INTERVIEW | Being Beyoncé, Aaron Carty Rules The World
Taking on one of the world’s most iconic performers of recent times is no small task, but one man is taking Beyoncé on and ruling the world with his own breed of drag fierceness. THEGAYUK’s MATT PEAKE explores Aaron Carty’s true inner diva.CREDIT: TheGayUK / Jake Hook
MP: So tell me about you, you grew up in Ipswich…
AC: Yes, I’m an Ipswich boy, born and raised there. My dad is from the Caribbean and my mum is from London. So I have a good mix there. At first a lot of people ask me, “why do you do Beyoncé?” and in fairness, there are not a lot of acts I can actually do because of my skin tone and my big bum, so it just happened that I picked one of the big superstars. But you know, growing up in Ipswich, I always saw myself as a very creative person, I was always the one that had ideas and would make things. It’s quite nice for me to be where I am now but that journey was enormous.
I’m very in influenced by what I watch; I’m a very visual learner. I used to watch shows like E.R. and then I wanted to become a doctor and then I’d watch shows like Batman and I’d want to be Batman, so I’ve always had these ‘wow that’s what I want to be’ moments. So growing up in a very small town that isn’t very gay was difficult. It’s a very small Suffolk bubble. I always knew I was going to go out and do something but I didn’t want to go to university. I felt that wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to study and I was like ‘why at the age of 17 would I choose to do something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life’.
I think that’s why I joined the police. It was an alternative for me. It was a way for me to get out of a small town into a job without a lot of experience. I had good qualifications but they were around design, technology and graphics.
MP: Is anyone in your family in the police?
AC: No, no one at all. Pretty much everyone in my family has a good job but they’re hard working. There’s a really good work ethic in our family which thank god, I’ve got. On top of that, choosing to go into the police, my family weren’t really happy about it. Mainly because they thought it was going to be a very dangerous job. I joined when I was 18. I was skinny and small. I didn’t look like a police officer; I looked more like a Smurf. But they were quite happy for me and they’ve been supportive in everything that I’ve done. Obviously I was famed in the police for dealing with Jade Goody which was a total fluke.
MP: What happened with Jade Goody?
AC: There’s not much I can say as I’m still under the Secret Service Act as a former police officer but the first time we dealt with her was a domestic violence case. This was back in 2004 and the second time was when she came to the police station to report that her nanny had stolen money from her and that’s actually where the paparazzi photos are from.
MP: I heard that you arrested her?
AC: At one point, yes, but I can’t really talk about it. I’ve always been into media but I’ve never known how to get into it. So that gradual step in the police actually gave me a big curve ball of life experience. I think I needed that. I had such a sheltered childhood in so many ways that it actually broke me out of that in about three seconds being on the beat. You instantly wake up and realise it’s real.
MP: So were you a performing child?
AC: Yes, totally. I was the Pied Piper in the school play and there were two nights of it and I was only allowed to do one night because I shared the role with someone else and I was fuming.
I think it was my first ever diva tantrum because I only got to do one night and I think I even tried to jeopardise and make sure that the other girl didn’t turn up on the night.
I said to her, “if you don’t want to come, I’ll do it! I’m obviously the better one”. I am extremely competitive with everything.
MP: So Jade Goody, and then three and a half years in the police and then you’re like I’m bored of this?
AC: It’s one of those things, when I joined the police, I worked on the response shift so it’s all about blue lights and going to the jobs and it’s 999, emergency but you soon discover that they’re all very repetitive, especially in a small town. A lot of the time it’s the same people. So actually the excitement goes very quickly, another blue light run, another fight, another drunken person, another arrest, it gets very repetitive. I think that’s actually where the police get stumped as when something like the riots happen they’re not really prepared for them. You’re used to the normal, mundane things and get into a routine even though it’s the police and anything can happen and what does happen, it’s very dangerous. I did lose my passion for it, so I would come to London on my days off and basically network. I’d meet people who were in production. There was one time I was in a bar and I overheard someone say, “oh, I’m shooting a music video tomorrow” so I grabbed him and said “what are you doing?” and I said “I’ll come along, I’ll carry the bags, I don’t care” and I was just involved. The first music video I did was actually the Sugababes.
MP: So why video production?
AC: I don’t know. I always had the idea that I wanted to do media. I was just building it up and I was seeing the behind the scenes, my business mind kicked in. So I actually started working for a number of online companies, I would go along for free. For a year, I worked for free on my days off.
For me it was something to stimulate my mind. So I was slowly going from free to paid, based on the demand of me actually being there.CREDIT: TheGayUK / Jake Hook
MP: And then the jump?
AC: The jump was horrible. I finally got the ongoing support of my family that accepted me in the police although it was dangerous. I think my mum was relieved that I left the police but at the same time she was like “so what are you going to do?”
MP: But you do have passion for it, don’t you?
AC: I do have a passion for it and that’s key. With anything I do, it’s all or nothing. If I have a passion for it, I will give it my life.
MP: So when did you start your company?
AC: So I started the company six years ago. There was a gap of about two years from when I left the police until when I actually started the company and during that time, I actually worked for a financial consultancy. Mainly as a sales executive, so I would bring business in for them. I think my business brain has always been there. I was the one selling sweets at school to others…
Within a year of working for them, I actually became their top consultant and in that first year, I earned £100,000 and that was a good thing for me. I thought I made this money. It’s not a salary. It was 100% commission and I made that. It was a good confidence boost for me to say, “yes, I’m going to do this!”.
So I used some of that money the next year to start the company and pretty much lost it all. I probably sunk around £30,000 or £40,000 into the first iteration of Carve, but it just didn’t work, but I learnt a lot.
You only make that mistake once; you only lose £40,000 once, I’ll tell you that.
MP: But where did you work from?
AC: We worked from our own homes. We borrowed equipment to do our first couple of jobs but we made no money.
MP: And how did you make that transition from being part of the shoot to directing it?
AC: Very gradually. I literally spent every evening out networking. I would find events; I would find things going on. I’d go and meet people and talk to them. We did a lot for free in our first year. We had to say, “we’re a new company, please take a risk on us, you don’t have to pay us!” So we did a huge amount for free.
MP: And wasn’t it one of your clients that suggested you do Britain’s Got Talent?
AC: It was.
MP: How has it affected the relationship with the clients? Knowing that you do a Beyoncé impersonation?
AC: It’s fine. I’ve had a lot of people say “you run a really successful company and I don’t think it’s going to go down well if they find out that you do a Beyoncé tribute drag act” and I said, “well if anybody wouldn’t want to work with me because of me doing a drag act, I wouldn’t want to work with them because we’re not on the same wavelength”.
We don’t do jobs because we need them. We do jobs because we want to work with these people. We like the brands and we know that we can do really amazing things with them. If you can’t even talk to someone and have a friendly conversation with them, why would you want to work with them, especially if someone is judging you based on something you do for fun!
MP: And wasn’t it in Sitges that you first did drag?
AC: Yes. It’s a gorgeous town, a really old town and we’d been there for a couple of years for pride. One of the big drag queens there, Gabbi, in 2011 asked me if I would stand in as a dancer for one of the opening acts and I actually took the limelight off of her. I think it was my energy. I learned the dance routine very quickly. I thought everyone was doing it the way I was, until I watched the video back. I was really going for it and everyone else didn’t seem to be putting the effort in. So everyone’s eyes were directed to me. When I went back a few years later, one of the resident drag queens said “you’ve got to do something on stage” and I was like “no,no,no” but the friends I was going with were like “let’s do a drag night”.
None of us had done drag before. It was all very new. We went and bought some crappy stuff from Primark and bought make up and heels. I just chucked it all in my suitcase and I thought I’d sort it out when I got to Sitges. When we got dressed up, I remember looking at my best friend Matt and laughed so much because of how bad he looked. He’s such a fun character that he pulled it off effortlessly though.
I looked at myself and I thought “oh, not bad”. The organiser saw it and said “you’re doing Beyoncé on stage, but not tonight, on Saturday night!”. I had a make-up artist and it was the same person who did the make up for Modern Family, the TV show.
Word got around very quickly that there was going to be a Beyoncé act on and he said to me “are you doing the Beyoncé drag?” and I was like “I’m going to try” so he said “I’m doing your make-up!”.
We had like Primark make-up, so it was essentially crayons…
MP: And how many people did you perform to?
AC: It was around 10,000 people all along the beach.
MP: Did you do ‘Single Ladies’?
AC: No, I did “Grown Woman”. So I wanted to do a song that hadn’t been done. “Single Ladies” had been done. I needed girls to do that or people to be my backing dancers. Watching the performance back, I learnt so much from it.
MP: Was it hard to go from there to the stage of Britain’s Got Talent?
AC: Well we got a lot of people come up to me to asking me if I would do Miami Pride, San Francisco etc. and I was thinking this isn’t actually an act. This was meant to be a one-off performance but they said “if you had an act, we’d book you”, so I thought about it. When I got back to the office, we played it on the big screen and the client happened to walk in and she was like “I can’t believe that, that’s amazing, you have to go on Britain’s Got Talent” and I was like “no, don’t be silly, I’ve only done this once”.
MP: So how did you get onto Britain’s Got Talent? Did you personally sign up?
AC: So I sent them the Sitges video and they replied back in October and they said “you’ll hear by the 15th February if we want to see you”. So I just thought okay and left it and forgot about it. The next day they called me, and I said “oh, I didn’t think you’d be in contact until February” and they were like “oh no, that’s the end point”. They thought the video was fantastic and wanted me to audition. Then I thought “hang on a minute, it’s the biggest show in the UK”.
MP: Although you said earlier you don’t get nervous, you must have been nervous about performing on the Britain’s Got Talent stage?
AC: I actually didn’t get nervous until I was backstage waiting to go on in front of the judges because seven people got buzzed off before me and I kid you not, in less than about ten minutes so they were literally on and off. The audience were shouting “off! off! off!”. I was thinking “this is real”.
My left leg was just shaking. Then all of a sudden I was on. The first step I was on the stage the audience just went crazy and that calmed me down. It felt like they accepted me and it’s true how they portrayed it, people didn’t realise I was a man.
I had a little bit of banter with Alesha that wasn’t shown and I got the audience to shout “hey! Miss Carter” a couple of times. Then Simon asked me my name and it began.
MP: Other drag acts like La Voix have been on Britain’s Got Talent, so how do you make yourself different from other drag queens performing on the show?
AC: I think the difference between myself and La Voix, and the way I stand out, is that it’s always been that very traditional English drag which is slightly panto. They look gorgeous but everything is very much exaggerated; the eyes, the wig and the dresses. I’m trying to keep it real. That’s why I think the audience were slightly confused because when they see a drag queen, they’re like, “that’s a drag queen” but if you look at my Instagram or Twitter, people say “I don’t know if this is a man or a woman”.
I wouldn’t say I’m doing a Beyoncé drag, I would say I’m doing a Beyoncé impersonation. I wouldn’t define myself as a drag queen. I would define myself as more of an impersonator. For drag queens I think there are a lot of different contributing assets, yes it’s your look but it’s also the attitude. How do you perform? Do you lip sync? Do you sing? Do you dance? It’s an array of different things. If you look at the drag queens on RuPaul, for instance, they are all very different but they are drag acts. They’re all characters. I’m not a character. I’m solely a performer.
I would only ever do Beyoncé. The good thing about Beyoncé now is that there are so many different looks, styles and songs as well. She has over 70 songs and they’re all very different. I think like any act, performers evolve over time. If it was like Madonna for example, you could have 5 different people do a Madonna and it would be very different according to the song, the age, the music and the style. I’m very much about perfecting doing one thing as oppose to doing lots of different things. For me, it’s a fun thing that I’m doing. I’m not doing it because I want to be a diverse performer. I think if you want a Beyoncé impersonator come to me. If you want someone else, find it elsewhere.