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Life Lessons: Jonathan Smith, Event director

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    Life Lessons: Jonathan Smith, Event director - 8-Nov-2008
    I was very inspired by a documentary, Queen of the Whole Wide World, that was screened at the 2002 OutTakes (gay and lesbian) Film Festival. The documentary focused on a drag queen talent competition, Quest for the Crown, held in California. On leaving the cinema I was so energised that I immediately started writing and planning a similar show, but based on a beauty pageant with a strong community focus. It took me two years to actually get the production on stage.

    More than $100,000 has been raised from Queen of the Whole Universe over the past five years and I expect we will raise at least another $40,000 from this year's show.

    The event is so important for many reasons: safe sex education, increasing awareness about HIV, improving someone's self-esteem and self worth and allowing people to explore their own artistic talent. We have created what we call a "QWU Community". If I have managed to stop at least one person from being infected with HIV or have kept an HIV positive person living a longer, healthier life, then I have achieved my goal.

    I have been living with HIV for 15 years and still find every day a challenge. The side-effects of the medication which I have to take religiously twice a day drain my energy due to the morning diarrhoea and bouts of nausea. The fatigue is not such a big problem anymore providing I get at least eight hours sleep a night and a quick power nap in the afternoon.

    The support that the New Zealand Aids Foundation's Burnett Centre gave my partner and me leading up to his death is the reason I becoame an HIV fundraiser. Their support team was incredible during this difficult period, so I needed to give something back as a thank you.

    HIV treatment has improved dramatically in the past three years thanks to the Aids Foundation. Four years ago I classified New Zealand as a third world country in terms of HIV treatment and was so appalled that I left the country with my partner and moved to England, my birth country. While away, I kept an eye on the situation in New Zealand and returned in 2007 when access to treatments became acceptable. We are now comparable to Australia, a benchmark that is used, however we can not became complacent but rather strive to have better access than our counterparts.

    Buffy and Bimbo (the drag artist alter egos of my partner and me) happened by accident at the Hero Parade in 1994. We dressed as the Fabulous Makeover Girls for the parade, in miniskirts and bras made from hair rollers, and did tragic makeovers on people in the crowd. It was just a bit of fun but six months later we were booked to do a paid gig at the Radio Awards. We realised that we had something unique and created a five-year strategy. We chose the corporate and private market and have never looked back.

    Performing as drag queens is not our living although it does help hugely with paying the mortgage. I am very clear about placing the drag artist side of our lives into perspective. We dress up for a gig, perform, come home and get out of the costume. Think of it as acting.

    * Jonathan Smith is the founder and organiser of Queen of the Whole Universe, at the Aotea Centre on November 15.
    Ref: - NZ Herald - Buffy & Bimbo: The Fabulous Makeover Girls

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