I first joined the line up for the Arundel Festival of Arts (was Arundel Festival) in 2012 as a relatively fresh faced vintage singer who was just trying to get her name out there! It’s hard to think back to exactly what order these things happened in, but I think that year I was to sing during the day while the Vintage Parade market happened. The sun shone on us in the cute walled area of Jubilee Gardens situated near the south entrance to the castle. It was a glorious day and I recall being super nervous as I rustled through my (printed out) words as I hadn’t quite learnt the songs well enough by then. Nowadays I simply make the words up rather than read them as I do despise seeing performers with an ugly ipad or music stand right in front of them
as they perform. But we’ve all been there. That year, I also hosted a mini fashion show during the day, and took along some cheap feather boas to get people up on stage to do a mini ‘burlesque’ workshop as I’d recently qualified as an instructor and set up my own little Statrlet’s School of Burlesque. I’m not sure if we did a burlesque show that evening. I had been introduced to Ginger Von GoGo at some point, who was an Arundel resident and linked to the burlesque scene and the Festival committee saw it as a good pairing, but like I said, I’m not sure if we did a show that year because I have absolutely no photos other than the daytime vintage performance. Maybe someone reading this might have a better memory?
The following year, I came back to do a daytime vintage set and then followed it with another mini workshop but this time with upgraded boas that didn’t shed like chickens! I do have a few photos of mine and Gingers burlesque show that evening which went down very well, even with children sat front and centre! The thing to note here is that the stage in Jubilee Gardens, by the river, was an enclosed space, with a large bar, sponsored by a local pub. So the shows put on were 100% free and in the open air. We were so lucky that ALL the years I did this, we never had inclement weather. However, we were closely monitored by the council for decency and I believe it was this year where a representative actually came and inspected the performers ‘reveal’ costumes!
In 2014, I have photographs taken at a smaller, non Festival linked ticketed show in the Arundel Jailhouse on Valentines day, and only one taken during the August Festival. Bit confused about this but perhaps this blog might jog someone’s memory and flag up some more photos? The Valentines show was collaboration with Ginger - who has since moved way from Arundel - but I have very fond memories of our times and hope to see her again someday.
The Jailhouse is a strange one because it’s a tourist attraction that I’d taken my children to a few years earlier and due to my severe claustrophobia, I left that fated day trip in tears (me, not the kids!) after being freaked out by the ghost experience in semi darkness. Anyway, so the prospect of doing a burlesque show there, using the old solitary confinement cell as a changing room, was a real mental hurdle I had to overcome and I basically insisted that I wasn’t left alone at any point! The show was intimate and fabulous and I still know people who came to that show and say how good it was.
They had no idea quite how traumatic I found it.
The August show during the festival is a bit of a mystery as I have only the one photo but given what I’m doing in it, I can only assume I’d really found my calling as a ridiculous cabaret host! I notice Dixie Dread is int eh photo but she came along as an audience member this time
2015 and the year that Ginger & I put on a banging show in Jubilee Gardens – I believe that was the year we had a sponsor, local hair salon Guilded Pleasure - but we didn’t know it would be our last collaboration as Ginger moved to France not long afterwards. Not only did we have the amazing Dixie Dread and Coco Deville return to the stage (they’d appeared a few times already) but I also decided to showcase a little troupe from my ‘Starlet’s Burlesque School’ and they put on a great show and were absolutely buzzing afterwards. I also decided to hire the brilliant Lee Barrett to shoot the show like he was doing for my other shows and the resulting photos are simply awesome. I’m so pleased I have these photos to document these times
2016 and my first year without Ginger. I decided to add a touch of drag to the show and invited my good friend and tart with a heart Cherry Liquor to come and introduce Arundel to the crazy world of drag. I recall watching the faces of delight as Cherry, dressed as Margaret Thatcher in a cow bodysuit (complete with milk filler udders) sprayed the audience to the sounds of ‘my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard’. Sheer joy! I also showcased some of my soloist students and brought down Whiskey Falls from London to showcase exquisite burlesque skills. It should be noted that I never again received any funding for these shows because the Jubilee Gardens was a free area and so I was happy to use this as a lost leader in order to promote my own burlesque school (Chichester & Worthing) and my ticketed shows in both those towns. Again, Lee Barrett was there to capture the action and he really is so incredible at shooting live shows - he’s like a ninja that never gets in the way but manages to get all the right shots
2017 was the one I call ‘The Proposal’ year. Not only did I showcase more solo acts from my burlesque school alongside two performers (Madaleine Soleil and Sirona Thorneycroft) but one of my onstage silly audience games turned into a full ‘on the knee’ marriage proposal! I had been encouraged by a lady to pick her man to join me in a routine involving boas, and as we were taking our bow, he asked me for the microphone and asked his lady to come to the stage. She
made it through the (very glamorous) tarpaulin dressing area and onto the scaffolding stage where he got on bended knee and proposed. I was a wreck and obviously got involved as this was clearly MY moment too! Haha! That year I believe I also did an impromptu duet with a local singer and the Dirty Dancing lift was involved somehow. These shows were getting crazier each year, not to mention more costly for me to fund alone. Despite that, I still hired Lee to come along and take photos as he’s worth every penny ad the memories I have are priceless.
2018 I decided that despite all my efforts to secure a sponsor for the show, I’d openly sponsor it myself (like I always had done but never been so visible about it) which explains the huge roller banners that appeared either side of the stage. I had a huge event to promote (my Dawn’s Vintage Weekender happening in a few months from then) and so that got mentioned a fair few times throughout the evening in front of the hundreds that congregated once more in Jubilee Gardens. This was the year I had Wonder Woman (Sensu Elle), Miss Anticipation and Bruise Violet
alongside one of my troupes and a few soloists from my burlesque School.
2019 was a huge year for me. Sadly the Jubilee Gardens lost its sponsor and so the space was no longer used in the way it had been for many years. The free shows continued there but in a different way and there was no more large stage and bar. So I decided that in order to continue the annual tradition, I’d take matters into my own hands. I hired the ballroom at the towns most glorious Norfolk Arms Hotel on the high street and hired in some of the top burlesque acts on the scene (Betsy Rose held titles such as UK number One) and brought in a stage and lighting. It
was a more intimate affair and of course I HAD to ticket this event because not only was the line up all professional burlesquers, but I also had rooms to hire (main and dressing) and technicians to pay. It sold out very quickly and I recall there being mad dashes on the day itself as people were selling spare tickets, and we did have a fair amount of disappointed people who missed out. My biggest regret this year was that Lee Barrett wasn’t available to come and shoot the action and I’d had a particularly busy Summer so hadn’t got around to scoping out a replacement, So this show has no photographic evidence despite Betsy Rose performing one of the most visually and artistically pleasing routines I’ve ever seen in my producing career. I was gutted about this so perhaps anyone who came along might be able to offer some snaps up? The rest of the cast, Ruby Deshabille and Lulu Vesper were simply divine and this whole show suited this fabulous ballroom perfectly.
2020 I don’t even need to mention the pandemic and the havoc it caused? The festival went online and I have vague memories of doing a live stream with some songs. I think.
2021 and I was back with bells on! Thanks to Ness & Jason for really pushing ahead with this idea of doing a cabaret in a Big Top and forever being my loyal local supporters! I’d always dreamed of doing a cabaret in a circus tent and live out my Greatest Showman dreams. The 'Happys Circus' was coming to Arundel with daytime children’s shows and it was arrnaged that I would do a takeover of the space in the evening on the Sunday!
The set up had its difficulties such as a floor not being suitable for heels and a PA system that needed to be replaced last minute (thanks to local musician Joe Butt for stepping in and delivering/setting up his PA system) and the seating was benches more suited to childrens circus but people came and despite a last minute situation with a missing beverage supplier, the show went off in style. Again, I booked a full line up of professional performers including one of my all time favourites Vicky Butterfly with her awesome LED wings that drew an audible gasp. Bootsy Bonafonte and Storm Hooper were the absolute casting dream as all their acts were
perfect for this setting and we had a really fun backstage camaraderie, especially around the subject of my childhood fear of portaloos! Circus life! Lee Barrett returned with his camera and captured the most glorious moments which included me riding some poor chap called ‘Alan’ around like a horse and of course Vickys outstretched glowing wings of glory! I had no student performers because the pandemic put a stop to all classes, but I did have my ever awesome stage manager Amy who has been by my side for more years than I can remember, and is always the most calming person to have around and is magnificently unfazed by anything that happens.
So what’s next? 2022 sees my return to the Norfolk Arms Hotel for a glorious evening of top class burlesque (and maybe the return of drag?) so pop the date – Sunday 28th August - in your diary and standby for the booking link and yet another page in my story of the Arundel Festival. Yes I’ve booked Lee because this is going to be one not to miss!