Thursday, 18 April 2019

At Prague Pride with Conchita Wurst

By Emily Prucha | Prague Daily Monitor |
12 August 2015

Speaking with the Eurovision 2014 winner on her recent rise to fame and getting some advice for tough teenage years.

On a sweltering August afternoon, just hours before Conchita’s headline concert for the 2015 Prague Pride Festival, we meet for our interview in her suite at the Pachtuv Palace. Tonight is Conchita’s first performance in the Czech Republic and her first-ever visit to Prague. An elegant 17th century baroque palace-turned-hotel, only a minute’s walk from the Charles Bridge, Pachtuv Palace is the headquarters for the festival’s media interviews. It’s a romantic kind of hotel, and an apt location for a personality who describes herself as “obsessed with architecture” and who sees Prague as a “fairytale,” similar to her home in Vienna.

Wearing a little black dress and simple make-up, with the exception of heavy mascara on her super-long lashes, Conchita greets me warmly. Her trademark beard is closely trimmed, and it matches the color of the long black hair that frames her face. Her English is polished and crisp, and she exudes a warm frankness that has captured television audiences in Austria, members of the United Nations and the fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as thousands of fans in the LGBT community and beyond. The Prague Monitor is the only English language news service who’s interviewing Conchita today, so I feel honored and a bit nervous.

Sitting on a couch in a room that overlooks the hotel’s inner courtyard where other journalists wait their turn to interview the pop-singer drag-queen, known throughout Europe as Austria’s “bearded lady” or “the Queen of Austria,” I ask Conchita about her rise to international recognition. First appearing on the Austrian version of the “X Factor,” (Die große Chance) in 2011, Conchita describes the competition show as just one of many that she entered in her quest to become visible.

Overall, these types of competition shows gave her contacts and exposure to people that she might not have met in her ordinary life, which was a good thing. Yet, she cautions aspiring performing artists to beware of thinking that shows like this are the real world. From her experiences, she quickly learned that if you don’t have talent, you won’t succeed. Winning a contest, even Eurovision, doesn’t guarantee success. Once you get the chance, you have to work really hard to make it a jumping board for success.

In her words – “Don’t be lazy. You have to work your butt off to be successful. And even if you are successful, like Madonna, she also probably was very worried about her new record release. That worry will never end.”

Although Conchita didn’t expect to win the Eurovision Song contest in 2014, win it she did, becoming the first Austrian winner since Eurovision 1966. With this win, she found herself catapulted beyond pop culture to the political arena and the world of fashion. Now that she’s performed for the European Parliament and the United Nations and modeled couture on the catwalk for Jean Paul Gaultier, I ask Conchita how she feels about her successes, particularly since she studied fashion in school.

“I’m not used to winning. And I’m not used to being successful. That was a big surprise to me…After winning, doing the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier was overwhelmingly great. It’s still so surreal having this man kind of in my life, calling him, or being allowed to call him, a friend. That’s just amazing.”

For Conchita, summer is LGBT season. During the summer, there are the Pride events where the LGBT community comes together. “In summer, I always get the chance to visit my people from my community, and also meet people again, like artists I have met last year in Stockholm and then they’re booked in Madrid as well. It’s really nice you get this family feeling of this bunch of actors and performers.”

When I ask Conchita if she sees herself as an activist or a performer in the LGBT community, she replies, “I’m just a stage persona. I just take this opportunity to reach many people through one interview. I speak out my mind, which is not the ultimate of truth…I’m aware that I’m a lone figure, that’s for sure. I don’t see that I’m doing big things just because of being who I am.”

As our interview draws to a close, I ask Conchita if she has a personal message for Czechs.
“When it comes to the LGBT community, I always try to say to the teenagers and the kids who start to feel that they are different than many other kids in their surroundings. That they should trust in the fact that it will get better. The teenage years will pass, and this is not fun for anyone, whether you’re straight, gay or have red-hair. This is just not the nicest time. I always try to make them believe that love will find you. This is a big issue in the LGBT community especially, kids are afraid of losing their parents, losing their friends.

“My mother has probably a very hard way to think about it, but for me it’s a very healthy one if I’m honest, and I do have a great relationship with my parents. My mother’s always said to me, just because we are your parents, we don’t have to be your friends. And that’s true. Sometimes your kids turn out the way you don’t want them to, and you don’t really reach them. And sometimes those bonds just break.

“This is what I want to say, even if that happens, people will find you. You will make friends, you will find people who will accept you the way you are. And this is something you should really believe in.”

Blurring gender has become popular for the millennium generation. Miley Cyrus says she sees herself as gender neutral, Facebook users can personalize their page with a rainbow filter and for the first time ever, the mayor of Prague will walk in the Prague Pride Festival’s Parade on August 15. Still, the road to acceptance and equal rights for all can be a bumpy one.

With the Prague Pride Festival well underway, Conchita’s message of love and acceptance seems fitting to send out to this fairytale city in the heart of Europe. I hope Czechs are listening. I know I am.

Emily Prucha is a Life Section columnist for the Monitor. She likes writing about bilingual and multicultural families.
You can reach her at emily@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.