50 years on from the Stonewall Riots in New York, reporter Stacey-Lee Christon talks to the North-East queen of drag, Miss Tess Tickle, as she prepares to march down Fifth Avenue.

TESS TICKLE, the County Durham drag queen who has been dominating the scene for more than a decade, is a force to be reckoned with. She proved that when she took on a town mayor for his comments on homosexuality and transgender people, and called for him to step down. Which he did.

Miss Tickle is an outspoken, vivacious, trailblazer with a wicked sense of humour. But beneath the glittering costumes, bouffant wigs and pristine make-up is a man who grew up in a North-East pit village wearing rigger boots and racing pigeons with his old man.

He believes in equality and kindness and encourages everyone to be true to themselves.

His dedication to the cause sees him spend hours every day replying to the flood of messages that are sent to him from his 50,000 social media followers.

The Northern Echo:

Tess with Sonique at Durham Pride

Most are from endearing and inspired fans who admire Tess and everything she stands for, but some are malicious and cruel.

The trolls are often ignored but some receive a reply, Tess encourages them to find love not preach hate. (Maybe with the occasional quip.)

The 33-year-old lives in Ferryhill Station, where he grew up with his parents and his brother.

“I was a proper pit village person. I wanted to race pigeons, I bred German Shepherds and I was always in rigger boots, wax jackets and jeans,” he said.

“At school I was quite sassy. I didn’t hang around with the lads and although I had some nice friends we have drifted apart now.”

Tess attended Ferryhill Station Primary School and Ferryhill Comprehensive before studying A-Level chemistry and psychology.

“I finished my first year of college and didn’t continue, I got a full time job as a restaurant manager and that was like a stage. I was entertaining people and I loved it.”

Tess met his partner, Mr Tickle, through mutual friends shortly after he came out to his parents.

“I lost six stone worrying about telling them.” He said. “My mam looked at me one day and said ‘there’s something the matter with you.’

“She said ‘I don’t mind if you think you might be or you’re not sure,’ and I said I think I might be.

“She asked if I wanted a bacon sandwich and I just cried with relief. My dad came upstairs and said ‘you alright like’ and that was it. They were fully supportive.”

At 22 he was asked by his friends to dress up as a woman at a joint birthday party for a laugh.

The Northern Echo:

Tess before the Virgin Pride flight

“Six months later another friend, who is now also a drag queen known as Miss Cara, said Newcastle Drag Idol was on and I should enter because I’d win, so I entered and I won.”

The name Tess Tickle is in honour of Tess’ Nan, Tesse.

He added: “I wanted to be Tess, but at the time all of the drag names were innuendos so that’s why I am Tess Tickle.

“I put the groundwork in within the LGBTQ+ community, taking bookings but only charging for expenses and after a year or so Miss Cara and Miss Emma Royd were created.

“We are three best friends and we still work together now. We wrote out first ever show on a beer mat at the bingo.”

Ten years on and Miss Tickle has a staggering portfolio.

She recently presented Durham Pride for the fifth consecutive year to an audience of 25,000 people.

She was headhunted to appear in a TV advert for Virgin Atlantic’s first Pride Flight last year and she is a regular performer with the Dreamboys in Newcastle.

However, she is determined not to forget her roots and still performs in and around County Durham every week in mostly sold-out shows.

Tess’ passion for the region is evident in the £1m she has raised for North-East charities since the start of her career.

She is an ambassador and trustee for The Angel Trust alongside good friend Scarlett Moffatt, and she is a relentless campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights.

Today she in New York for the 50th anniversary of the stonewall riots and tomorrow she will march through Fifth Avenue to commemorate the movement.

“I think I might cry. I am always mindful of what previous generations have done.”

Tess has her sights set on working in TV or radio and you can expect to see her on a big screen near you soon.