Conchita Wurst: ‘I used to go to kindergarten in a skirt’

The singer, 26, on the beauty of beards, winning Eurovision, and meeting Karl Lagerfeld

Singer Conchita Wurst

‘There’s a big difference between when I’m Tom and when I’m Conchita’: singer Conchita Wurst. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Observer

People only look at my beard for a moment. Then it melts away and it’s just another part of me. It’s like the most natural thing, that this is what a bearded lady looks like. It’s beautiful to see.

Looks have nothing to do with character. I could be the most beautiful drag queen in the world and the most evil witch of a person. Winning Eurovision [in 2014] or meeting Ban Ki-moon – I believe those things would probably have happened regardless of whether I’d done them as Thomas Neuwirth or Conchita Wurst, because I have the same heart.

I don’t fulfil the assumptions made of a mainstream drag queen. People say they’re confused by how calm and quiet I am. When I created Conchita I thought there were expectations of me and I was very loud, and I had this bitchiness that some drag artists have, which I think is hilarious, but it wasn’t me. I realised it’s fine to be another type of drag queen.

There’s a big difference between when I’m Tom and when I’m Conchita. Conchita uses very proper German; Tom talks in an Austrian dialect. Conchita gets mad if she is kept waiting; Tom is lazy.

I am happy being a man in a dress. Some people get confused and think I’m a trans woman, but I’m strict about the difference. What I do is performance, it’s staged, it’s glamour – it’s not real life. But for trans people, being born in the wrong body – there’s nothing glamorous or easy about that.

We spend our adult lives getting rid of our teenage insecurities. I got called so many hurtful names as a teenager, all because of my feelings [for men] – I thought that there was something wrong with me. But once I learned to say, “I am gay, whatever”, nobody could hurt me. I mean, conchita is a sexy lady in Spanish.Wurst is a term in German-speaking areas for “I don’t care” and “It’s not important”.

I was actually a very confident little kid. I would go to kindergarten in a skirt. I don’t remember how the other children reacted. My mum says she would wait around after dropping me off because she expected everyone would laugh, but I never came back out.

I wouldn’t dare call him my friend, but I love seeing Jean Paul Gaultier. He was the first famous person to give me any recognition. For Eurovision, he voted for me 73 times.

Of course I want a Grammy, I’m a musician. I don’t know if I’ll ever get one, but I need it as a goal. Maybe what I receive on the path there will be better than any Grammy.

Everything I say is just my opinion. I made myself a promise that I will always speak out for what I think is right. So it’s really unbelievable when people say that I inspire them. It’s a huge honour, but I’m just being me.

My grandmother always smelt of menthol. And when I met Karl Lagerfeld, he smelt exactly the same. It made me feel cosy and at home.

Being Conchita: We are Unstoppable by Conchita Wurst (£9.99) is published by John Blake