In July the burlesque community responded with anger when certain UK newspapers published intentionally humiliating stories about new burlesque performer and aspiring singer Charlene Taylor. In what has become typically underhand behaviour from the likes of the Daily Mail, Charlene was deceived and mislead into thinking that her humble message of hope and survival would be spread to women around the world. In reality, her true story was disregarded and turned into an opportunity to poke fun at her aspirations and encourage trolls with intentionally unflattering photographs. 21st Century Burlesque Magazine reached out to Charlene to give her the chance to deliver her real, inspirational story in full…
First of all I want to address the incorrect facts reported by the tabloids. They said I am ‘Miss Burlesque UK’ and I’m not; I’m ‘Miss Burlesque South Yorkshire and Doncaster 2013’ after winning a local competition. They also said that I’m the biggest UK burlesque performer and I’m not. Lots of people said I was lying about my size, but I am actually a size 14-16 in normal clothing. Also, the press said I’m the best or I think I’m the best; I know for sure I’m not the best and I never think I’m better than anyone. I’m not like that. I think those were the main things they lied about.
In the past I’ve suffered domestic abuse and violence in three relationships and it has left me with terrible anxiety. I lost both my jobs because of what I was going through, and then I lost my home. In 2010 I gave birth to my little girl, Summer, who was severely disabled, and I was told I was probably going to lose her because she was so ill. She meant everything to me. I breast fed her by pump to try to help her. Summer stopped breathing four times due to her illness and I had to fully bring her back to life myself. I can’t explain the pain I felt doing that, but I saved her life.
“All I wanted to do was tell the story of what I’ve been through and how I’ve made myself stronger and created a better life.”
The man who was supposed to be a father to my kids put me through pure hell and made my confidence completely fade away. He used to call certain parts of my body nasty names which no one else would understand the meaning of, and to upset me more he used to say these words every time someone came to visit me. Eventually I picked up the courage to find a way to escape with my little girl and we left him in June 2011. At the time I was pregnant with my second child and gave birth all alone. I brought both of my kids up alone and was a full time carer for Summer, and both of them grew up as happy as they could be. There was nothing I would not do for them.
After I finally split up from my partner I couldn’t show my body to any other partners because I was scared and ashamed of my body. I had my second child, and then after a while I decided to take up burlesque classes to see if it would help me. For some years I danced away at home and taught myself a lot of sexy moves. Then, when I took up burlesque I learnt a few different dance routines, and the 2013 local competitions were coming up and I felt I really wanted to have a go and prove to myself that I could be a performer and prove to my cruel exes that I was strong. I wanted to flaunt myself and stick two fingers back up to them for what they did to me, so I entered two of my own dances into the competitions. One was a full-on classic performance and the other was a routine of my own. I got a standing ovation which was a shock, and at end of the night I won, coming in first place with the classic routine and second place with my own routine. I cried my eyes out; I was in so much shock. I did a few shows after that, and then my daughter passed away on Valentine’s Day this year, so I stopped dancing.
Since childhood I have always loved to sing and dance at home; music has always helped me through all the good and bad times in my life, so I’m very passionate about it. On Valentine’s Day my little girl passed away in her sleep at home in her bed, dying from acute bronchopneumonia. The morning she died was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. As soon as I knew she wasn’t breathing I ran to her and performed CPR until an ambulance came. She was pronounced dead at the hospital and it broke my heart.
“[My daughter] was my everything and I know she would be happy to know I’m living my dream and trying to make a better life for myself and my son.”
I organised her whole funeral by myself and my love for her meant I had to do everything I possibly could to give her the best send off. I carried her coffin, I spoke and read a piece I wrote for her, and I sang a song for her in church and it was the first time I had sung in front of anyone. I felt I had to do it. After I sang a lot of people who attended, including NHS professionals, told me I did it beautifully and did my daughter proud. They told me they didn’t know I could sing and said I should do more with it, so I did.
I booked my first singing lesson and sang Here You Me, which was also played at the funeral, and my teacher said it was lovely. The week after I recorded my song and music video, and I had my daughter’s ashes in my bag with me as I wanted her to be with me and to be a part of it. I kept singing and recording songs, and then, as it was coming up to Summer’s birthday, I wanted to do a very special memorial, so in her memory I chose to sing the same song I sang live in church at her funeral. We went to shoot the video in the grounds of the actual church to make it more meaningful. I wore a white dress as I wanted it to be pure and about love. I added photos to the video and wrote a piece which is shown at the beginning and end. When the video was finished I released it on her birthday. Summer was my everything and I know she would be happy to know I’m living my dream and trying to make a better life for myself and my son.
All I wanted to do was tell the story of what I’ve been through and how I’ve made myself stronger and created a better life, and I just want to help others out there feel positive, as I do now. I want to inspire women to join in and show them that anyone can do it. I never think I’m better than anyone – I am who I am – but I do like to try help others.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.