Thursday. 18/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Hester Underhill

May the best woman win

Even in normal years, UK winters are a particularly dreary affair: grey, gloomy and seemingly endless. The usual tonic is a cosy evening in the pub, a simple pleasure that has been cruelly snatched away from us this year. But now that spring shows signs of finally appearing, tonight we bid farewell not just to winter but also the one thing that has been getting many Brits through this whole affair: RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

The all-singing, all-dancing television spectacular has been hitting small screens every week since January. Hosted by the ultimate drag “glamazon” RuPaul Charles, the programme’s 12 contestants have been whittled down to just four. Released tonight on BBC iPlayer is the series finale, which will climax with the crowning of the UK’s “next drag superstar”. A spin-off from the US hit series that has been running since 2009, the version is tailored to British tastes. The past few weeks have seen the queens competing in challenges such as writing and performing a campy Eurovision hit, creating pantomime dame-inspired outfits and even appearing in a soap opera-themed sketch called Beastenders.

Going head-to-head tonight are plus-sized Glaswegian loudmouth Lawrence Chaney, technicolour Barbie doll Ellie Diamond (who works in a drive-through in Dundee when she’s not doing drag) and Naomi Campbell’s Welsh doppelganger Tayce. My personal favourite is Bimini Bon-Boulash (pictured, on right, with Diamond), a pint-sized, yellow-haired firecracker known for her spot-on impression of former UK glamour model, Katie Price.

In a world where reality television can often be cruel fodder for social-media trolls, this show has heart and focuses on real talent. It is sequin-spangled entertainment in its purest form. And while I’m definitely looking forward to the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, it’ll certainly be a bittersweet farewell to this joyful dose of escapism. My personal pick? Bimini for the win!

Travel / EU

Boarding pass

There’s a lot that Europe cannot agree on at the moment when it comes to coronavirus vaccines, including the efficacy and risks of the Oxford-Astrazeneca jab, and whether to allow Russian and Chinese versions for use. But at least one conversation is moving forward apace. The European Commission confirmed this week that vaccine certificates for travel will be in place by 1 June, in time for the summer tourism season. The passes will oblige member states to let in travellers who have had vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. EU countries will also reportedly be allowed to augment those passes by allowing people who have had other vaccines, such as Russia’s Sputnik V, which is being distributed in Hungary and is being considered by other countries including Austria and Germany. It’s a practical answer to the slow, fractious nature of vaccine distribution on the continent at the moment, as well as a determination to allow Europe’s tourism-reliant economies some semblance of normality this summer.

Migration / USA

Welcome additions

The US House of Representatives will vote today on two immigration bills that would introduce a path to citizenship for more than five million undocumented migrants. The first bill relates to about 4.4 million “Dreamers” (who entered the US illegally as children) and those fleeing disaster or conflict who were given temporary protections.

The second bill, less reported though more likely to garner bipartisan support, offers about one million undocumented farm workers the opportunity to become US citizens. Those who have worked at least 180 days in agriculture in the US over the past two years will be offered a path to a green card if they also pay a $1,000 (€840) fine. Seasonal workers, among the most vital migrants for the US economy, have been in short supply after the pandemic forced borders to close. Countries struggling to attract a migrant agricultural workforce – including the UK, which faced a challenging harvest last year – would do well to cultivate similar incentives.

Climate / France

Clean race

Lawmakers in France’s National Assembly this week approved a plan to enshrine protection of the climate into the country’s constitution, the first step towards holding a national referendum on the matter. The idea was taken from Emmanuel Macron’s (pictured) Citizens’ Convention for Climate last year, which allowed ordinary people to advise the government on how to tackle the problem. Since the constitution holds great importance in French society, the vote could help to raise awareness of the need to protect the environment. But critics say it lacks concrete policy implications and has a more nakedly political goal – a wave of environmental awareness has allowed France’s Green Party to eat into Macron’s base. Even right-wing leader Marine Le Pen is looking to outflank the president on climate, accusing Macron of “political posturing” and promising to lay out her own plans next week. Protecting the climate seems a clear vote-winner ahead of next year’s presidential elections but here’s hoping that the issue is paid more than lip service by ambitious politicians.

Art / Japan

Where the art is

The 15th edition of Art Fair Tokyo, one of Japan’s largest art-industry shows, returns tomorrow after a one-year absence and runs until Sunday at the Tokyo International Forum. It features 117 galleries from across Japan and three from overseas. Visitors can expect everything from contemporary art to traditional Japanese painting, antiques and crafts. “During the pandemic, most art fairs were cancelled,” Naohiko Kishi, AFT’s executive producer, tells The Monocle Minute. “AFT will be the first to take place at this scale. We felt that we had to take the first step forward.” Art fairs such as Tokyo’s are about discovering new talent and networking opportunities, both of which are sure to carry added meaning after a long absence. “As humans, we need to keep creating for our economies and culture,” says Kishi. “Around the world, economic activities might have stopped but art did not; artists kept creating.”

M24 / Monocle on Design

Suited and booted

From footwear to jackets, we explore the trends that are leading the way when it comes to style. Plus: the latest design news from Tokyo.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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