Paul Stone aka drag artist Victoria Sponge shoots for the stars in Altınkum, Turkiye

Turkiye has a long history of male entertainers dressed as women. Under Ottoman times, they were known as köçek. More recently the country has had renowned drag artists such as the iconic Seyfi Dursunoğlu, better known by his stage name and drag character Huysuz Virjin (The Grumpy Virgin). Two young pretenders to Seyfi’s crown, Akış Ka and Mustafa Kınalı (aka Kika), both appeared in Transpose, a show at London’s Barbican, earlier this month for this year’s Pride.

A lesser-known fact is that British artists are now adding to the drag scene in Turkiye, and it so happens one is a regular performer in my local pub, the Northcote Arms.

Paul Stone – not to be confused with the President of Hertz cars – is a slim, good looking 50-year-old. Originally from Peterborough, in England, Paul has been going to Turkiye for over 20 years.

The connection to Turkiye all started when his brother got a job working in Izmir teaching English. The trip became permanent when Paul’s brother fell in love and married a Turkish woman, resulting in Paul becoming a regular visitor to the country to see the pair.

Paul’s new sister-in-law persuaded him to come with them to Altınkum, a seaside resort on Turkiye’s western coast near the ancient city of Didim and about a 90-minute drive to either Izmir or Bodrum.

As a child actor in his teens, Paul would have loved a bigger platform to ply his talents, but the huge breakthrough that you always dream about didn’t happen for him.

With rent and bills to pay, Paul had no option but to get a “normal” job and, while this had kept the wolves from the door, it never felt to him that it was where he was destined to go. Showbusiness was still calling his name and he knew he had to listen.

Paul’s drag name is Victoria Sponge, a blonde bombshell who has been gracing stages with her live performances since 2016.

Appearing in drag started as a way for Paul to earn some money. He was good at it and the bookings kept coming, allowing him to give up the day job and have time to concentrate on his other love, writing.

Paul has written, and starred in, several plays, including the acclaimed Queen & Country, and productions that have been broadcast on BBC Radio and Netflix.

His favourite production that he has acted in was a history series called Churchill’s Secret Agents. Currently available on Netflix, the five-part documentary recreates how minorities were trained as special agents to work with resistance groups as assassins and saboteurs to support the Allies’ war effort during the Second World War.

While visiting his brother in Altınkum, Paul met and befriended the Turkish family that ran the Shooting Star bar in the centre of the town. When they learned that he had started doing drag shows, Shooting Star booked him to perform at their venue too.

To many people outside of Turkiye, the country has a somewhat conservative reputation, so Paul was initially surprised at being asked to perform in drag there. He later came to realise that most of the bigger tourist resorts had been showcasing drag for several years.

Paul was attracted to the idea of performing at Shooting Star as there were no LGBT+ venues in the local area. Having drag artists on their line-up would help establish the bar as a safe space for the local gay community without being too overt in this small town.

And so it was that Victoria Sponge took to the stage in Turkiye. In her own words, she found herself feeling “very nervous, more than the normal butterflies”, in the run up to her first show at Shooting Star.

Victoria was particularly worried about part of her repertoire based on her experiences of things said to her and her ex-partner, a British Pakistani. The song was essentially a parody of the old British music hall favourite My Old Man’s A Dustman. Victoria’s version is My Old Man’s a Muslim.

The day after her first performance in Turkiye, a delegation of local waiters from the surrounding restaurants came to ask about the song. They had heard the word ‘Muslim’ featured a lot in the ditty and were concerned why. As they could not understand the rest of the words and what the meaning was, Paul got to go through the song with the waiters, “Thankfully, they all left happy” Paul explained, and Victoria has continued to perform the song ever since.

The British entertainer has been performing in Altınkum for eight years now, making several trips there during the tourist season between May and October.

Paul Stone aka Victoria Sponge

Paul’s alter ego Victoria Sponge has become a big hit with the tourists, who pack out the bar each night eager to be entertained.

Ever keen for audience participation, Victoria will have several of them on stage accompanying her as she performs classic hits such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Let’s Do the Time Warp Again to the delight of all present.

As someone who has been performing in drag in both the UK and Turkiye for nearly a decade, Paul has always felt that Turkiye was reasonably welcoming and liberal country to visit and perform in as a homosexual. Yet the more conservative climate of late, and the deliberate targeting of the LGBT community by right-wing and ultra-religious politicians has started to drive the gay community in Turkiye back underground.

“There is still an active gay scene in the larger cities like Istanbul and Izmir,” Paul says, but “things feel quieter and more repressed in smaller towns”. The situation reminds Paul of Britain in the late 1980s when he first came out.

For now, Victoria Sponge continues to shine bright in Altınkum, so if you happen to find yourself holidaying there, be sure to book yourself a seat to the hottest show in town!


All photos in this story courtesy of Paul Stone