A single step from my desk, a step closer to wriggling into a dress and teetering around in high heels, the phone rings.
“Hi Alastair, how are you?” I ask.
“I’m sorry I can’t talk right now, I’m about to go and get dressed as a woman.”
Being the editor of Mountain Scene I’m all about deadlines. When I put the phone down the time’s 11.40am.
By midday I have to be in a chair getting make-up on ahead of The Hits 90.4 Drag Race.
First stop is the cheapie shop in O’Connells. I grab a bow as I walk in.
“I’ll have that dark wig, please.”
Then it’s off to the Sallies at the bottom of Shotover Street.
“Hi, I’ll have the biggest sized high heels you’ve got.”
The polite lady enquires: “Do you want to try them on?”
“No thanks, they’ll have to do.”
Shit. Back to the cheapie shop to grab some false eyelashes.
Clutching my bag full of dresses, high heels in hand, I run to the Memorial Centre.
It’s midday and I’m in the chair. Pressure makes diamonds.
As the “girls” celebrate their womanliness and pose for photos, two Body Sanctum make-up artists pound my man-face with powder.
“At least you only have to do half a job,” I encourage, as I’m keeping the beard.
Eyeshadow and lipstick are applied.
There’s some discussion. “That colour doesn’t work.” Followed by: “That’s it!” and giggles.
They’re having too much fun, I tell them.
Not as much fun as the girls. The line that will stay with me is: “You’re doing a great job for Jetstar – you’ll do it $39 each way!”
Would you like bubbles, someone asks. Of course!
When it arrives it tastes suspiciously like vodka. Genuine bubbles is provided.
By the time my make-up’s on I have four barely-touched drinks in front of me.
I look in the mirror and expect a transformation. Uh oh, it still looks like me. That’s the first pang of “I should have taken this more seriously”.
In the changing area I put the dress on and realise it’s too short – at both ends. No matter how I arrange it I’m dangerously close to showing nips or nuts.
Then the shoes. I can squeeze my left foot in but not the right. I look at myself in the mirror and shake my head.
Somehow I scrunch the toes together like the ugly sister I am, and I’m off to the ball – appropriately on a topless bus.
But I’m no Cinderella – I’m Dame Conchita Willemina “The Mounting Screamer”.
The public’s into it. Pedestrians wave, motorists toot (especially truck drivers!) and there are clutches of foreign tourists taking photos and videos on street corners.
Suspiciously, one drag keeps telling me: “You look so beautiful!”
Poor festival manager Lisa Buckingham herds us like cats down Queenstown Mall.
The ladies pile into the Bendon shop and hug the staff. Like a bunch of vigilantes, two break off from the main group and skip daintily into Louis Vuitton.
Buckingham blocks the door to the rest of us like a bouncer.
“I don’t like their bags anyway,” a high-pitched voice says.
Pre-race, the crowd is encouraging – but not warm enough to keep the chill from the extremeties.
Friction with hay bales and some friendly writhing sorts that out.
Urging us on are MCs Brendon Quill and Craig “Ferg” Ferguson – who variously describe us as “pogs”, “disgusting” and “hideous”. Fair suck of the sav.
Standing on the start line I’m still not sure what we have to do. Probably not a winning strategy.
Last place in my heat ensures a box seat for flying fur, turned ankles and serious pace from eventual winner Richie Heap. He was my pre-race favourite.
The bus ride home is a hoot. “Hello there!” I yell at a father and son, advising: “This is what happens when you grow up.” Mayor Vanessa van Uden’s husband tries not to acknowledge her.
As the hair settles, the swollen ankles are smothered in icepacks and the false eyelashes removed from within wild wigs, there are some lessons: shorter heels, tights under dresses and by god, accessorise.
Rumours swirl. Pre-race, it’s whispered one of the girls shaved the nether regions. A nasty story emerges that one competitor – who had their make-up applied first – couldn’t make the bus because of “sudden illness”.
There’s even a suggestion the relationship between Queenstown’s council and the airport company has improved after an on-stage cuddle between Van Uden and airport boss Scott Paterson.
The queens have a special bond but I’m unconvinced it’s a smart business move.
That is until the next morning. A businessman offers a friendly good morning, adding: “Good work yesterday!”