Asttina Mandella find her influence from everything from Tina Turner to cartoons, and her looks on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK were just as varied as her influences. While her time on the show has come to a close after a scorching lip-sync, Mandella has big plans for the future, but first…a rest! I caught up with Asttina to chat about her Drag Race UK experience, the difference between confidence and cocky, and from who and what she draws her biggest influences from.
Michael Cook: As you look back on your RuPaul’s Drag Race UK experience, how do you look back on it now?
Asttina Mandella: Wonderful, so wonderful. It is so rewarding to go through the experience. I think what is so rewarding is that we went through this during a pandemic. Only the twelve of us, along with the Season 13 US girls, have gone through it also. It is such a new and rewarding experience to go through. We are still going through the whole experience and it kind of has not stopped yet. It is wonderful and an honor and it is something to look back on and say “we bloody did that, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!”
MC: You are absolutely right, filming a competition show like this is challenging and stressful, but adding in a global pandemic must make the experienced feel totally heightened!
AM: it’s crazy! First of all no one thought we would find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, no one at all. Secondly the fact that we have found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic and we have been able to do it and have done it. Honestly, I have to pat everyone on the back, not just the show, but everyone who is going through this “Panny-D”!
MC: You found yourself doing so well in the competition and then suddenly found yourself in the bottom two. What was it like going from such an tremendous high to then the next week, hitting such a low?
AM: You know it’s weird. I always took every episode as a fresh start. At the beginning of the week, I would say to myself “you have not won anything, it’s a brand new week, let’s do fresh” and that is what I did. When I look at the statistics of top, middle, and bottom, it’s like snakes and ladders really. Its kind of like, it is what it is and you can only do what you can during the day or what happens on the runway and that’s it.
At the time that we were filming, I was going through so much in my head mentally. I was feeling a lot of feelings of being over the whole process; the show, the entire existence and production; I was just kind of over it. That caused me to get in my head about things a bit and feel a certain type of way and that was a bit of a downfall for me. Like the professional that I am though, I said that I was going to get out of it, this is what is happening and what I have made, and I am going to deal with the consequences. It was about going in, staying strong on the runway and whatever happens happens.
MC: Confidence is a crucial part of the competition, and so many let their inner saboteur take over sometimes. Does the confidence that is required come easy to you?
AM: I think you need confidence in everything. People might say “you have too much confidence” and that’s ridiculous, you can’t have too much confidence. Its when you turn your confidence into cockiness, assuredness and boastfulness, that is when it becomes bad. It makes you look bad, and that is when your confidence is coming off as you being a brat and you are shoving it in people’s faces. It should never be that; confidence is an an internal trait, not an external one to be thrown at people. It can also depend on how people take it though, but it also comes down to how you give it off. There is a fine, fine line.
MC: Everything about you exudes a vibe of fashion and pop culture. Tina Turner is a massive influence, it goes without saying.
AM: Oh, Tina Turner YES! I am inspired by everything honestly. I am inspired by seeing something as simple as a paper bag flying in the wind. Imagine if I had material that would do that, maybe wrapped around my body, and then my brain goes from there. I think it has something to do with my kid-like brain, wanting to be like Peter Pan; I am just a big kid. I love cartoons and I think drag and creative outlets, you have to have space where your brain can go buck-wild crazy; that is what being creative is. I can just look at something and be inspired. It depends on my mood and how I am feeling also. A lot of wizardry, cartoons, animation; I love it so much.
MC: What drag performers from the US version of RuPaul’s Drag Race has has influenced you the most?
AM: I think one of the biggest ones, it’s one that we all already know, is Raven. I think when she came on, with her makeup, she definitely changed the understanding of makeup and how it can be done in such a way. At the time, it was such a change and such a gob-smack. It made people understand their skill set more in makeup. Willam is another of my favorites, how she is just “done”; that’s drag. Miss Fame as well; understanding the beauty in makeup and how it can enhance and change. Adore Delano as well is one of my favorites. She was being herself unapologetically, and then realized that All Stars was not for her and she was past it and she was happy to bow out. That is such a powerful thing to say. We have watched these things “over the pond” for so long, we understand it and subconsciously it is a part of us. All of those things kind of help us to apply as not just drag artists, but as people.
MC: Your time on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK has ended; what do you have planned next?
AM: I am going to make loads of food, watch the show and just enjoy it like everyone else. I have merch coming out very soon and I am happy to get that out for the fans and the kids. I am going to take a little time off for myself and my mental health right now, it is so important to look after yourself physically, emotionally and mentally. All I know is that I want out of the lockdown!
MC: How did you manage to stay creatively fueled and inspired during the past year, especially in the midst of filming for you?
AM: It was hard. If anyone is saying, no they are lying (laughs). I woke up this morning and my breakfast was a dish of ice cream, and a few weeks ago, I stayed in bed for three days; that is how I felt. It is fine to feel these things and to do that; just to lay in bed and lounge. I think that is the toxicity of the society we live in; that it’s bad to be not reactive and to feel low. We need to open up about these things and to start doing that, that is my plan. Get it out, cry; I cried on the main stage! Cry, it is fine to feel all of these emotions.
Follow Asttina Mandella on Instagram