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Cardiff Character: Rob Keetch

Rob Keetch prepares to get ready for his transformation

The man behind Beverly Ballcrusher talks Cardiff’s changing LGBT scene

Gazing out across Cardiff Bay, the bespectacled man in the navy jacket does little to draw attention to himself. He is fine with this, because Rob Keetch draws enough attention to himself as his alter ego, drag artist Dr Beverly Ballcrusher.

Not only does he himself transform on a weekly basis, but he has witnessed the transformation of Cardiff’s gay scene from underground secret passwords into clubs, to same-sex couples gaily walking down the street holding hands.

Rob Keetch prepares to get ready for his transformation

Rob Keetch has seen the gay scene transform

I am what I am
Born 45 years ago in the Rhondda, Rob’s transformation began early when his mother relocated him and his two sisters to a South Yorkshire village. He struggled for a long time to fit in, eventually forming life-long friendships. He rebelled very little as a teen, something which he puts down to respect for his parents and the morals they raised him with.

Coming-of-age in the 1980s as a young gay man also played its part. “I tried everything to blend in. Everything. But it didn’t work. I still exploded out of the closet,” he smiles dolefully. A doting brother and uncle, Rob emanates warmth as he talks about loved ones, including his ten-year-old house rabbit, Gio. The only time his twinkle dims is when he speaks of his father’s death at 49, and of watching close friends succumb to HIV/AIDS. “There was one year where I went to about a dozen funerals between friends and family,” he sighs, looking away.

Exuding a serenity that comes from these experiences with death, Rob is a “seize the day” person. He is generous with his time and skills. His full-time job is as retail services manager at Techniquest, but he still finds time to volunteer as entertainment manager with Pride Cymru, and a trustee with Safer Wales, a charity helping homeless children and victims of domestic violence. “My mother taught me to share my toys. So I share what I can,” he shrugs.

The glamour of being a drag queen

Being a drag queen isn’t all glamour

Life’s a drag
It seems fitting that this altruism led to Beverly’s birth. A last-minute MC replacement at a HIV fundraiser, Rob was instantly booked for a regular weekly slot. Spending 21 years on the circuit, Rob has watched trends come and go. Once the “PVC Queen”, he is now more comfortable in a simple pink dress and a pink wig. It takes a lot of work to to make a drag act look effortless, and Rob is unimpressed by the “American-style” of drag popularised by RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is characterised by lip-syncing and put-downs. “If you’ve worked a working men’s club in the Rhondda at half past eleven at night, and you can keep an audience, then you can call yourself a drag queen.”

he admits that beverly has affected his love life, with potential partners pre-judging him based on his “hobby”. He is matter-of-fact about this, but it is obvious that this has been Beverly’s biggest drawback.

“If you’ve worked a working men’s club in the Rhondda at half past eleven at night, and you can keep an audience, then you can call yourself a drag queen.”

 

Although his hobby has given him opportunities, such as appearing on The Weakest Link, Rob has no desire to follow in the footsteps of Paul O’Grady and bring Beverly to the masses. He is much happier tipping along, with Bev as a professional hobby. He is adamant that she remain a sideshow to his life, “As soon as I stop enjoying it, I’ll stop.”

 

Bev talks her inspiration

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