Ian Beale and Steve McDonald in drag is a fun celebration of queer culture

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If there is a stranger segment of television this year than Ian Beale in drag, impersonating Gemma Collins, Boris Johnson and Miss Piggy while singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, I will be shocked. This was the surreal climax of Queens for the Night, ITV’s one-off celebrity drag makeover bonanza that felt pleasingly old-fashioned.

Relying on tried-and-tested components of light entertainment – glitter, dry ice, wind machines and a light-up staircase – Lorraine Kelly hosted as six celebrities transformed into their drag alter-egos to be judged by the studio audience and a panel made up of drag queen Courtney Act, Spice Girl Mel C, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie star Layton Williams and comedian Rob Beckett.

It might have been a fairly shameless rip-off of a RuPaul’s Drag Race makeover challenge, but any concerns that this would all be reduced to gags about blokes in dresses were soon dismissed. Despite the inevitable footage of the celebrities wobbling around in heels, Queens for the Night was keen to emphasise that drag is about a lot more than a pair of tights and a bit of lippy.

Each celeb was assigned a mentor (half of whom were Drag Race UK alumni; all of whom displayed polish and wit that only come with years of experience) and trained to perform an essential drag skill – singing, dancing, comedy, impressions, lip syncing and magic.

While Adam Woodyatt as Madame Mimi d’YooYoo may have ended the art of celebrity impersonation for good, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. More than reminiscent of Ant and Dec’s brief foray into drag for Saturday Night Takeaway earlier this year, everyone involved was absolutely invested in doing a good job and making their mentors proud.

For Union J’s George Shelley, who sang as Dame Shelley Sassy, the show was about exploring his feminine side, having hidden his sexuality during his boyband days. Meanwhile fitness legend Mr Motivator saw the year he turned 70 as the perfect opportunity to lip-sync to Cher’s “Stronger” as the brilliantly named Proteina Turner, something that prompted Rob Beckett to declare: “I don’t know if I’m getting caught up in this but I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen”.

As Love Island’s Chris Hughes gamely mastered a death drop (a dramatic, potentially dangerous fall to the floor) for his manic medley of a dance routine, there was an unexpected standout in Harlequins rugby player Joe Marler, whose greatest trick was turning a truly rubbish magic act into something special thanks to some snappy comic timing and a magnificent glittery gold beard.

Lorraine Kelly (Photo: Tuesday’s Child/ITV/Guy Levy)

But it was the opening act, Coronation Street actor Simon Gregson, who proved closest to a professional drag queen. As the eventual worthy winner, he delivered a surprisingly competent stand-up set as Bidet Bardot, a WAG married to an unsuccessful footballer called “Derek Cantona”.

Given that drag – despite its long history in mainstream entertainment – has recently been subject to some particularly unsavoury criticism over whether it is “family-friendly”, it felt important to see this show in a prime-time Saturday night slot and for drag to be treated with such warmth and respect.

From Hughes stressing that “there’s no place for toxic masculinity in this world”, to queen Asttina Mandella sharing his experience growing up as a young, queer, Black boy, to Mr Motivator proclaiming “be stupid, be crazy, be weird, be whatever, because life is too short” as his daughter wiped away tears in the audience, there were plenty of moving moments in amongst the wig glue and tit tape.

Earnest and utterly good-natured, this was a genuine and joyful celebration of queer culture that stood proudly at the end of the pier.