Regina Fong was the stage name of cabaret artist Reg Bundy.
With her signature flame-red hair, creative performances and overly complicated back-story she helped to revolutionise drag culture in London back in the 80s and 90s.
In this article we’re going to take a look back at Regina’s legacy, watch some of her most iconic performances, and learn why you should NEVER call her a drag queen!
Who was Regina Fong?
Before we meet Regina let’s spend some time getting to know Reg.
Born Reginald Sutherland Bundy on 26 May 1946, Reg originally trained to be a dancer.
He started his career in the West End as a dresser (someone who maintains the costumes for a show, and is usually very stressed helping actors get in and out of costumes quickly), before taking on dancing roles in a number of stage musicals.
He used this experience to secure a dancing role in the film The Slipper and the Rose (1976), a retelling of the classic fairy tale Cinderella.
The Disappointer Sisters
In the late 70s (and before developing the character of Regina) Reg was one-third of the cult cabaret troupe The Disappointer Sisters.
Alongside his partners Rosie Lee (Roy Powell) & Gracie Grab-it-all (Graham) Reg performed across London at various pubs and clubs.
So infamous was the trio that they were invited to take part in a BBC documentary about the history of the song ‘My Way’ in 1979 (see below).
Their segment was filmed in Camden’s lost space The Black Cap.
“People like Adrella, Regina, Lily Savage were superheroes. They were cheerleaders.”
Introducing Regina Fong
Regina Fong emerged in 1985, and quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with.
Originally inspired by Lypsinka, a drag queen from New York City, Regina’s act was a breath of fresh air on the London scene.
At this point drag had largely become stale, with many people believing it to be misogynistic and old-fashioned. The majority of acts lacked a modern wit or sense of frivolity, more interested in old Hollywood glamour or maintaining the type of drag associated with the Music Hall era.
In contrast, Regina’s numbers, made up of expertly edited snippets of TV commercials and dialogue from camp classic films interspersed with TV theme songs and jingles from adverts (and let’s just take a moment to recognise that this was in the days before we all had computers and editing software to make the act of putting soundtracks like this together 300 times easier), brought a touch of absurdity and an appreciation of low culture to the stage.
And the character came with a wonderfully wacky and convoluted backstory
H.I.H. (that’s Her Imperial Highness) Regina Fong was born to the Imperial Russian family of Saint Petersburg in 1905, and was then almost immediately hidden away due to her startling mane of red hair on orders of the Czar.
She was forced to flee to Britain (via China) following the Russian Revolution. Carrying only a handful of items, which included three Faberge eggs she’d managed to hide in places no one would look, she ended up in Berkshire, England, under the protection of the British Royal Family.
So fleshed out was this back story that it formed the basis of Regina’s one-woman show ‘The Last of the Romanoffs’, which played at both the Edinburgh Festival and London’s Bloomsbury Theatre.
Association with The Black Cap
London’s legendary Black Cap on Camden High Street was the venue most closely associated with Regina.
It was here, every Tuesday night as host of the amateur talent show, that Regina rehearsed and refined her persona.
The act involved A LOT of audience participation. The audience, or as Regina liked to call them, The Fongettes, were instructed (or commanded, depending on who was telling the story) to perform along to an array of jingles, songs and monologues throughout the night.
And this helped her to develop a fanatical, cult following at the venue, all with their hands up, air-typing along to The Typewriter Song.
So beloved by the venue was Regina that, upon her death, a blue plaque was erected in the venue’s beer garden, marking her importance to The Black Cap’s identity and history.
Though she never experienced fame at the same level as contemporary Lily Savage, Regina (and Reg) skirted around the edge of the mainstream throughout her short career.
Most notable of her forays was as co-host of ‘Club X’, a late-night arts and music magazine type show that sought to blend the high-brow and low-brow.
Though not a success, the show did help raise Regina’s profile across the UK.
The video below captures the chaos and disorder which contributed to the show being axed after only one series in 1989.
As himself, Reg appeared in two of playwright Neil Bartlett’s productions.
The first, ‘A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep’, was a one-man show that paid homage to pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon and was staged in 1989.
The second, ‘Night After Night’, was a celebration of the world of West End musicals that was staged in 1995. This was later adapted as a radio play for BBC Radio Four.
“…there was something about the simplicity and absurdity of that act… which just worked”
When you hear people talk about ‘British drag’ what they’re often referring to is the style pioneered by Regina and her contemporaries – witty, subversive, larger than life characters that celebrate low culture and lampoon politics and public attitudes.
Drag goes in and out of fashion, and after a period of great advances for the LGBT community in the 60s and 70s it started to be considered old fashioned and not representative of a more homogenised, mainstream image of queer life that many strived for.
Regina was part of a new-wave of entertainers (which included Lily Savage and Adrella) who changed this – modernising the image of drag and celebrating diverse British culture and humour. This influence can still be felt in the present generation of British character-based drag acts.
But, it wasn’t all about performance. In the 80s, with the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging the community drag queens became cheerleaders and beacons in the community, providing an opportunity of escapism and raising much needed funds for research and respite.
Amongst the most visible of these was Regina, who tirelessly campaigned and raised money through performances and fundraising evenings.
Reg Bundy died of cancer on 15 April 2003, aged just 56.
Every year since his passing up until the closing of The Black Cap in 2015 a tribute night was held in his honour, revisiting some of his most iconic performances as Regina Fong and raising money for cancer charities.
Perhaps fitting that we end this article with the song that Regina ended most of her shows with: ‘Tell Me What He Said’ by 60s songstress Helen Shapiro.
For the number Regina would insist all of the night’s performers (as well as any brave Fongettes in the crowd) join her on stage to lip synch along with the tune.
And, yes, you better believe that there was audience participation involved!
Watch the video below and see whether you remember any of the moves.
Oh, I almost forgot…
Make sure you never refer to Regina Fong as a drag queen, as she reportedly hated the term.
Suitable alternatives include ‘cabaret artist’ and ‘female illusionist’.
Got any memories about Regina Fong that you want to share?
Any tidbits that I haven’t included in this article?
Why not get in touch and let me know?