Virgin Australia cabin crew by day, world-changing drag queen by night

Meet Daniel Nauthe, cabin crew at Virgin Australia – aka Nancy Buoy. Nancy has been a long labour of love for Daniel, not only as a popular drag performer, but also as an ambassador for social change.

What made you want to work with Virgin Australia?

In February of 2010 I crammed my life into my microscopic red Barina, relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, to start my new life as Domestic Cabin Crew. The change came on the back of a quarter-life crisis, in which I realised I was in the wrong career. Working as an Executive Assistant to a CEO, it became apparent that I enjoyed organising the catering for meetings far more than fine-tuning the agenda or minutes.

Having spoken to Cabin Crew previously, I saw their job as freedom from a computer and the ability to serve catering without an agenda or pretence of executing business. Absolute bliss in my eyes.

How long have you been a drag queen?

The larger-than-life redhead that people know today has existed since 2014. That said, many of Nancy’s traits were developed in female characters I’ve portrayed since 2004. Carol had a passion for Australiana bric-a-brac, Nanna Flo spoke in a distinct Aussie vernacular, and the fascination with red was from Mercedes, although she religiously referred to it as ‘auburn’. The difference between these characters and Nancy was their aesthetic and characterisation, which used British pantomime dames as inspiration, not glamour.

Where did the inspiration for Nancy come from?

I have always enjoyed a pun, especially in a drag name. Not only does it show the performer as a talented wordsmith, but it highlights the notion that the characterisation (no matter how serious) is meant as a satire. I performed under numerous (distasteful) names before I stumbled across ‘Nancy Buoy’. I’d like to say it was a stroke of genius, although the truth is that ‘Nancy Boy’ was the affectionate name for my mother’s somewhat effeminate male Groodle.

The decision to change the spelling from ‘Boy’ to ‘Buoy’ was to add a degree of comedy, shifting the word combination from being potentially offensive, to that of an unfortunate naming mishap.

As for character inspiration, there are quite a few ingredients in that pot: Hyacinth Bucket, Tonia Todman, Maggie Tabberer and, of course, a healthy dollop of Australia’s most endearing redhead, Julia Gillard. As for the specific quantities and recipe, that’s a closely guarded secret.

Do you ever take inspiration for your performances from your day job with Virgin?

Of course! The things we see and hear on a daily basis are comic gold – there’s no point reinventing the wheel. Just to be clear, I don’t steal ideas, I only use them as inspiration. That said, I can’t wait for the day I can write and perform an aircraft scene (hint, hint, Virgin).

And is there anything you’ve done as Nancy that now helps you with your work in Cabin Crew?

Nancy prides herself on her polite dinner conversations. In fact, her ability to talk about nothing and anything with the same breath is mesmerising. Is this useful as crew? You bet!

Another Nancy trait is to slip Aussie colloquialisms into everyday conversation – another winner when jetting fellow countrymen around the globe. Thank you, Nance!

What’s the best thing about being a Cabin Crew member?

Definitely the team environment, but a hotel buffet is a very close second.

In what ways have Nancy and Daniel helped to make a difference?

Through Nancy I’ve been privileged to support numerous charities and bring awareness to topics close to my heart.

Nancy has a bewildering power: when she speaks, people listen. So why not use that power for good?

Nancy’s posting as Ambassador for the NSW police GLLO [Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers] was humbling, to say the least. Here is one of the most disciplined environments in the country asking Nancy to trot around and be their figurehead. It was surreal. My brief was simple: just be Nancy.

I was free to genuinely interact with the police and showcase their fantastic wit and natural approachability. What we ended up with was a series of videos that highlighted inclusivity and sensitivity, bridging the perceived gap between the force and the LGBTQI communities. It showed the NSW police for the kind and fabulous people they are. Reducing this perceived gap is a major aspect of the GLLO programme, as it helps build trust and confidence to ensure that incidents are reported to create a safer community.

For me, the gay male behind the mask, it was inspiring to see the tireless work that these dedicated individuals do, going the extra mile to help facilitate social change. The fact that I was able to help share, advocate and introduce my community to the force was an honour, and can only help to reduce crime, fear and anxiety.

Describe Nancy’s Look.

In order to keep Nancy relevant with her audience, she must evolve and change. However, I am very conscious of what she wears, and every outfit and accessory is meticulously planned. Skirts generally fall below the knee; shoes are conservative and match the purse; even her trademark décolletage is monitored for appropriateness.

For her to work, she needs to be approachable and family friendly – aesthetics play a huge part in this. Regarding cuts, colours and fabrics: not every outfit is flattering, but she’s only human, after all.

Are the red wig and lipstick a Virgin connection?

I started using red as a signature in 2007, three years before I started working for Virgin, and the iconic Virgin dress was launched in Australia. What drew me to the colour is its boldness and ability to stand out in a crowd. It’s classic, and walks the fine line between reality and costume – perfect for Nancy.

Nancy maintains that Juli Grbac consulted her extensively while designing the Virgin Australia uniform.

Where did you learn your amazing make-up skills?

Nancy’s make-up is an engineering marvel: wax, powders, multiple adhesives and foundation thicker than stucco. That said, if you were to ask Nancy about her beauty regime, she’d admit to nothing more than a good moisturiser, some mascara and a smear of her favourite lippie.

Her cleavage is pretty impressive, too!

Although the proportions of Nancy’s figure remain consistent, the actual construction of the famous décolletage, waist and hips changes daily, depending on outfits. Her larger and more iconic looks are generally made from a latex and silicon breast plate, steel ribbed corsets and carved foam hip pads.

How long does it take you to transform yourself from Daniel to Nancy?

As any lady can attest, getting ready can take a whole day or be done in 40 minutes. Unfortunately, taking a full day to slap on a face is a luxury few can afford – even Nancy. I like to allow 30 minutes for showering and shaving, two hours for make-up application and 30 minutes for hair and dressing – three hours all up. It’s excessive, but stops the stress sweats that can be problematic when trowelling on grease-based make-up. The make-up itself is more industrial than it appears in images.

How tall are you, once Nancy has her heels on?

Out of drag I stand at 6ft 2in; transforming into Nancy then adds five to six inches in shoes and another five to eight inches in hair. Nancy is a very statuesque lady at seven foot-plus.

Is Nancy an opportunity to express a hidden part of your own personality?

Funnily enough, my honesty level doesn’t change when portraying Nancy, although the manner I approach a topic is different. As Dan, I would say I’m blunt, deadpan and merely hope that my opinion or statement lands in the realm of sarcasm. As Nancy, I like to make people comfortable, feed them the metaphorical carrot before I slap them in the face with the stick.

Can you share some memorable Nancy Buoy experiences?

Two years ago, a colleague approached me and thanked me for making my online videos. Oddly, though, she wasn’t watching the videos for herself, but was sharing them with her mother, who had dementia and had become transfixed with “the stupid red headed woman”. The videos, she said, were a moment they could share together, laugh and connect. That was the moment I realised Nancy’s audience was larger and more varied than I had first thought.

Another situation was an email from a lady in Melbourne, who asked if her daughter could enter a painting of me in a school art competition. Her daughter had become interested in Nancy’s masculine femininity and the use of red. Needless to say, I not only approved the use of my image, but I also bought the painting.

Why do you think the drag queen movement is still so strong in Australia?

Humour. Every drag performance, serious or not, requires a level of humour, and we Aussies have it in spades. We all know that the 7ft, hairy-legged individual with the Adam’s apple and static-charged wig isn’t really Britney Spears, but we love her all the same. Importantly, ‘Britney’ is in on the laugh, too. Aussies also love rooting for the underdog, so Australia is perfect for supporting new talent and developing new performance trends. This safe harbour has allowed Australia to keep ahead of the pack and have a unique and courageous flavour.

How did you feel when Australia voted ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage in the non-binding postal vote?

The outcome was great, but I personally didn’t agree with the method used.

Nancy, on the other hand, was in her element. Ever the optimist, she took it upon herself to educate local millennials on the existence of snail mail and location of post boxes in their neighbourhood.

Are Aussie drag queens fiercer than the rest?

I doubt any country is ‘fiercer’ than any other. That said, a local queen will generally be able to hit the sweet spot of her audience more accurately because of a shared history and perception of the world. Australian audiences also have an innate mateship with local performers that allows us to skip over the line of political correctness without too much worry. Cheers for that!

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