Belfast drag artist-turned-stage star Paul Nugent has a famous fan in his corner: Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland.
ichelle O’Neill joked they could be sisters when his alter ego ‘the Big Girl’ attended a recent awards bash.
Paul told Sunday Life: “I met Michelle at the NHS awards. I was doing a comedy set. They gave me a wee special mention and called me the unsung hero of lockdown because I got all the nurses through [it] in the hospital watching the Big Girl videos.
“They had me doing a set in the Crowne Plaza hotel a couple of weeks ago and I let on I was on the phone coming into the event and that I only got in letting on I was Michelle O’Neill — sure, I’m her double.
“Michelle was like, ‘We’re more like sisters!’ And the whole crowd loved it. Michelle was lovely.”
It was that breakthrough success as a viral hit that has now led to him fronting a ‘one-woman’ show as the Belfast Ma.
Paul said: “I started a character called the Big Girl during lockdown, through TikTok, and that’s how my social media started growing. It got 10 million views and I’m now on 100,000 followers.
“And that’s how it came about that I got The Belfast Ma. I have really funny females around me in my family and they’re all older, so it was just so easy and relatable. And the way Thomas [McCorry] and Tom [Rowntree-Finlay] have written it is so clever.
“It’s just me on my own. It’s hard work, but the team backstage is great.
“They’re the ones who set me up for each scene. The show is on for an hour and 40 minutes.
“There’s a lot of interaction — basically because Sadie Devine, the character, is a 57-year-old woman and a Belfast ma and she’s so relatable.
“Tom and Thomas — the people who wrote the script — the way they’ve written Sadie, she’s fantastic.
“Personally, I think Belfast humour is one of the best, especially a Belfast mother. The one-liners in the show itself are brilliant.
“And everybody can just relate to that, so it just sets you up for interaction straight away. Our show is so rowdy.
“I have the difficult task of trying to get them roped in, because it’s basically a story I’m telling.
“It’s a comedy show, but there’s a sweet side to her [Sadie]. She is losing her son — her last son in the house is moving out because he’s got a girl pregnant.
“We’re excited to do the theatre because it’s a different atmosphere, but I feed off that energy off the bat. You just hear the roars of laughter and it’s something you feed off anyway.”
Paul, who is taking the show on tour around the country, has been a drag artist for 10 years as Etta Stiletta and joked: “I’ve always been an attention seeker.”
But as well as Michelle O’Neill, he has one other ardent fan — his mum, Mary.
He added: “She’s there every show. She loves it. She’s very proud and she’s convinced that they wrote this about her!”
The Belfast Ma: Away Play Round Your Own Door tickets are on sale now. (Note: June 3 at Theatre At The Mill, Newtownabbey, is sold out.) Remaining dates are as follows: June 11, The Playhouse, Derry; June 15, The Ardhowen, Enniskillen; June 16, The Market Place, Armagh; June 17, The Canal Court Hotel, Newry; June 25, The Riverside, Coleraine.