Carlotta: He did it her way

Zac Ynfante (young Richard Byron), Anita Hegh (Evelyn).
Zac Ynfante (young Richard Byron), Anita Hegh (Evelyn).
Packed to the Rafters’ Jessica Marais as Carlotta.

Packed to the Rafters’ Jessica Marais as Carlotta.

Drag pioneer Carlotta.

Drag pioneer Carlotta.

Richard Byron became Carol Spencer (pictured below) and adopted the stage name Carlotta, the inspiration for Priscilla. Now 70, she’s helped make the movie of her complex life. It screens on the ABC this Thursday at 8.30pm. Carlotta is talking to Ian Horner.

Were you happy with the finished film? Yes. The thing is I've lived it. So I wouldn't sit around watching it (laughs). It was a long process but I'm very happy with the result.

Young people will watch who are in the same position as teenager Richard Byron years ago. That's why I did the movie.

How did you deal with seeing Richard again, on screen? That's a hard question. It's so long ago. He's like another person now. But it reminded me how really tough it was.

You've lived a complicated, complex triumphant life. Richard had all that ahead of him. What do Richards today need to hear? Be strong! There's light at the end of the tunnel. There's much more freedom today, but still it's not easy. A lot of guys have families to consider. I only had two mothers to contend with. Family holds a lot of guys back because they're embarrassed. I had good supportive friends around me. They loved me. I went into a whole new world remember. It was hard. I left what was then the industrial area of Balmain and went into the world of the Cross, and Les Girls.

What was left out of the film you wish was left in? I would've liked a bit of my stepmother 'cos she was one who stuck by me. When she first saw me perform she just said that wouldn't have happened if I'd adopted you! (laughs). She was real strong. I think I got my strength form her. I had lots of aunties and uncles but none of them have had anything to do with me over the years.

It's not always easy to be a bloke in Australia, wherever you find yourself on the gender scale. I don't think of it that way. I'm just Carlotta. Take it or leave it.

But you're not. You're Carol as well. Yes I am, that's right. After this week's over I can go back to being myself!

What's the difference? The bitch is on-stage and the nice person's off-stage. I'm not a bitch in real life at home.

It must have been very hard working at the Cross, with colourful racing identities as your bosses, lousy pay, appalling conditions. We were too wrapped up in the shows to notice. It was all exciting 'cos we were young. But, yes, it was also pretty tough. We weren't paid well. Conditions were shocking. Lots of people made lots of money out of us. But I had nothing to lose luv! (laughs). I've had a great life. I did Priscilla before Priscilla. I had 11 drag queens in a Volkswagen for goodness sake! I loved shocking people. What do I say to young guys watching who are confused? Be yourselves. Don't struggle with who you are. Life's too short. Once you release yourself from it all you'll be a lot happier. You may lose a few friends but, believe me, you'll gain a lot more.

The end title says: "The most important thing is love and the most important love is your own. If you get someone else to love you, it's a bonus." Was that what it said! Oh, luv, I didn't have my glasses on and I couldn't read it (raucous laugh). I'll have to watch it. I didn't know I said something that good!


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