Harry Clayton-Wright is an internet sensation, his videos having attracted a combined total of 2.5 million-plus views. But there’s more to this Blackpool-born digital star than his visually arresting online output. Zone met up with Harry ahead of his appearance in Birmingham, where he’ll be performing his first ever full-length theatre show, Sex Education...
So, Harry, tell us - who is Harry Clayton-Wright?
I’m an entertainer, performance artist, internet provocateur and international mischief-maker. I’m lucky to have travelled the globe, performing all around the world.
How old were you when you decided you wanted to perform?
I’d say it was in high school. I always loved drama club. We had to decide where we wanted to go to college, and I chose to do a performing arts course in Blackpool. My interest was making contemporary dance routines to Kate Bush songs, and luckily I had teachers who facilitated that creativity. I enjoyed it very much, but I knew I wasn’t going to travel a conventional path.
Tell us about your formative years growing up in Blackpool...
It’s a hedonistic place, and I really fell into that scene during my late teenage years. Blackpool has a really lively gay scene. I grew up watching incredible drag queens and staying out until I had to go to college the next day. I’d sleep under a pile of coats in the rehearsal room.
Who/what inspired you to become a performer?
I think growing up in Blackpool and being exposed to entertainment helped. I was also obsessed with Pee-wee Herman when I was a teenager, and that style of offbeat character comedy. It amazed and delighted me that they got to create their own world with their own rules.
And who inspires you most now?
I can get quite lost on Tumblr, enjoying ridiculous GIFs and pornography.
Your biog states that your work spans genre and taste levels. Can you expand on the latter?
I’ve always been someone who likes to push the boundaries, and that can sometimes be quite shocking for people. I’m quite well known for an act where I dress as Freddie Mercury from the I Want To Break Free video and insert the handle of an upright vacuum cleaner up my butt. That’s certainly not to everyone’s taste, but it’s definitely entertainment!
Sex Education is your first full-length theatre show. Tell us about its origins. What can audiences expect?
The show is about how we learn about sex, the lack of LGBTQ+ sex education and how that shapes us later in life, specifically within my own experience. My mum never spoke with me about sex and my dad bought me five gay porn DVDs when I was 14 years old. So all those years later, I interviewed my mum so that we could finally have the chat, which was really funny, moving and revelatory, actually. We really get into it. And as an audience, we watch the porn I was given by my father. Throughout the show, I weave-in stories from my sexual past and open it up for discussion. It’s a cathartic experience. It’s also a lot of fun and quite explicit, both emotionally and visually.
Of all your YouTube videos, which was the most fun to make?
I used to make deliberately bad music-video recreations, mostly because I thought it was funny and also because fans of the original artist would be quite angered by them and leave hateful comments, which just gave them way more views. One remake of a Jennifer Lopez video has over a million hits, and that was quite fun to make. I fashioned a bikini out of tin foil and stuck it to my body with PVA glue. On one occasion I made a video in the bathtub, singing Part Of Your World from The Little Mermaid - and from doing that, I was flown to LA by Gay Times to interview the directors of the film at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
What annoys you about the performing arts?
The lack of financial stability certainly keeps things interesting.
Where have you most enjoyed performing?
I’ve had some truly incredible and debauched times at Glastonbury. One year I played a teenage girl who wouldn’t leave her bedroom, in a performance that lasted 107 hours (the entire duration of the festival). The window got smashed in on the last night. Things got pretty crazy.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your work?
I feel like anybody purchasing a ticket to my show is always a huge compliment.
And the worst…?
Well, some people would call this the worst, but I like to wear it with a badge of pride. The Mirror came to a performance I was in and called me a ‘deranged manic gay bloke’. I was utterly thrilled; it’s still on my bio to this day.
You currently perform solo. If you had free rein to produce a performance piece with anyone, who would you choose?
I’ve been admiring Lydia L’Scabies - an amazing drag queen from Brighton - from afar for a while…
Where would you like to see yourself and your art form in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to have made some more shows, short films and created a body of work to be enjoyed as an exhibition. As long as I’m pushing myself further and still learning, then it’s still enjoyable.
And finally, top or bottom?
I’m very ambidextrous. Door’s on the latch...
Harry Clayton-Wright’s Sex Education shows at The Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham, on Monday 12 November as part of annual queer arts & culture festival SHOUT.
Photo credit: Eivind Hansen
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