An undercover reporter once revealed that the Queen fed toast to her corgis under the breakfast table while the Duke of Edinburgh read the Racing Post.

A similar gulf between private life and public image exists for Cumbria’s version of Her Majesty. At home on London Road in Carlisle, Billie Raymond feeds black Labrador Dan and Labradoodle Sam, then retires to a living room which is comfy rather than palatial.

Billie has spent half a century as one of the UK’s leading drag acts. He has travelled the world, performing in ornate dresses he made himself, and sometimes in bikinis.

The bikini days are gone. Billie’s face remains enviably smooth but he reckons he’s too old for his body to be in the spotlight. How old? “Over 58” is all he’ll say. These days the costume is more likely to be an ornate replica of the Queen’s most formal regalia.

“HRH Madge – that Queen,” says Billie, with a laugh. “I don’t look like the Queen. But by the time I’ve got the costume on, the crown, the jewellery, the stoles...”

Next Saturday Billie celebrates his own golden jubilee. At an event in Tullie House with Radio Cumbria’s Val Armstrong he’ll look back on his 50-year career.

The Queen era started in 2011 as a bit of fun: Billie beginning to act his age – whatever it might be – but doing so with the knowing smile which has always characterised his work. Now he dresses as Her Majesty at Pride events around the country, and beyond. He was a star attraction at New York Pride in June.

“The heat was unbelievable,” he says. “And the humidity. There’s people walking around in jock straps. And here’s me wearing all this. I thought I was going to collapse. The cheers of the crowd kept me going. ‘Your majesty!’

“I usually lead the parades. I don’t charge for them because I go there to support LGBT causes.”

He recalls a recent Pride event in London. Billie strolled to the park where it was taking place, dressed as the Queen. As he approached he realised there was no music: none of the noise or colour associated with such events. Then someone told him it had been moved across London... Billie sat in a café, had a cup of tea, walked to the Embankment, all the while dressed as Her Majesty, complete with tiara. “People were stopping me for photos every five yards,” he recalls.

He saw a rainbow flag. It turned out a drag show was taking place nearby: silly not to drop in. Billie was dragged on stage to huge applause. He smiles at the memory. “It’s a buzz. It’s just an absolute buzz.”

It always has been. Billie used to be Billy. He was brought up on Carlisle’s Currock estate and didn’t last long in his job as a baker, having neglected to put ginger in the gingerbread he was mixing.

At 17 he moved to London and stayed for seven years, working as a waiter at the Hilton Hotel and then at Brooks’s gentlemen’s club. In Soho he saw Raymond Revuebar and adopted a new stage name (his real surname is a closely-guarded secret).

Billie’s career as a drag act took off when he returned to Carlisle. His late mother, Brigid, became a fan of his work, after the shock of seeing her son perform for the first time. “She knew I was doing something – she didn’t know what until I walked on. Thank god it went well. She was just crying with happiness. My dad: that was a different kettle of fish. My dad was a DJ. My mam and dad were split. I didn’t speak to him for a long time.

“I knew eventually I would get a gig somewhere the same night he was on. It was at the Ukrainian Club. He knew about me but he’d never seen me dressed up. The introduction started and I walked out in full drag. My dad’s face was a picture. He was OK. We sort of made up later in life.”

Billie says working in northern clubs in the 1970s and 80s meant having to be butch off stage. “You had to create a persona. ‘Are you gay?’ ‘No, I’m married.’ ‘Have you got any kids?’ ‘Oh yeah: I’ve got three kids.’ When I’d go back a year later: ‘How’s the kids?’ ‘Oh, they’ve started school.’

“You couldn’t be open in those days. ‘You’re not queer, are you?’ People can’t call you that nowadays. Not in public anyway. It’s a lot easier now than what it was back in the early days. Still a lot of people don’t accept it fully. That’s why we have these Prides, to get out there.

“To think what I do: I go to a strange city. I get to the car park. Get dressed up. Walk out of the car park with my dress on to where that Pride starts. I don’t know who’s around the corner. There’s still a lot of homophobic assaults in the street.”

Has he ever been attacked? “No, touch wood. I very rarely walk out of my front door in full drag. It shouldn’t be like that. In the early days I was always nervous getting ready. I’d get ready at home and go out with big sunglasses on. Now it’s a different kettle of fish. Tess Tickle – I run those words together to get the full effect – a drag queen from a mining village in Durham. He goes out of the house in full drag and does a live blog on Facebook.”

Mining villages were among the places which inspired Billie to expand his act. As well as miming to songs, he began using fire and snakes.

“I performed at miners’ clubs. They didn’t want to see someone camping it up. You had to have an act that would entertain them. With fire I burned a few floors, and a few bums. Get some guy to drop his pants and show his bare bum. It was always a laugh. How I never got sued...

“I had two snakes. They used to travel with me on a plane in a holdall. This was before security was tightened up – you can’t even get a bottle of water on now.

“I used to do a lot of work with the Army in Germany. I’ve emptied a room of squaddies with the snakes. They used to scream like girls. I thought ‘All the Russians have to do is buy a snake each.’”

In those days Billie prided himself on his ability to tame anyone who dared to heckle. “Don’t mess with somebody that’s got a microphone. If I had to go on stage now and they were shouting, I can’t remember any of the patter.”

He’s been semi-retired for years, doing the occasional show, mostly for charity. Some of the edge which was perhaps born of nights on stage as a man in a dress remains in his cutting comments about certain politicians.

But ultimately, he is kind. Billie has raised thousands of pounds to fund more than 40 guide dogs for the blind. His free charity performances have benefited a range of people, from striking miners to disabled children. Proceeds from his celebration evening next weekend will go to local LGBT charities.

Caring is a central part of his everyday life. For the past few years Billie has been a carer with Cumbria County Council’s Shared Lives scheme, supporting two men who have learning difficulties and another with Down’s Syndrome.

“I was a nurse years ago when I left school. I lost my uncle Cliff back in 2000. I used to go to his house three times a day and do everything for him. I tend to look after other people better than myself.”

He cared for his mother for 12 years until her death in 2013. “That was a big wrench. When you live with somebody all your life... I’d worked away at times but I always came home.”

Billie has lived alone since then and says he has no interest in a relationship. “Just the thought of sharing the house with somebody else... I think I’m too old now. I don’t need another person in my life.”

So there’s Billie, his dogs, his friends, and the side of himself which shines when he dons elaborate frocks and costume jewellery.

All those years of risking verbal and physical abuse for daring to be different: it takes balls to be a man in a dress.

“They weren’t gonna stop me,” says Billie. “And if they’re calling me stuff, they’re leaving someone else alone.”

n An Evening with Billie Raymond takes place at Tullie House on Saturday September 14 at 7pm. Tickets £12. The event will include a performance by Billie and a display of costumes.