Rory O’Neill, who performs as drag queen Panti Bliss, made history as half of the first same-sex pairing to appear on RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars and was tipped as an early favourite to win the competition.
So it’s little wonder the drag act and LGBTQ+ activist (54) was “surprised” that his journey came to an abrupt end after losing the dance-off to Brooke Scullion.
Indeed, he said he would have loved to have made it to the March 19 final.
Panti scored 27 from the judges for an American smooth while Cavan comedian Kevin McGahern got the lowest score for his salsa with 23 points. “Yes, I thought people would say, ‘oh they really do need our votes’.
“Both times [of the dance-off] we were in the middle of the scoreboard before the audience vote, so clearly half of Cavan is voting for Kevin.
“I’m good, obviously disappointed. We wanted to finish and we got so close to the end, it’s disappointing not to. But on the other hand, that is the game and I’m proud of
what we did and we had a lot of fun doing it,” he said. “But I’m by far the oldest contestant and made it this far.”
The bar owner and performer also said he was so proud to have blazed a trail as part of the first same-sex coupling to dance on the mainstream Sunday night TV show.
“We did achieve that and I’m super proud. I got everything out of it that I wanted to get out of it except for getting to the final but that aside, we did everything else,” he said.
While he had “no regrets” performing in the show as Panti with pro partner Denys Samson, he does feel the routines are harder for the female contestants.
“The only regret is – and they’ll kill me for saying this – it is easier for the boys, it just is. They’re not in the heels and the kind of stuff that they’re asked to do is less bendy and all of that stuff.
“It is easier for them, for non-professionals. And so that’s the only thing. It would have been easier [as Rory] but do I regret it? No, this is more trouble but it’s also more fun.”
There has been an unexpected upside for Panti though – shedding lots of weight during the gruelling competition. “I have lost over 8 kilos. I put on a lot of weight over the pandemic and the lockdowns. My life was ended, there were no bars, no shows, all of that. I got depressed and sat around eating chocolate Kimberleys all the time and annoying my husband who was working from home.
“And I thought, when my life came back, all that weight would fall off again. But it didn’t. It turns out at my age, it doesn’t. But then the dancing got rid of it all,” he said.
Despite admitting to never watching the show beforehand, he said it’s been a “super-fun” experience and he has been bowled over by all the support from viewers.
“I knew people who’d been on it but I had no idea it was so popular. We’re on the Luas going to the studio and all the ‘aul wans’ are pinching Denys’s cheek, and the younger ones are in his DMs.
“The amount of people who stop us on the street, I was like, ‘wow’. They are really invested in the show,” he said.
“We got lots of letters and cards. My mother got a card from an elderly, retired nun who wrote to her with, ‘Mrs O’Neill, mother of Rory, Ballinrobe’ – and it got to me, and it was thanking my mother for being so supportive of me.”