A young woman who struggled with her sexuality growing up on Sheppey has written and directed a short film celebrating the act of coming out in a bid to inspire others.
Laura Tunbridge wanted to create a joyful flick to encourage youngsters to fully embrace all parts of their identity after she “held back” throughout her younger years.
The 31-year-old - who lived in Minster and went to Minster Primary, St George’s Middle School and Sittingbourne’s Highsted Grammar - said Dragged Up is the type of film she would have liked to have seen when she was 16.
The short comedy drama, which is set on the Island and is to be available on Channel 4’s on demand service, follows a shy teenage misfit called Sarah who uses drag to find the confidence she needs to show her family who she truly is.
Speaking about the film, Laura said: “Dragged Up is not my story but it’s based on a lot of the feelings I had when I was younger, when I was so worried about fitting in and not wanting to be different.
“Now I know that being true to yourself is a strength and I wanted to celebrate that in this film and make it in the place that I am proud to call home.”
She added: “I think growing up I was afraid to even admit to myself that I wasn’t straight.
“I pushed down a lot of what I was feeling because I was afraid that if I was seen as different, people around me might not accept me but, actually, I was denying myself the opportunity to be true to myself and I was denying the people around me the opportunity to really know all of me authentically.
“When I came out as gay at 23 I learned that my fears were unfounded. My friends and my family still loved and accepted me for who I was and were so supportive.
“I was lucky, but I regret not being true to myself much sooner.
“I think if I’d seen a film like Dragged Up that was joyful and celebrated the act of coming out and fully embracing all parts of your identity when I was a teenager, I would have felt braver.”
In the film, which is 19 minutes long, the highlight of the year for Sarah’s family is the annual Queen of Sheppey Pageant.
Her mother competed in the event, as did her sister, and so it is expected Sarah will do the same – but she doesn’t feel comfortable in such a feminine setting.
In secret, she explores male drag and, while awkward and shy on the pageant stage, Sarah is confident in drag in a way she’s never felt in real life.
However, she knows it is a side of herself that her family would never accept and, ultimately, Sarah must show her family she wants to be Queen of Sheppey by doing it her own way.
The annual Queen of Sheppey Pageant is a fictional take on Sheppey’s very own carnivals.
The main character, Sarah, is played by Gaby French (I May Destroy You, Military Wives, Enola Holmes) and her mother, Alex, is played by Donna Air (The Split).
Filming for Dragged Up started in November and took six days. It has since been nominated for Best British Short Film in the Iris Prize and will be broadcast on Film4 later this year.
Laura came up with the idea for Dragged Up while studying at the National Film and Television School. She graduated earlier this year.
“While I was there I thought a lot about wanting to tell a story set on the Island, replicating my teenage years,” she said
“It’s my first film directed with a full crew.
“It’s been exhausting but it’s so incredible to, not only see it made, but also going to film festivals and knowing it is set to be broadcast later this year – I cried when I found out. I am so proud.”
Celebrating the Isle of Sheppey was a key aim for Laura in Dragged Up.
“For me, I think it’s great there are lots of films about coming out or exploring your identity, but a lot of them take place in cities – but if you’re queer or different, you don’t need to live in or go to a city,” she said.
“The community on the Island is so supportive. Our Island is an amazing place and I wanted to show that. I also wanted the film to be positive and joyful – and Sheppey is a gorgeous place to shoot.”
She added: “We were hoping to film the whole film on the Island and inside a couple of venues here, but our first day of shooting was the first day of the lockdown that came into place in November so we couldn’t.
“We were still able to use The Leas in Minster though.”