A DRAG queen who founded a national children’s story-telling company has spoken of its importance and his own experiences from a difficult childhood to “adoring himself and teaching children to adore themselves too”.

Sab Samuel – also known as Aida H Dee – moved from Bath to Cogan in 2018, and has since realised his passion for educating children to love their differences through literature.

Now living in Cardiff, this month – as part of LGBTQ+ History Month – he will be taking his stories to schools and nurseries across Penarth and the Vale via social media during the pandemic.

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Explaining the origins of Drag Queen Story Hour UK ®, Sab, who is 25, said: “I’d spent years at university learning maths and marketing, wondering what I wanted to do with my life.

“But I knew I loved performing as a drag queen since I started four years ago.

“I was the person at school who really took the brunt of the bullying.

“I was at an all-boys school in Bath and when I was 15 I first performed in drag for an end of year play.

“It was the first time I felt accepted at school. I got a letter from the governors and the headmaster that was really positive, and one boy who had bullied me was suddenly praising me.”

Sab’s aim isn’t for those who are different to be accepted though, he is determined not to stop his work until people who feel different also feel loved and embraced for those differences.

“My drag name – Aida H Dee – was born from that really. I sat there asking myself whether I wanted to create this drag act, and just decided I wanted to be myself.

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“I’m hyperactive, I’m autistic, and I’m ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I decided to call myself Aida H Dee, because I am that – I don’t have it.”

It’s an important differentiation which Sab says he tries to instil in every child he speaks to through his story telling.

“Recently at a book signing two parents brought their child along who is also ADHD,” he said.

“The child told me how they haven’t told their friends yet. They told me how life would be more difficult for them.

“I saw this young person being crushed by this diagnosis, it was awful.

“What I want to tell those children through Drag Queen Story Hour UK, is that they can hone those skills that others will never be able to.

“Those who are different will have more steps to climb than maybe someone beside them, but when they’re at the top their legs will be much stronger.

“Drag Queen Story Hour UK is not just about learning and accepting, but adoring and being intrigued in other people’s differences. I want to leave those children wanting to know more about one another.”

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Life is much better now – he says – than it was before he moved to south Wales.

“Mental health is something we like to explore. My life before I moved here was not good. I was upset with where my life was at and I wanted to do more with it.

“If I had a boyfriend in Bath I’d have hesitated to hold his hand in public. In Cardiff and Penarth I haven’t felt that way.”

In February 2017 Sab was assaulted and thrown down a flight of stairs for “acting like a girl”. The assault caused months of pain to his shoulder, which often dislocated afterwards until he had an operation.

“I hadn’t even done drag until then – that happened to me because I was an effeminate gay man.

“I don’t hide it, and I sometimes talk about it to kids. If you’ve got marks on your body that’s still your body – it is you and it has made you stronger, you don’t just have it.

“At my first performance as a drag queen later in the year I sent the person who assaulted me a letter inviting them to come and watch – needless to say they didn’t turn up!”

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He says he felt he was deprived of growing up surrounded by LGBTQ+ literature.

“LGBTQ+ people have been written out of history. Shakespeare never wrote about homosexuality, Dickens wrote about ghosts and dwarves, but never a gay man.

“All of the books I’m producing will have some sort of queer person in them – and not just for plot point.

“I don’t say any character is gay, bisexual, trans or whatever. If you asked me if Eddie in Three Goats United is gay I would say ‘Yes he’s a little gay goat’, but it’s probably quite obvious.

“The important thing is the story has nothing to do with the fact they’re gay or not, it’s about celebrating difference.”

He wonders why gay culture in Britain is so focused on sexuality and lust, and hopes to play a small part in changing that.

“If we didn’t sexualise homosexuality and it wasn’t born out of a culture of sex from the very beginning, perhaps we would have more gay book shops and coffee shops than we do gay nightclubs.

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“Do more gay clubs than gay book shops help? I don’t know, but I’d like more book shops anyway, because you can never have too much literature.”

Sab’s journey with Drag Queen Story Hour UK has taken him to the Edinburgh Fringe and Brighton Festival among lots more, and much of his work now centres around working with local authorities to better inform diverse children’s education.

In that time he has seen lots change, and he is pleased with the way the Vale of Glamorgan Council has got on board, but it is clear there is still a long way to go.

“In June 2020 I was doing a story time for Leeds City Council, and a post they put up about me drew so much abuse.

“On the day before I was due to do a story hour for schools there, there were thousands of comments calling me all sorts. They called me a paedophile, said they would find where I lived, sent me pictures of guns. It was a tidal wave of hate.

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“Then in August not a single day went by where I didn’t receive a death threat. For reading stories to children? So no, we have not done enough.

“But I do believe we’re in a much better position than we were 20 years ago.

“At the moment I still feel queer people are on the side menu. We’re on the menu, but we’d never get ordered. But my relationship isn’t a joke, and my work isn’t a joke – I take it very seriously and I won’t stop doing so until those children feel adored and adore themselves.”

Aida H Dee will be performing Drag Queen Story Hour UK for Penarth Library, Barry Library, Cowbridge Library and Llantwit Major Library on February 26 at 2pm live on the libraries’ Facebook pages.

To find out more about Sab and Aida visit https://www.dragqueenstoryhour.co.uk/.