Movies & TV

Bearded Austrian diva says she is now living her dream

VIENNA: Legs crossed, one leopard-skin patterned spike heel dangling, the bearded diva with the expressive brown eyes leans back and laughs when asked what has changed for her since winning Europe’s biggest entertainment contest nearly a year ago.

“I’m living my dream,” Conchita Wurst said. “Everything fell into the right place for me.”

Everything may be a big word but for the drag queen, whose journey of self-discovery took her from small-town Austria to victory at the 2014 Eurovision song contest, the last 10 months appear to have confirmed that her path was the right one.

She rubs shoulders with fashion icons Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl-Lagerfeld and plays sold-out gigs across Europe. Her appearances on Austrian radio talk shows attract callers from as far away as California.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has paid his respects and she has addressed the European Parliament on LGBT rights. Her biography has just appeared in German, with other languages to follow.

Less than a year ago, over 15,000 Russians demanded that their state broadcaster purge the contest from its programming because of Wurst, accusing “European liberals” of subjecting their children to a “hotbed of sodomy.”

Wurst says there is also a growing group of “incredible” Russian fans pushing to have her biography published in Russia.

“I made the decision years ago not to focus on negativity,” she said. Since the win, “many people have told me that they have changed their mind about me – they got inspired, which is just overwhelming for me.”

Wurst looked as if she were never anyone else than the persona that has made her famous but even if she says that she is now immune to hate, that wasn’t always so.

Born 25 years ago to innkeepers as Tom Neuwirth, Wurst was raised in the sleepy and conservative Austrian town of Bad Mittendorf.

Wurst came out at 17 but the declaration backfired with her family. After several performances brought her some local fame, she was asked by a reporter if she was gay. She realized that she had to stop lying to herself and those closest to her.

Wurst’s parents might have suspected her sexual orientation – she had loved dressing up in women’s clothes since childhood. Still, she says that for them, the shock was “not the fact that I’m gay but [that] a week later a newspaper will come out and everybody will know it,” including the conservative clientele frequenting her parents’ inn.

Her name is a play on the Austrian expression “it’s wurst to me” (“I don’t care”).

Her winning song “Rise like a Phoenix” describes her transformation from a youth hurting under the taunts of peers to being totally comfortable as both Neuwirth and Wurst.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 16, 2015, on page 10.

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