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Ipswich café to host poignant screening of TV show its founder appeared in shortly before his death

PUBLISHED: 17:51 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 17:51 28 June 2019

Cliff Matthews and wife Anna during the SPILL performance festival in Ipswich last year.  Picture: Lizzy Matthews

Cliff Matthews and wife Anna during the SPILL performance festival in Ipswich last year. Picture: Lizzy Matthews

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"It will be wonderful for us to see Cliff again when he appears on TV. We all miss him so much" Ipswich Waterfront café owner Anna Matthews prepares to watch her appearance on Channel 4's Drag SOS which was filmed before the death of her beloved husband.

Anna Phylactic and Steve from Ipswich (C) Summer FilmsAnna Phylactic and Steve from Ipswich (C) Summer Films

It's a life-affirming programme with a big, bold message: but Anna Matthews, who stars in this week's Ipswich-based episode of Drag SOS, admits she will find it hard to watch the show that features an appearance from her husband, who died in March.

Filmed last November, Ipswich Waterfront café owner Anna is one of three Suffolk residents who receive a spectacular drag makeover in a new Channel 4 show which sees a team of experts transform people into their drag alter egos before a lip synch performance in front of their friends and family.

In the show, Anna performs Tina Turner's anthem Simply the Best with fellow 'draglets' Brandon Yallop, 18 and Steve Swan, 60 at the Manor Ballroom in Ipswich - she tells drag queens Cheddar Gorgeous, Anna Phylactic, Lil, TeTe Bang and Liquorice Black that she wants to show husband Cliff just how much she loves him.

Tragically, since filming, Cliff - a passionate cyclist and member of the Wolsey Road Club and father of six, passed away. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2017 and had undergone a tough year of treatment including chemotherapy but secondary cancer was discovered in February and he died at home, with his family by his bedside, on March 22.

Anna after her drag transformation (C) Summer FilmsAnna after her drag transformation (C) Summer Films

"We were lucky enough to receive an unfinished version of the show before Cliff died, so we watched it together which was lovely," said Anna, "it won't be exactly what we'll see when the show goes out on Channel 4, but it was enough and I am so grateful that he got to see it."

Drag SOS will be aired on Tuesday night at 10pm. At La Tour Cycle Café in Ipswich, family, friends, customers, local businesspeople and the wider community will gather to watch the programme and celebrate the life of Cliff, a much-loved man whose contribution to Ipswich and Suffolk is much missed.

"It will be very hard, and very emotional, but very special, too. I am so glad that we have this programme and that our youngest child Agnes will have this to look back on for the rest of her life and that it shows her with her dad and him being so positive and happy," said Anna.

"For us, being on the show was such a positive experience. I'm a mum of six, so at the end of the day I don't get to spend much time thinking about myself but this was something for me, but at the same time the children and Cliff really enjoyed being part of it, too. I loved being part of the drag community who were so loving and accepting."

Brandon after his drag transformation (C) Summer FilmsBrandon after his drag transformation (C) Summer Films

She added: "The tricky thing about grief is that the greater the love, the greater the loss. The end of Cliff's life was so swift - he never messed about, he got on with things as quickly as he could and that extended to dying.

"On the show, he says that he hopes my performance will be the start of something new and that he looks forward to getting back to normal and worrying about everyday things rather than cancer, stuff like putting the bins out, that kind of thing. The sad thing is that these days, all those 'blue jobs' are mine on my own.

"What I learned from the show was to be brave and try new things."

Steve Swan hopes his appearance on Drag SOS will smash the myth that his generation often finds it difficult to accept the LGBT community. The livestock manager from Easton Park Farm is shown being put through a series of dance moves in the paddocks by choreographer Astina Mandela before being given a fabulous makeover.

Anna before her drag transformation (C) Summer FilmsAnna before her drag transformation (C) Summer Films

"I actually mastered walking in high heels quite quickly," laughed Steve, who is shown on the programme with wife Yvonne, who also works at Easton Park, "I'm game for a laugh, so when I was asked if I'd like to appear I said yes almost straight away.

"When I was a kid, I was the last one who'd have ever got up on stage. I work with animals and horses, that's where I feel comfortable, so it felt like a real achievement after the performance, I'd been well out of my comfort zone but I didn't give up, I kept going. I felt quite proud of myself.

"What I really hope is that me being on the show might make people who aren't tolerant about people's lifestyles think about it and think that we should only judge people by the way they treat us. It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, if you wear make-up or you don't, it's about being a good person. I always think of the horses and animals I work with: they don't judge people, and nor should we."

Steve added: "My wife had to admit I walked better in heels than she did, but she was pleased she could use the creams I was given for my face during the show - apparently I needed to use them because the make up wouldn't stick to my wrinkles!"

Steve from Ipswich during his drag transformation (C) Summer FilmsSteve from Ipswich during his drag transformation (C) Summer Films

Brandon Yallop: "If you can put on a dress and high heels and perform in front of a crowd, you can do anything!"

Since he left school, Brandon, 18, has been working alongside his father and brother at RPC M&H Plastics, but hoped that by finding his drag queen alter ego he would also find the confidence to pursue a job that would suit him better.

The Family Gorgeous visited Brandon at home in Beccles and met Mum Tanya and Dad Shaun, who is the infamous tutu-wearing Canary Fairy who attends Norwich City's home games wearing a fetching yellow and green tutu along with his NCFC kit. Taking inspiration from the tattoos of Greek Gods Brandon has inked on his arm, the team transformed him in their Drag Lab before inviting him to take part a stunning lip sync performance of Simply the Best choreographed by dance coach Astina, joined by Anna and Steve.

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"I'm up for a laugh and I thought it'd be fun to do something a bit different," said Brandon, "I was a bit sceptical at the start about what difference it would make to my life, but I think that I quickly realised that if you can put on a dress and high heels and perform in front of a crowd, you can do anything!

"I have never judged people on how they look but I think some people do, so hopefully this will make them think again. The best bit for me was the build-up to finding out what I was going to look like in drag - I had to stay away from mirrors and my phone!

"My Dad is the Canary Fairy and he gave me some advice - to just live in the moment and just do it. To enjoy myself and not worry about what people think. I loved it. The whole experience was just fantastic. I have a new respect for women who go out all night wearing high heels!"

Since filming, Brandon has a new job working for AST Marine Sciences Limited, which he loves.

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