(Photo: Beth Hall)

I meet Harry Bishop as he is having a particularly busy week. Last night, he got back from London where he met with MP Sarah Newton to introduce himself and talk about the community and housing crisis. It’s only 10AM, and he’s already had two meetings, with more scheduled after our interview. And, this comes right after a week of hardcore campaigning for the FXU elections, while still trying to finish his third year as a Politics with English student at the University of Exeter. Not to mention celebrating his win.

“I’m so tired,” the 20-year-old laughs. “But I love it. I thrive on this pressure!”

It’s early on a Thursday morning when we meet, but the Upper Stannary bar is busy. About half of the tables are taken up, by students and lecturers alike, which creates a light chatter buzzing comfortably in the background. That and the smell of freshly brewed coffee makes for a soothing ambiance impossible to find elsewhere on campus.

Harry apologises for being late, even though he’s only two minutes behind schedule. Seeing him, it doesn’t seem that his busy life has had any visible effect on him. His hair is properly combed, and he is sporting a royal navy coat, a dark turtleneck sweater and a leather satchel (the only thing missing are the silver platform boots he wore on the night of the election results. I’m a little bit disappointed). Yet, he comes off as quite proper, almost presidential even. FXU presidential, at least.

A lot of the buzz I had seen about Harry had been mainly focused on his flamboyant and eccentric behaviour, and his sexuality. Not even two minutes into the conversation, it becomes clear that there is a whole lot more to him than that. Beneath those silver platforms boots, are the two feet of a man who actually cares. And passionately so.

‘I’ve always been theatrical. I always wanted a career in the arts and the theatre. Then that fizzled out, and I decided I was more interested in helping people, so I joined party politics.’

True to his open hearted nature, he reveals to me that his desire to help others comes from an incident from his childhood where he was sexually abused.

“When I was 12 years old, I was sexually abused by a family friend on Christmas Eve. That had a really detrimental effect on my mental health.” 

Harry has been very forthcoming about the abuse, including writing an article about it for the Falmouth Anchor. (Photo: Christer Davanger)


As he speaks about this incident, effortlessly and with his heart seemingly pinned to his sleeve for anyone to see, it’s clear that this is in the past. He’s grown far past all of it (besides writing a brilliant piece about the experience in the Falmouth Anchor). 

When he finally came to terms with what had happened and told his family, the boy who had always been so outgoing, made a full retreat.

“It was a hard time. It knocked my confidence a lot, I became very insecure, very introverted, which wasn’t me at all.”

Besides the effect that the incident had had on himself, seeing his family and his mum, whom he describes as his closest friend (“this is really cringe-worthy!”), go through it was really difficult.

“It was a hard time. It knocked my confidence a lot, I became very insecure, very introverted, which wasn’t me at all.”

“My mum, who worked in supporting children who had been through sexual abuse, blamed herself a lot for not being able to see it in her home. It was not her fault. She did not know. She had no reason to know, and of course, I hid it from her, to protect her,” he says, while ensuring that they are all at a good place now.

During the election, Harry says some students questioned his potential role at the FXU because of a lack of experience as he had not been involved with the student union prior to his third year.

Growing up in Redditch, he started out as a political activist for Labour (he worked in the houses of Parliament for former shadow Secretary of Work Rachel Reeves, cites Mo Mowlam as his role model in life, and former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is his personal go-to-person for political advice). He was also involved with his local Children’s hospice, a hospice which he represented in Parliament at 15, pleading for more money to be spent on the cause.

Now, he’s involved with RAD (Raise & Donate) as Events and Social Officer and works in the Witness Service at Truro Crown Court.

A lack of experience isn’t much of an issue.

The idea of running for FXU President for Community and Welfare, however, Harry says came only last summer after running into the woman currently filling that position, Alexa Webster.

“I met Alexa in August at a conference, she was amazing, and from that moment I knew I wanted to do what she was doing. I had big ideas and I knew I could achieve them in this position. So I put myself on the line. I just wanted to be an option. If I didn’t win, I didn’t win.”

Harry and Alexa are working closely through the transition period. (Photo: Beth Hall)


Describing his life outside of politics, it seems Harry himself thinks he’s boring. He lists no particular hobbies, no hidden talents or anything out of the ordinary. Besides reading books about the controversial and the macabre, missing his doberman Barry and going out on day trips to St. Agnes and St. Ives with his friends, it seems Harry doesn’t consider any of the things that he does particularly exciting.

But, for a person who spends the week talking to MPs about political crises and the weekend performing in drag in local pubs, I suppose most things is relatively boring.

“When I came out, the one thing my mum said was ‘oh, don’t start dressing up as a lady’. So, that was the one thing I decided to do.”

“When I came out, the one thing my mum said was ‘oh, don’t start dressing up as a lady’. So, that was the one thing I decided to do,” he says about the drag part of his life.

I make him tell me about his alternate drag persona, Bettie.

“Bettie is my favourite part of my life. She is a character, but Bettie is still me. We’re basically the same, but I can get away with more as her. It’s more accepted that I can say certain things as Bettie,” Harry explains.

Harry says that Bettie gets away with things Harry wouldn’t. (Photo: Russell Barnett)

 

Bettie, whom Harry performs as in local Cornish pubs, is an old diva heavily inspired by American drag icons along the lines of Bianca Del Rio, BenDelaCrème and Jinkx Monsoon. Harry reveals she is a very expensive hobby, her main wig alone (there are four in total) costing £250. Add clothes that dragged up and a painful steel-ribbed corset, and you have Bettie.

“I don’t know what she is. She doesn’t sing, she tries to dance, so I can perform, but it is lowkey shit.”

As for the actual shows, Harry says it’s mostly about talking to the audiences and playing games.

“I don’t know what she is. She doesn’t sing, she tries to dance, so I can perform, but it is lowkey shit.”

“I like to play “Never Have I Ever” with the audience. I like to just insult them, pick on them, bully them. In a fun way, obviously, not in a crude or an offensive way,” he says.

“We did an x-rated version of ‘Pass the Parcel’. Some layers of the gift would have the regular Haribo in there, while some would have a sex toy. Just the usual stuff.”

On the subject of drag, it seems Harry is just as well-informed and researched as he is with politics. He takes the time to teach me the difference between American and English drag, something I had no idea existed, and I thought I knew everything there was to know about drag.

“I was very interested in American drag when I first started. But, I’m a lot more interested in British drag culture now. I hated British drag culture to start with. It’s much harsher makeup. You’re not trying to look like a woman; you’re trying to look like a man dressed like a woman. American drag is more about ‘how convincing can I be?’. I’m moving more towards the British drag look.”

 

Towards the end of our chat, I decide to give Harry some quick-fire questions on the more important stuff in life. 

Q: Are you a cat or a dog person?

“Dog person. They make me happy. They are so much more bubbly. When you walk into a house, the dog comes running up to you, licks your face, wees a little bit on the floor. When you walk in and there’s a cat, he doesn’t come running up to you and jumps on you, he just stares at you and goes ‘where the hell have you been?’.”

Q: Favourite emoji?

“The aubergine.”

Q: What was the last photo you took on your phone?

“This could be really bad!” he laughs. “The last I took on my phone is a recipe, we’re not doing that, we’re not having that, that is boring. The last photo I properly took was with my friends in St Agnes. My friend is in Hong Kong, studying there for a year, so I see her very rarely. She came all the way to Cornwall just for a Starbucks and to go for a walk on the beach.”

The (second to) last photo Harry took on his phone.

Q: What recipe was it?

“Raw chocolate balls. They’re a super food!”

Q: What is the perfect Friday night for you?

“Several bottles of red wine, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Ben & Jerry’s. What a shitty night in I have!” he laughs.

Q: What’s your go-to-place in town?

“I’m a Club I rat, I’m afraid. I’m happy to admit it.”

Q: Favourite song?

“That changes on a daily basis. My most played is always Sissy That Walk by RuPaul. Can I just give you a few? I can’t stop playing Remedy by Adele. Loving Someone by The 1975, Biffy Clyro with Folding Stars.”

Q: Favourite movie?

“It used to be The Dark Knight, but then I went off of that type of genre. Perks of Being A Wallflower. It’s the only film I’ve ever had to pause to sit and cry at.”

Q: Favourite TV show?  

“Broadchurch. I’m just trying not to say RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Q: Finally, is there anything else you want our readers to know about you?

“I’m a slytherin.”