Meeting Beyoncé (hero image)

That hilarious and completely surreal time I met Beyoncé

Ten years ago this week, I met Beyoncé and Jay-Z in one of the most bizarre moments of my life. It’s a story I don’t often tell because, honestly, if I didn’t have this photo of me physically standing next to Queen Bey, I probably wouldn’t believe it myself. Usually, it only comes up in conversation these days when someone says, “Can you imagine what it would be like meeting Beyoncé???” and I have to be like, “Well… “

Even though this is the tale of meeting two phenomenally famous individuals, taking this trip down memory lane has made me realise who this story is really about. It’s a love letter to two enormously important people in my life. The first is my cherished sibling, Iain (they/them) and the other is my fabulous former spouse, Robin (he/she). As you’ll see, this is as much about them as it is about my experience meeting Beyoncé.

You won’t believe where I am

The wonderful thing about this story is that I started that day like any other cold February morning in London. I cycled to work in the brisk morning air, probably excited that it was a Friday but unaware of how memorable the end of this day would become.

Meeting Beyoncé CREDIT Iain Griffiths
Iain

Iain messaged me just as I arrived at work, saying, “You won’t believe where I’m on my way to!” After a few excited texts back and forth, Iain revealed that they were in a cab on their way to London’s O2 Arena to install a bar in Beyoncé’s dressing room. She was in town on The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, and some 20,0000 people would be seeing her live onstage that night.

Only a few months earlier, Iain had opened an innovative cocktail bar in East London with the lovely Ryan Chetiyawardana called White Lyan. It was having a bit of a moment and, later that year, would go on to win Best New International Cocktail Bar. If memory serves me correctly, there was some link between the bar and Beyoncé. Maybe her stylist at the time was one of the investors? Either way, somehow, Iain had landed themself in this unique situation. 

“Meet me for lunch,” I insisted via message. “I want to know EVERYTHING!” Amusingly, ten years on, I don’t remember anything about that lunch. It was almost certainly in Soho, where I worked at the time. It probably included endless details about Iain being ushered backstage and seeing what Beyoncé’s dressing room was like. Knowing us, though, we likely moved on to gossiping about all other kinds of queer stuff, including Sink The Pink, the party Robin and I were performing at the next night.

How am I meant to do my makeup?

Hilariously, I went about my day after that, and when I arrived home in the evening, Iain’s morning adventure had somehow slipped my mind. That meant Robin had no context for what happened next.

We were eating dinner when my phone lit up with a call from Iain. They were audibly excited but deadly serious. “If you were to come to the bar around closing time tonight,” they instructed, “You will get a chance to meet the person we talked about earlier and her husband. BUT, and this is very important, you cannot tell another soul about this. If anyone aside from you and Robin arrives, I won’t be able to let any of you in.”

Of course, I instantly started screaming. How was it even possible to process the idea that in a few hours, I was going to be meeting Beyoncé? 

I was 18 when Destiny’s Child first emerged. 21, when I recorded the new Bootylicious music video off the TV onto a VHS tape. My best friend Josh and I rewound and replayed it for an hour. We were so entranced by the combined Stevie Nicks sample and hip-popping choreography. Then, during my last summer living in Australia in 2003, Beyoncé went solo with Crazy In Love. I don’t think we’ve collectively been able to pick our jaws up off the ground since.

So, I was understandably overwhelmed, and the only suitable response was to scream. All the while, Robin stood in our house looking at me with incredible confusion. It took me a minute to find the words and explain to my spouse what was happening. 

The next couple of hours were rather strange hours. We somehow had to co-exist with the idea that here we were in our little flat in East London, getting dressed up to walk around the corner to my sibling’s bar and meet two of the most famous people in the world. 

I remember trying to do my eye makeup, but my hand was shaking so much that it took three attempts to do my eyeliner. I kept walking from room to room, saying, “We’re going to meet Beyoncé!”

Is that who I think it was?

We arrived at White Lyan just before closing and sat at the bar. Only a handful of staff knew this closely guarded secret, and we all beamed excitedly at each other. Cocktails were sipped as we watched the Friday night revellers slowly begin to trickle out, drunkenly unaware of the celebrities who were about to arrive.

When the bar was almost empty, there was a commotion at the rear entrance as a security guard or two ushered some people right past our seats and into the downstairs area. If I’m honest, I didn’t look. I held my breath and focused elsewhere as Beyoncé and Jay-Z quite literally brushed shoulders with us. It all happened so quickly that one of the final few patrons leaving the bar turned around to us with confusion and said, “Wait… Is that who I think it was?”

The next twenty minutes felt like an eternity as the bar was cleared and closed. The only people remaining on our level were a couple of staff members, Robin, Iain’s then-girlfriend Allison, and I. None of us knew what to talk about except to look at each other with wide eyes and laugh at the insanity of the situation.

Iain, breathless with excitement and the seriousness of the situation, suddenly arrived in our faces and began to brief us. “I can get you into the downstairs bar, but there are some very strict conditions: no photos, no show ponying, and under no circumstances are you to get on the pole.”

Do not get on the pole

The show ponying was a very personal instruction. Iain knew precisely who they were briefing here, as Robin and I were drag queens. Attention-Seeking may as well have been our married names. They were telling us to be chill and not draw too much attention to ourselves.

The pole in question was situated in the back section of the low-ceilinged basement bar at White Lyan. There were only a handful of leather booths, a small bar area and a DJ booth in this intimate space. I had celebrated my 33rd birthday here only a month earlier, hosting a hotpants party at the end of January. Clothesline had been strung up around the space, with a range of booty shorts held on with pegs, so any guest who didn’t have something on-theme to wear could join in the soiree.

Little did I know that I’d be down here under very different circumstances only a few weeks later. As Allison, Robin, and I descended the stairs, past some suitably tough-looking security, and arrived in the basement bar, we were met with a highly odd scenario. In one booth sat Beyoncé and Jay Z, chatting with each other. On the other side, a stylist was talking with a friend. Add a bartender and a DJ to the mix, and that was it. With us, there were less than ten people in the room.

Meeting Beyoncé - Robin pole dancing CREDIT Robyn Withawhy
Robin pole-dancing at Savage nightclub in drag

I was the most socially awkward I have ever been in my life. Exactly what do you do when you’re in the same room as one of your idols, but you’ve been told to be chill? Get a drink, obviously. But then what? We couldn’t sit in the far booth because the lure of the pole dancing pole was too risky. So, instead, we stood in the middle of the bar, half dancing, half frantically whispering to each other.

I had to turn my back on the Knowles-Carters because I couldn’t possibly have them in my eye-line. Meanwhile, true to form, Robin was strategising. “Do you think if someone else gets on the pole, it’s ok for me to have a go?” His enthusiasm had to do with the fact that Robin was a pole dancer. More than a party trick, it was a huge passion of his and something he incorporated into his drag shows where possible.

His question was quickly answered when the stylist’s friend approached the pole and took a little spin around it. Shoving his drink into my hand, Robin strode over to the pole. In a tailored shirt and trousers, he skillfully flipped himself upside down on the pole. The next thing I knew, Beyoncé jumped to her feet and shouted, “YES!”

Does Jay-Z want lessons?

At that moment, my heart stopped completely. What on earth was happening? As Robin proceeded to show off his skills on the pole while Beyoncé cheered him on, Iain walked in. They took one look at the situation and then at me and burst out laughing, thankfully. Shaking their head, they rolled their eyes at me as I continued to try and work out how I was meant to breathe again.

The next thing I knew, my overly confident spouse had finished twirling around the pole. He strode over and sat down in between Beyoncé and Jay-Z. They all began chatting while I remained frozen, watching in amazement as this impossible-to-fathom situation continued to unfold. These icons and my partner were all laughing like it was the most normal thing in the world.

When Robin finally returned to Allison and me (still awkwardly standing in the middle of the bar), he wore a huge, beaming grin. He told us how he had discussed pole dancing with Beyoncé and had offered to give Jay-Z some lessons for their upcoming anniversary. Iain joined us, still shaking their head, and we all laughed and looked at each other in disbelief at this strangely surreal moment. 

Shortly after, Jay-Z approached our little group and began apologising. “Robin, I’m so sorry, but we’re going to have to go. The wife has another show tomorrow, and she’s a little tired.” They shook hands while I just stood there, gawping at the scenario. Robin then introduced me, and I shook Jay-Z’s hand while trying and failing to explain how I was related to Robin and Iain. 

Then Beyoncé came over, and I was introduced to her as well. I continued to point wildly at Robin and Iain like I was trying to justify why I was there, let alone on this planet. Shamefully, the next word that came out of my mouth was, “PHOTO!” 

Meeting Beyoncé experience CREDIT Minka Guides
Robin and I with Beyoncé

If you’ve ever wondered if Beyoncé is nice to her fans, then I feel like this moment shows how truly lovely she is. Despite having previously requested no photos (my bad, I’m very aware) and being tired and in a low-key post-show look, she still kindly obliged us. By comparison, I met Björk in the same bar a few weeks later, and she wasn’t up for it. Which I get. People must freak out at meeting them all the time.

Photos were taken. Last handshakes were made. And suddenly, Beyoncé and Jay-Z disappeared and our lives somehow returned to normal programming.

You can be a sweet dream

My friend Rich was in Australia when this happened, enjoying the summery Mardi Gras season. When we posted the above image, he was sitting on Bondi Beach, scrolling through Instagram. Asked later about his favourite part of his trip Down Under, he quipped, “Bronwyn meeting Beyoncé.”

Indeed, sharing this photo did cause a momentary stir in our friendship circle. Especially the next night, backstage with all the other drag queens at Sink The Pink. We had to recount the story repeatedly as each one mined us for information about what this famous couple were like. One friend, green with envy, wouldn’t stop asking us about the experience before declaring it not to be a big deal. “Of course, if you had met Solange, then I would have been impressed,” they announced to the room in an iconic attempt to be dismissive.

For me, it’s like a dream. Surely that didn’t happen? As rude as it was for me to insist on a photo, a part of me is grateful I did. How on earth would I believe it otherwise? The thing is, I also wonder if Beyoncé and Jay-Z ever remember that odd little post-show night where that person pole-danced for them in London? I suppose we’ll never know.

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A lifestyle blog for everyone who questions the norm. From polyamorous relationships and personal growth to being genderqueer, Minka Guides helps you live a fabulous life with intentionality.

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Doing drag - Fanny Minka at Agent Provocateur party CREDIT Sink The Pink
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