How exactly does a boy from the bush end up as the star attraction on a Mardi Gras float sponsored by one of the biggest corporate entities in the world? JEN COWLEY asked Tim Millgate and his alter-ego, drag queen Tina Turn-on, to explain.
AS far as online turn-ons go, they don’t come much bigger than Facebook. With more than 1.5 billion users worldwide – nine million in Australia alone – the global social network knows how to pull a crowd.
Which is perhaps why the company has asked Dubbo ex-pat Tim Millgate and his drag-queen alter ego Tina Turn-on to be the star attraction on its inaugural float at this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Facebook will this year for the first time come aboard as a sponsor of the phenomenally popular parade, which draws some 10,000 participants and hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over Australia and the world, making it, like Facebook, a force to be reckoned with.
So how does a boy from the bush wind up as the flag bearer for the corporate giant’s first official foray into the glitzily symbolic showcase of gay and lesbian pride?
“Well,” says the 32 year old who has gathered a solid following for his drag act as Tina Turn-on. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
This year will mark a neat decade since he first marched in the parade, with which he’s been variously involved as both organiser and participant.
Millgate – as Tina – hosted his own float in 2014 as part of his 30th birthday celebrations – no small feat given the strictly controlled and hugely competitive process of entering the parade.
But he was looking forward to simply enjoying the spectacle this year.
“I wasn’t going to actually march – I wanted to just enjoy watching the parade go past, which I’ve never really done before.” Serendipity changed his mind. “As chance would have it, a girlfriend of mine now works at Facebook and they were having their meetings about what costumes they’d have for the float, what music and so forth and someone said, “Hey – let’s have a drag queen on the back of the float! Does anyone know any?”
“My friend piped up and said, “Well, I know one…” And that was that – Tina’s their girl!”
It’s the gig of a lifetime and a massive feather in Tina’s oversized wig. Millgate didn’t hesitate.
“For this to happen on the ten year anniversary of my first march, it sort of feels like the planets have aligned – it’s come full circle.
“Going from being a participant to having my own float to then being the star on a corporate float – it’s humbling and very exciting. But it’s also very daunting, given Facebook isn’t exactly a little backyard company. Millgate is still pinching himself. “To be a quasi-ambassador for a global brand on the massive stage that is the Sydney Mardi Gras is an honour I really can’t get over – I feel so blessed to have been asked.”
Blessed, but daunted, he admits, saying he initially reacted with trepidation.
“Last year, one of the big corporate floats was Qantas – and their star was drag queen, Courtney Act of Australian Idol and Rupaul’s Drag Race fame. “She’s an icon in terms of drag, and so when Facebook called me two weeks ago and told me they wanted to have an iconic drag queen as part of their float, I was a bit taken aback.
“I’m an occasional drag queen, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself iconic. I’m just a humble little boy from Dubbo.” Still, he’s keen to step up – on Tina’s towering heels – and “give it a go”.
Having been honoured with a place in Millgate/ Tina’s 2014 fabulously flamboyant 2014 float, I have some small idea of exactly how much planning – and how much glitter – goes into preparing for this night of nights.
I’m keen to know how the Facebook float is shaping up, and what fabulousness Tina will be offering this year’s audience.
But Millgate is keeping his cards uncharacteristically close to his chest.
“I had my first meeting this week and while I can’t tell you too much, I can say that around 50 staff from the Facebook office are going to be a part of the float.”
He’s also been invited to have 20 of his “nearest and dearest” marching boys join Tina for her big night.
That’s going to cause some bitching in the ranks, I venture, and Millgate gives his trademark chuckle.
“I’ve already had some comments about who will make the cut, so to speak! Let’s just say there’ll be a bunch of Mardi Gras-appropriate gentlemen helping me out on the float, and I – well, Tina – will be affixed to the back of the float.”
Millgate has seen the designs but won’t share – they’re very much under wraps, he says.
“I can tell you there’ll be more glitter than you can poke a stick at!”
Not surprisingly, there’ll be lots of colour and fun, but Millgate says it will all be in tune with Facebook’s values as a good corporate citizen.
“They really want to focus on getting that across: simple, but incredibly fabulous and effective.”
Facebook’s decision to partner with Sydney Mardi Gras is a statement in itself.
The corporate giant lends significant gravitas to the already powerful social and political movement that is this globally renowned event.
“I met with the head of policy for Facebook and Instagram in Australia and New Zealand, and she’s a huge supporter not just of being part of Mardi Gras, but of the movement.
“Many of your readers will remember that, in the recent push for marriage equality and gay rights in Australia, a lot of people changed their Facebook profile pictures to have a rainbow screen – and the numbers behind that are staggering. Millions and millions of people did that globally.”
Facebook – as much as it’s a social platform, and is a part of every day life now – as a company supports many human rights campaigns, he says.
“As a business, they have the power to make change and to exert political force on a range of issues, not just gay rights.
“It’s quite heart-warming to see a company the size of Facebook doing something that’s not just for the bottom line, or for the media kudos, but actually fighting the good fight.”
Millgate acknowledges that amid all the glitz and glamour and feathers and frills, lies a huge responsibility.
“I’m a humble country lad who’s about to represent a huge global brand in their inaugural Mardi Gras float – that’s a massive responsibility for a whole raft of reasons.
“Part of the reason I said yes is that Facebook aligns with my ethics and philosophy – it’s all about inclusion and friendship and bringing people together. Facebook is all about letting you be yourself, and also about giv-
“I’m an occasional drag queen, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself iconic. I’m just a humble little boy from Dubbo.”
ing ordinary people a forum and a platform.
“That’s also what Mardi Gras is about – and it’s what I’m about.” If Millgate is thrilled, Tina is beside herself – literally. “She’s not been out and about for a while, so she’s pretty excited. We’ve set up some preliminary meetings to discuss outfits and she’s thrilled with the way things are looking.
“We can’t say too much, but it will be Facebook-appropriate with a lot of sparkle. And the hair is a very big factor – do we up-do, down-do, go blonde or colour…? There’ll be lots of opportunity to be creative, and Tina’s looking forward to that!”
Mardi Gras will be held over the first weekend in March, with the parade on Saturday, March 6 – and Millgate is thrilled that he’ll again have a large contingent of Dubbo friends and family lining Oxford Street to cheer Tina on.
“The experience will be fabulous for anyone who wants to come down to Sydney for the weekend to have a great night and support a great cause.”
A Dubbo boy representing a global company at a huge international event – dressed in spangles and feathers and glitter and sparkle? Everyone press “like”.