By Jon Cronshaw
With one of the biggest weeks on the professional wrestling calendar drawing to a close stateside, Leeds-based wrestler Priscilla Queen of the Ring sheds light onto the local wrestling scene that sees grown men dress up and pretend to fight each other for the entertainment of paying customers – and urges Yorkshire to give it a chance.
Priscilla is the alter-ego of classics undergraduate, Ollie Burns. The 25 year-old is well-mannered and intelligent, but when he hits the ring he transforms himself into a devious drag queen – dressed in a leotard and blowing kisses to a hostile crowd. Ollie explained his character: “I wear women’s clothes, that’s the long and short of it – I feel comfortable wearing lipstick. I love that moment when you step through the curtains, and the room looks around and it all goes silent. There are 200 people staring at me going ‘what is this?’ and then they realise ‘oh, it’s a man in a dress’ –either everyone cheers and starts laughing, or everyone boos.”
Priscilla is a bad guy – known in wrestling circles as a “heel.” His job is to get the crowd to boo and jeer, and make the good guy – known as the “baby-face” – look good in the match. Ollie said: “I take quite an aggressive stance with the audience – I figured it was easier to be disliked than liked when you’re a man wearing a dress.”
Originally from Portsmouth, Ollie has wrestled throughout England for over a decade, and now trains young hopefuls at the KGW wrestling school in Knottingley, West Yorkshire. He started wrestling as a 13 year old and soon became a regular on the local wrestling circuit. He said: “I started off as a serious wrestler, and wrestled for six years working on my craft. I then decided to get a gimmick, and that’s how Priscilla developed. Even though I prance around in a dress or leotard, I still know that my wrestling’s still pretty good.”
When asked what made him want to become a wrestler, he said: “I love the costumes and the characters, and how larger than life it can be. I’m fascinated by the storylines and how the characters interact with each other.”
Wrestling is often dismissed by critics for being a fake sport, but for Ollie, wrestling is a form of entertainment. He explained: “As a man who wrestles as a drag queen, I personally see wrestling as a sport with a pantomime twist. People aren’t stupid – I don’t think you can promote it as a real sport anymore. I feel we’ve got away from that ‘wrestling is real’ image now. If we keep trying to push it as real, we’re only going to look stupid. If we patronise people, we’re only going to do ourselves damage.”
Most people will probably be familiar with names like Big Daddy, Hulk Hogan and The Rock, and Ollie believes that this is why local wrestling companies can find it difficult to draw large crowds. He explained: “British wrestling at its best has amazing mat wrestling and good drama, but until more money comes into the business, it’s really hard to get the best performers for a small promotion. We need some guys who can define British wrestling to a wide audience, but without TV contracts that’s not going to happen. When WWE come over from America, they sell out huge arenas, but at some of the local shows it can be hard to get 20-30 people in to watch – we just don’t have the star power.”
Wrestlers, even at the local level, are prone to genuine and serious injuries – from broken bones and torn muscles, to head injuries and lacerations. Though the wrestlers try to be as safe as possible, there is always the risk of injury. However, Ollie wasn’t banking on being attacked by a riotous crowd: “I had a match in Leeds at the end of last year. We were in a room full of rugby players who really weren’t happy that I was there and some kids who really didn’t understand what was going on. The kids had bought a load of inflatable hammers, and when I went out of the ring they set on me. There were fists and feet flying at me – I never knew that an inflatable hammer could be so painful! I was knocked on the back of my head, which made me woozy – it was a genuinely scary moment.”
Ollie really dropped the ball during a wrestling show in Cookridge, when an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction was seen by everybody except him. Ollie said: “I didn’t realise for quite a large part of the match what had happened, until I was ringside, walking along eye level with all the kids in the audience, and a barman goes ‘excuse me mate, you’ve popped out’ – so I think that was the day my career ended!”
The social clubs and sports halls of Yorkshire might be a far cry from the sell out crowds of WWE’s WrestleMania, but even at a local level there’s something for everyone. Ollie said: “There’s wrestling going on in Yorkshire all the time, you just have to look for it. For kids there’s acrobatics, showmanship and excitement, and for adults there’s always a bar, so you can get drunk and have a laugh, and poke fun at the drag queen.”
Priscilla Queen of the Ring can be found on Facebook and wrestles regularly for Yorkshire based promotions KGW, GBW, BWA and K&S Wrestling.