If home is where you can be yourself, Spanish-born Adria Alvarez aka drag queen Shandy Half Pint has found it here in Bow.
When Spanish-born Adria Corral Alvarez came out at the age of 19, they were constantly repressing their feminine side, trying to fit into their perceived expectations of the people around them.
‘But this just made me go the other way,’ they laugh: ‘I turned to drag as therapy so when my feminine side did come out it was even bigger and more extravagant and crazy, but it was like water and oil, my two personas were so separate.’
Fast forward nine years, Alvarez aka Shandy Half Pint is now a much-loved member of Bow’s close-knit drag scene, hosting bingo nights, gay speed dating and karaoke in our local queer venues from Jungle Electric cafe to the Bow Bells pub.
Alvarez moved to the East End from Spain four years ago and now lives with two friends on Dalling Way just off Old Ford Road.
‘It’s a superpower knowing that I live in East London,’ they say: ‘I feel like I can be me and live my authentic androgynous self to the full.’
As well as delighting East London’s crowds with drag performances dressed in their trademark off-the-shoulder hot pink dress, Alvarez works as a makeup artist at a spa on Oxford Street by day and a part-time usher in the West End by night.
On top of that, they somehow have the time to squeeze in studying for a degree in Hair, Make-Up and Prosthetics for Performance at University of the Arts London (UAL).
If Alvarez’s busy schedule is a source of stress you would never guess it. Chatting over a chai latte at Jungle Electric on the Roman, they exude a buoyant energy that makes you feel immediately comfortable and entertained in their company.
But Alvarez says they have not always been so free-spirited: ‘I didn’t realise how much I was holding myself back in Spain because I was in constant fear of being judged or slut-shamed so I didn’t put myself out there enough.
‘When I moved to Bow it was like a moment of rediscovery, there’s a lot of power in being able to be yourself and realise that you’re a blank canvas.’
Now Alvarez uses fashion to express their feminine side that they felt so conflicted about in Spain. Meeting them on a sunny February morning, a simple string of pearls is the only accessory to Alvarez’s light purple fitted top, paired with black flowing trousers that could be mistaken for a skirt.
‘If I wore this in Spain I would get looked at, but here, it’s nothing special. It’s not like I’m showing my tits or my arse, it’s nothing offensive, but if I wore it there people would look at you like, what are you wearing?’
Notwithstanding the February weather, Alvarez says their favourite item of clothing is the crop top: ‘Especially very colourful cutesy crop tops covered in Pokemon characters or Powerpuff girls,’ Alvarez beams: ‘I just love them. There’s nothing better than a crop top and a pair of high-waisted jeans.’
In the drag world, however, Shandy Half Pint is more flamboyant with her fashion. According to Alvarez, when taking to the stage with an expectant audience before them, nothing works as well as a long, pleated skirt with a voluminous petticoat to create the perfect silhouette.
Moving to East London gave Alvarez a second chance to explore their identity, coming to the realisation that they are gender non-conforming. After that, drag no longer felt like quite the same outlet for self-expression as it had in Spain.
‘Now that I felt free to live my own true self through my community, I started thinking that I wasn’t as passionate about drag as I used to be, and I wondered if I should create something different,’ they explained. ‘But then I decided, no. I’m Shandy, and Shandy is a bombshell and it’s my moment of living that fantasy.’
Though Alvarez loved their experience living off drag in Barcelona where they were performing nearly every night, now they want to focus on it as a part-time job and hobby.
Self-professed musical theatre lover, Pokemon enthusiast and collector of dolls, Alvarez says that they ‘think and exist outside the box,’ keeping their drag acts fresh to maintain Shandy’s spark. After graduating they hope to start their own business making whigs for drag queens.
Their gay speed dating night, Romeo &…, is run for singletons in the queer community who are bored of Grindr and other dating apps and want to make meaningful connections while also having a laugh.
With games from kinky bingo, to guessing the queer icon, and others a little more intimate, Shandy and her co-host, Christina Draguilera, are bringing something a little different to East London’s queer dating scene.
But what made a Spanish drag queen name themselves after a nineteenth-century British drink that Charles Dickens considered the perfect ‘alliance between beer and pop’?
Alvarez’s original drag name, Nancy Famosa, was inspired by a famous Spanish barbie doll brand, which wasn’t quite as well received among London audiences.
Before going on stage one night, Christina offered to buy them a drink to soothe their nerves. Declining, Alvarez said that they never drank before performing, but eventually succumbed to Christina’s protestations, ordering a shandy, ‘Oh wait, a shandy half pint’.
And thus the name was born.
This March, Shandy will be taking the mic at Jungle Electric cafe hosting a Mama Mia party with never-heard-before material performed by Half Pint herself. The inclusive vegan cafe, with its welcoming interior and versatile events space, is fast gaining popularity and becoming a hub for Bow’s queer community.
Alvarez says: ‘In the past, you wouldn’t have seen so many gay people around. You might find one in one of the newer cafes like Mae and Harvey but not really in many other places on Roman Road.
‘I know there are some bad consequences of gentrification, but it’s not just rich white people moving to the area. I don’t know exactly why a vegan coffee shop is so appealing for queer people, but I think it speaks to the overall diversification of Bow which makes people feel safer. The queer community is definitely becoming more visible.’ says Alvarez.
And their advice to the next generation?
‘Don’t be afraid of failure. I think that held me back a lot, but I would say that there’s no wrong way of doing drag and you don’t need to start off being polished. Whatever you bring to the table will be unique and remember that.’
Find another article from our ‘This is Home’ series about Sam Valiant, a second-generation Bengali in Bow.
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