Courtney Act will co-host SBS's coverage of this year's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Courtney Act will co-host SBS's coverage of this year's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Supplied

The real magic of Mardi Gras

COURTNEY Act is no stranger to television.

The drag icon, who is the onstage persona of Shane Jenek, got her big break in season six of RuPaul's Drag Race and went on to win the 21st season of Celebrity Big Brother UK.

Returning to home soil after more than a decade abroad, Courtney made history on Dancing With The Stars last year as one half of the ballroom show's first same-sex pairing.

But as she gears up for her first year as co-host of SBS's Mardi Gras broadcast alongside Zoe Coombs Marr, Narelda Jacobs and Joel Creasey, Courtney says there's nothing scarier than live TV.

Zoë Coombs Marr, Narelda Jacobs, Joel Creasey and Courtney Act will host SBS's live coverage of the Sydney Mardi Gras parade.
Zoë Coombs Marr, Narelda Jacobs, Joel Creasey and Courtney Act will host SBS's live coverage of the Sydney Mardi Gras parade. Supplied

"I just had a week of being an entertainment correspondent for the Lorraine show in the UK. I was in LA in the studio at 1am to do the live broadcast and I was surprised at how poorly I did," she says. "You're just chatting to somebody, so it should be natural and easy. But just the fear of knowing you're being broadcast on TV to hundreds of thousands of people - it's amazing what that does. I'm glad I had that week of practice (before Mardi Gras)."

Courtney knows what it means to queer people young and old to be able to watch the colourful and chaotic celebration, now in its 42nd year.

The broadcast will also stream live via SBS On Demand this year with the geo-block removed, making it available to watch around the world.

"I definitely remember being in my bedroom downstairs watching Mardi Gras and mum and dad were upstairs. I didn't have a remote control back then, so I just stood there in case I needed to change the channel if anyone came and found me. It's sweet to think now there might be families sitting down watching it together," she says.

Courtney Act says the Mardi Gras broadcast has helped to break down barriers and transform lives across the country. Supplied
Courtney Act says the Mardi Gras broadcast has helped to break down barriers and transform lives across the country. Supplied

"That visibility is just invaluable. I know what it meant for me having that tiny sliver in the '90s even though I didn't know what it meant back then. I didn't understand what sexuality or gender or anything was, but it was definitely something that resonated with me.

"It really is just a really magic night. I look forward to all the people in the parade, from the newly queer people who haven't been to a Mardi Gras before to people just coming into the authenticity of their identies and knowing their identity is worthy and valid. It makes me get emotional thinking about that experience. I know how much it meant to me."

Courtney sees the event as more than just a glitter bomb spectacle. She hopes to inspire heterosexual viewers to be 'allies' for the queer community every day of the year.

"Mardi Gras isn't just one night of the year; you have to remember there are 364 other days to be an ally. That means in your workplace or a social setting - it could be in a very small way."

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras airs live on SBS-TV on Saturday from 6.30pm Qld, 7.30pm NSW.