-2020

But it has not always been so, as Gerry (right) is old enough to remember a less welcoming time for the gay community in the past but he believes that Northern Ireland has now become friendlier.

He said: "Absolutely, I think in the last 10 years it has become softer. It's just got to a lovely place now. When I think back to when I was 19 or early 20s, it was harsh.

"It was hard back in the day. It was tough back in the day. Tina's not a soft girl, do you know what I mean? She's a fun-loving fearless female but if you come at me fists flying, believe you me I will come at you too.

"I've got into a few scraps but only in defence, I would never fight with anybody, I'm not going to walk up to you and start - that's not the way I am.

"If you're going to come at me with your fists flying I will defend myself and I tell you something, I will not be put down. Back in the day a fair dig was a fair dig and when it was over it was done."

From taking on a two-hour solo show as Sadie to spending up to three hours in make-up to transform into Tina, there is no doubting Gerry's dedication to his work. But is there room for a significant other in his life?

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Game of Thrones actor Kristian Nairn

Game of Thrones actor Kristian Nairn

Game of Thrones actor Kristian Nairn

He said: "I've been single for 22 years, deliberately so. My theory on this is why buy a book when you can join the library?

"And I just think from that I just love being single and in my first years out in the gay scene, relationships didn't work and the last one was eight years long and I just thought when it was over, 'I'm never doing this again' and I didn't.

"So I guess I'm just like any other happy, single carefree person in the world and if you want to have a bit of fun or go out you can, I just don't want to associate myself with a significant other and it's through choice really.

"I do become Tina when I get dressed up and I do become Sadie when I get dressed up but I actually quite enjoy coming back to being Gerry again."

Gerry quit his job after 14 years in the Royal Victoria Hospital's fracture clinic as a senior plastic technician to make a career with Tina, but now he admits he is excited about the challenge of playing Sadie.

He said: "She's completely different from Tina. She really is a Belfast Ma through and through, she really is. It took me a while to transition into Sadie, it wasn't easy, I'm going to be honest.

"You have to stop being a drag queen when you're dressed up in women's clothes and become a different person, so I took all the pieces of all the matriarchs, of females I've ever met in my life and I put all of those into this character Sadie and they all just seemed to gel, it took a while but they got there.

"And there's different scenes and these different ladies, ladies who I've worked with, domestics in the Royal and neighbours that I used to live with and aunties that I was brought up with and the big character at the top of the street when I was a kid.

"It kind of all sort of came to life and I just sprinkled that comedy over the whole thing."

And Sadie has even had the thumbs up from the one critic Gerry cares most about - his mum.

He joked: "My mum's just turned 79 and my mum is from Dublin and still has her brogue, lovely little lady and doesn't smoke or drink or anything.

"And my mum lives with me, you see. Her name's Theresa but we all call her Terry, wee Terry Walls. She's Terry and I'm Gerry, we're like a cartoon!

"I took my mum to live with me last year, you see, she had a hip replacement then major open heart surgery a few months later. I just said, 'Right, that's it, you're not living in this big thing no more, c'mon here.' I love her and we get on like a house on fire.

"Mum came to see the show and (laughs) if anybody's going to be honest with you, it's your mum! And Mum just loved it, loved it, loved it.

"And I said, 'Did you see Tina?' And she was like, 'No, definitely not. You were completely different from Tina Leggs'. She said, 'You were just perfect.'

"This was the backing and the confidence - if I hadn't have had 25 years of Tina I wouldn't have been able to do this. It was a huge challenge, and do you know what at 52, I embraced it and I said to myself, 'You have to do this'. You've come this far and you've got this wonderful opportunity. No regrets - just face the music and dance."

The show is hoping to go on tour later in the year as well as a big Ulster Hall show in October and the prospect of Christmas specials.

  • The Belfast Ma: Away Play Around Your Own Door will be at Odyssey Cinemas from Tuesday, March 24 to Sunday, March 29.
  • Tickets are on sale now at Odyssey Cinemas. Call 028 9073 9134 or online at www.odysseycinemas.co.uk/movie/the-belfast-ma-away-play-around-your-own-door
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