Divina de Campo on drag, empowerment and playing the villain in The Spongebob Musical

Divina De Campo on stage in The Spongebob Musical.
Divina De Campo on stage in The Spongebob Musical. Mark Senior

Divina de Campo is, in every way, extraordinary. She has been sashaying her way in the world of drag for almost two decades now and with each passing year, she becomes even more beloved than before. In addition to her drag roots, she is also an incredibly talented singer, a trait that has landed her her latest adventure, The Spongebob Musical.

She plays the infamous Krabby Patty recipe-stealing Sheldon J. Plankton, and let me tell you, she is EXCELLENT. We all remember (and love!) Spongebob for being a ray of sunshine, and the show embodies that through and through. However, it also leaves room for the villainous Plankton to steal the show with his master plans.

Divina and I sat down after the matinee performance of the show in the Birmingham Hippodrome a few weeks ago to chat about all things drag, empowerment and performing in The Spongebob Musical. We had such a special conversation, one that I am enormously excited to share with you, dear reader.

So without further ado, let’s get into it!

How did Divina de Campo come about?
Well, I had been doing drag for a little bit and I think there’s a moment in every drag queen’s journey where you start with one name, and that’s what you thought you were going to do, and then you work out what it really is that you’re going to do and then you have to rename yourself. So you start with one name, and you thought it was a great idea, but it doesn’t quite fit or it doesn’t work for who the audience is etc.

Divina was born six months into working at a new venue called The Factory which is now sadly gone… It was in a building called The Place which was one of the first big-scale nightclubs in the UK with a 3,000 capacity. People used to bus in to Stoke on Trent from Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, North Wales and all over to come and club in Stoke on Trent… It was THE place to be. They had Elton John and Stevie Wonder performing, and then I was performing on that stage every Saturday night singing… VALERIE!

I was wondering if you could share a bit about your coming out journey.
I mean, as a kid, as a little queer-do in the ’90s, because of Section 28, there was no talking about it. There weren’t any support networks. There wasn’t anything in school. There wasn’t anything at the local authority level and the bullying was rife because teachers felt like they couldn’t do anything about it…

In year 10, I was like, “Right, no guys really, no more girlfriends”, and everyone was like, “Yeah… we already know”. The only person who was shocked by it was my mum, like, come on. I’ve been wearing silver shoes and running around in Dorothy dresses since I was three years old! I loved The Wicked Witch… I know, I know… And now I’m green!

But, coming through that, there’s all this trauma, so you sit with that, and you have to work all of that stuff through.

Section 28 wasn’t repealed in most of the UK until 2003, and I had almost finished university by that point. Then you’re going out into the world, and there’s still homophobia with people who are working in those institutions, so you’re still facing it all through that period, and it wears down on you.

And then you finally go, “Alright, actually, I’m going to really step into this”, and once you really step into it and you go, okay, okay, fine! Dresses, heels, wigs, you’re gonna make fun of me for this stuff? Fine. Let me turn that into my superpower. Let me take hold of that and turn that into power.

Did you find that competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK strengthened that for you? Did you see yourself in a different light when you were on national television?
I’ve been really lucky, and I had done loads of little bits and bobs of telly before RuPaul’s Drag Race. So I’d been really lucky in that case because it’s kind of like a training platform.

I’d already had some people stopping me in the street and going, “Oh, you were on The Voice!” After I’d done The Voice, I went on a cruise, and there were people in the lift going, “I just saw you on The Voice, didn’t I?” And I was like, “We’re in Miami. How do you know that?!”

So that, and then All Together Now and then all of the other little bits and pieces that I’ve done just gave me that kind of training ground for talking to people and people coming up to you to say “Hey” etc.

Drag Race UK just helped to give me a platform that has allowed me to do stuff like this. Chicago The Musical wouldn’t have looked at me. I don’t think the creatives putting Spongebob on would have looked at me without Drag Race. So I’m eternally grateful to Drag Race for that.

I’m curious as well, is being in the spotlight and in the public eye as Divina de Campo scary?
Yeah, I mean, I’m lucky in that I’m not famous, but I’m gaymous. The gays know who I am, but lots of straight people have no idea who I am. So I can still go to the middle aisle in Aldi and look at a computer-generated hamster wheel!

It’s a nice level to be at because I’m not so famous that I can’t go out and I can’t do normal things. I can still do normal things. When it does become scary is, you know, the far-right is really on the move in this country, and we’ve had 13 years of divisive politics and punching down, and austerity always leads to the right. You just have to look through history.

These people are actively trying to demonise minorities right now, and when you’ve got stuff like refugee camps being attacked by far-right activists, then you sort of go “Okay, actually, there is an issue in the UK.” You do become aware as somebody who is gaymous, you’re more of a target than your average Joe on the street. Like the far-right turning up at drag queen story time… It does give you pause for a moment just to go, “how can I mitigate any dangers towards me and more importantly, to my family?”

That is scary, but I’m happy to hear there are positives too. Were you approached to play Plankton in The Spongebob Musical?
They asked me to audition… I’m not Meryl Streep yet! I should have a BAFTA, a Tony, an Olivier and all of the other things as well! I had a creative relationship with one of the producers where we were going to do some stuff together, but it didn’t happen in the end, and then I think that just kept me in their mind, and they sort of went, “Ah, maybe that would work for Plankton!”

I jumped at the chance because Plankton is really interesting as a character. You think that he’s just evil, but then you find out why he’s a bit evil as the show goes on, so he’s got this bravado and this bombastic nature and then actually, there’s this tiny little scared child hiding underneath all of this. He’s a really interesting character and completely different to everything that I’ve done so far. I’ve tried to do that for my entire career where I’ve asked myself, “Okay, what have I done? What haven’t I done?” Let’s try that.

Challenge is exciting for you?
Absolutely, just because, you know, you could get very stale very quickly if you’re not learning all the time and finding new things. I have always tried really hard to keep everything as new and fresh and moving forwards as possible.

What’s your favourite scene in The Spongebob Musical?
My favourite scene in the show is called ‘Big Guy’. It’s where Plankton is asking Karen to call him something else because he thinks Sheldon is such a small-sounding name.

That’s where the root of his kind of mean spirit and his desire for power comes from because he is a piece of Plankton; he’s essentially powerless. It gives you an opportunity to almost feel sorry for him.

An image of Divina de Campo as Sheldon J. Plankton in The Spongebob Musical.
An image of Divina de Campo as Sheldon J. Plankton in The Spongebob Musical.

What have you learned from Plankton?
I’m still finding things in Plankton. I’m still scratching around inside and finding different little ways to play him and finding different little ways to deliver lines and stuff like that.

With a show like this, you know, like Shakespeare, where you’re going along with it, and it’s there on the page, you know when they’re going to laugh, but with this show, there are different things that each audience is going to react to, and depending on how they do, that informs how you then deliver the next bit of this bit or that bit because it’s about bringing them along with you.

The Spongebob Musical, starring Divina de Campo, lands in Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from May 9-13. For more information about the show and where to get tickets click here.

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