Drag, drama and song and dance artist extraordinaire.

Moira de Swardt chats to Brendan van Rhyn

Brendan van Rhyn arrives at the café where we’ve agreed to meet wearing a beanie. It hides his current spiky, “big” hairstyle. He laughingly explains that every time he does a show in drag it impacts on his ordinary life. With his current role as Frank’nFurter it’s the hair while with Cathy Specific it was the nails. Sometimes he does both roles in the same week.

RuPaul commented that there’s a definite prejudice from society towards men who use femininity as part of their palate. Brendan is discovering this for himself as he goes along. He often gets stared at by children and has experienced insults by women. Men are warier, possibly because of Brendan’s sheer size. He’s tall, even without the very, very high platform shoes he somehow manages to stride across the stage wearing – a feat much admired by many women. We smile as he comments that it’s a long way down if he loses focus.

Brendan never drags other than on stage or as publicity for his shows yet he’s becoming typecast in drag roles. Before “Mile High with Cathy Specific” he starred in “Ladies Night” where he played the role of Jules who comes out of the closet. There he got to sing “I am what I am”. Having attended Pretoria Boys High School he sang the role of Widow Corney in “Oliver” when he was in Grade 8. After his voice broke he graduated to the masculine roles of Benvolio in “Romeo and Juliet” and Guiseppe in “The Gondoliers”. His first professional role was as a naked gay boy in Pieter Toerien’s “The Judas Kiss” at the Alhambra, which was a biographical piece on Oscar Wilde. I tell him I saw the play. He looks a little flustered for a second or two when I admit that I can’t remember him at all in that.

Brendan is openly gay, having come out of the closet when he was 22, not a very shocking revelation in the 21st century, and, wait for it …, looking for a nice boy to take home to mum. Mum will welcome this. So will Brendan. And the lucky boy’s mum will probably also be pleased, because Brendan is a nice clean living boy, no drugs, no cigarettes and only the most moderate of alcohol use. However such a development in his love life will doubtless disappoint many of his admirers, male and female. He won “Mr Technikon Pretoria” one year, the same year he won “Mr Personality” – a rare combination. Brendan is naturally friendly and polite and attracts many fans, with whom he interacts warmly and spontaneously. I know. I am one. To add to this he’s not just a pretty face with great legs, a marvellous personality and a fabulous voice, he’s clever too. He has been the Transvaal Public Speaking champion of the SA Guild of Speech and Drama not only once, but twice! Some people do have it all.

Brendan worked for the SAA as a flight attendant, travelling the world, all the while plotting and planning “Mile High” in quiet moments – how many other shows get six years research of the theme? It is a first hand account of the life of a beautiful, glamorous woman who gets to work with the general public 30000 feet off the ground. The luxury of having been able to attend some of the great shows on Broadway and on the West End kept Brendan going through the more mundane moments in the air. His all time favourite is “Sunset Boulevard” which he saw at the Adelphi on the Strand. He also mentions a long list of shows he has seen which made me turn green with envy.

If Evita Bezuidenhout is South Africa’s most famous white woman, then Cathy Specific is South Africa’s favourite flight attendant.