“RuPaul told me to embrace what I can’t do”

Ólafur Helgi Ólafsson has been performing as Starina in Iceland’s drag scene for years. He won the Drag Queen of Iceland award in 2003, making waves as the first drag queen with a physical disability to win the award and instantly becoming one of the most visible drag performers in the country.
After a few years’ hiatus, he has become more active in the scene since he began performing with Drag-Súgur in 2015. Ólafur, who will be taking part in this years Pride as Starina, speaks with GayIceland about drag and what it feels like to live in Iceland as a gay man with a disability.

“She’s a star, let’s just start with that,” Ólafur says when asked to describe his drag persona. “She expresses her opinion and of course she’s more glamorous than I am in daily life. She’s a little bit like comic relief in my life too. She wants to be seen, she wants to be heard.”

Although Starina won Iceland’s drag competition in 2003, Ólafur says he first started doing drag nearly a decade earlier. “It was my first year in high school, but I didn’t know it was called drag,” he says.

“I just thought it was funny. I saw Icelandic comedians doing it all the time, getting into drag, making jokes, often playing some kind of politician.

And then somewhere around that time I saw The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and that’s when I knew the word drag and I started to learn it was a profession.”

“… I started feeling like in a world of being gay and glamorous and high fashion with a perfect body and perfect shape, that the little crooked boy wasn’t welcome.”

‘I always blamed my disability’

One of the challenges that Ólafur has had to navigate both living as a gay man in Iceland and performing as a drag queen is doing so with a physical disability. Although he’s lived with his disability for his entire life, he says he’s only recently learned more about his disability and discovered what it’s called: Hereditary motor sensory neuropathy (also known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease). “I’m still a little bit confused with what it is and how it works,” he says. “All my life when people have asked what I have I’ve just answered that I’m disabled. And they ask me, doesn’t it have a name? And I’m like, I don’t know.

It’s an inherited progressive disease of the nerves with weakness and numbness more pronounced in the legs and arms. Parts of the nerve cells deteriorate,” Ólafur says about his disability. “It does affect my legs, it does affect my hands, it gives me a lack of balance, it gives me deformities, and it gives me scoliosis — my back is not straight.”

He says it hasn’t always been easy to live with a disability in the queer community. “My first years in the queer community I always blamed my disability for not meeting anyone,” he says. “I felt like sometimes I wanted to be more disabled or I just wanted to be really healthy. I felt sometimes stuck in the between. Because I am abled enough to take care of myself, but I am also a little bit disabled so I get criticized for it. But of course I would say I realize now it’s all in my head.”

‘I started feeling this barrier around me’

Things got worse for Ólafur when he moved to Milan in 2006 to study fashion and textile design. “I started feeling much more like a disabled person than I ever had in my life. Because the cultural differences are so much and I started feeling like in a world of being gay and glamorous and high fashion with a perfect body and perfect shape, that the little crooked boy wasn’t welcome,” he says. “I got really shy back in Milan, more shy than I ever was before.”

It was also in Milan where Ólafur experienced one of the worst traumas of his life. He was raped, and he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and became even more isolated. “Of course that affected my life in a whole other different way. I started feeling this barrier around me. I was more aware of people staring, I was more aware of people pointing,” he says. “I always thought it was Milan. I always said to everyone: it’s Milan, it’s different.”

But he says that when he returned to Iceland he realized he was still feeling the same way. “I got scared, I saw people watching, I saw people making fun of me,” he says. “And the queer community has always had this beautiful reputation of being glamorous and everyone having perfect bodies. If you don’t fit that mold it can be a challenge.”

‘Make your weaknesses beautiful’

Over time Ólafur says he learned to embrace his disability in his drag. “I would use my movements to make fun of a dance routine. Maybe I would get some choreographer to help me, and then we will combine it with my movements so it can be funny but also in a glamorous way,” he says. “Often I try to put the emphasis on my weakness. I have a crooked back, and on the other side it’s like I have a hump. At some time I just stopped hiding it.

I just felt at some point in my life I decided I’m just going to be who I am on stage and then even make it bigger than it is, and let the people see that this is who I am. It’s a hard challenge because sometimes I still want to hide it,” he says. “I think the challenge is to make your weaknesses beautiful, and I think if you conquer that then you will achieve something amazing. Or I’m hoping so, because I’m working on it.”

“I sent RuPaul an email and I asked her, what would you say to a queen who is disabled and can’t walk in heels?”

One of the major inspirations for Ólafur’s philosophy of embracing his weaknesses comes from one of the most well-known figures in drag: the supermodel of the world, RuPaul herself. “Back when RuPaul was doing the first season I got really, really depressed that I wasn’t as fabulous as the queens in the show,” Ólafur says. “I sent RuPaul an email and I asked her, what would you say to a queen who is disabled and can’t walk in heels?”

To Ólafur’s surprise, RuPaul responded. She told him: “Sometimes people say that there’s nothing you can’t do. I say that’s a fantasy. Sometimes we literally can’t do things. Embrace what you can’t do, be fabulous at what you can do, and everything in between you should try over and over again until you leave your mark on it!

That’s basically the email that told me I should not stop doing drag, even though people will think I’m not as fabulous as everyone else,” Ólafur says. “As long as it makes me happy. And I think I’m making people happy! I think I make them laugh.”

Note: There will be a drag queen story hour with Starina at the Library of Kópavogur this Saturday, as a part of the Reykjavík Pride program. Starina will read from the book Fjölskyldan mín by Ásta Rún Valgerðardóttir and Lára Garðarsdóttir. Families come in all shapes and sizes and this wonderful children’s book introduces kids to many different types of families. The event is in Icelandic. Free entrance.

Photos: Lovísa Sigurjónsdóttir

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.


Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.


    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Blue Lagoon
      - a world of wonder

      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

      From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

      Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

      Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

      Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

      Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

      The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

      Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

      Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

      It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

      Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

      Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

      More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

      - for all your Apple needs

      From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

      Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
      For all your Apple needs. We are here.

      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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        Ísey skyr
        - once tasted never forgotten

        Our Story
        Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

        For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

        Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
        This is our secret and you are in on it

        You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

        - noodle bar

        Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

        All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
        We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
        Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

        Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

        - adventure cruise

        Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
        and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

        The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.


        This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.


        The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

        Birds, possible to spot:
        -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
        -eider ducks
        -white-tailed eagle

        The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
        Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

        Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

        Contact Us

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