The Diary of A Showgirl.
Penned by the hand of Ivy Paige.
Illustrations by Roxy Velvet.
Inspiration provided by copious amounts of Gin.
This is a work of fiction. Although places and locations may be real, any similarity to persons is purely coincidence. (Or laziness of the writer.)
Allow me to introduce myself: My name is Ivy Paige and I’m a gin drinking, time travelling showgirl. My exact date of birth remains unknown, but I like to think I am the love child of Dionysus, the god of wine-making, ritual madness and ecstasy, with a lot of glitter thrown in for good measure, which would certainly explain a lot.
I am a showgirl. What else could I do with a love for the audience and all that sparkles? I’ve been lifting the hem and lowering the tone for as long as I can remember. I am a teaser and a peeler. I shimmy and shake and I bump and grind. And ladies, you know with this much make-up I’m older than I look! From the temples of Ancient Greece, to absinthe fuelled Parisian dance halls, through to 21st Century showgirls bathed in champagne and diamonds; I’ve seen it all and never told. Until now that is.
People often ask me how I got into burlesque. Well, one evening I was leant up against a door chatting to some gentlemen in an alleyway. Suddenly, the door burst open and I was thrust onto the stage. The audience began to shout, ‘Off! Off! Off!’ So I removed a glove; it doesn’t sound like very much, but it was all I was wearing at the time! And I liked it so much I’ve been taking my clothes off ever since.
I’m lounging in my bedroom sipping a large gin. My room looks like a showgirl bomb went off in it. I am literally surrounded by the debris of showgirl detritus.
There are giant ostrich plumes, corsets dripping with a million crystals in a rainbow of colour, and a shoe heel peeks naughtily from underneath layers of lilac chiffon, frills and seamed stockings. I push a pile of rhinestone-encrusted bras out the way and sink onto my bed. It’s time to have a clear out. I have been trawling these costumes around with me for decades, centuries even. As I lay down to consider the enormity of this prospect, I’m aware of the rich and intoxicating showgirl aroma that fills the air. It’s a heady stench of perfume, Gin and dried sweat. I should really open a window. My face feels slightly irritated, and as I rub it, glitter comes off in my hands. No matter how much I scrub and scrub there is always one rebellious bit that sits on my skin like a little twinkling freckle.
It’s not just my room that’s full of clutter but my head. Like a burlesque balloon act it’s ready to explode. The clothes I can easily sell. But what about all my other debris? I take a long swig of gin and grab a paper and pen. One woman’s junk is someone else’s treasure, isn’t that how the saying goes? So many costumes, each with its own story to tell. I’ve lived so many lives that it would make a girl giddy if she thought about it too long.
Which is why I need a companion on this journey and that’s where you shall play your part. After all, what’s a showgirl without an audience? You dear friend, are about to get an authentic peep show. A no holds barred backstage pass of what life has been like for a time travelling showgirl.
So make sure you’re comfortable, pour yourself a large gin and let’s get this show on the road. We’ve got a lot to get through…
Chapter One: ‘The Bed’
It’s 2011, and tonight I’m reclining on a sumptuous red bed in the dressing room of cabaret nightclub, Café de Paris, which is nestled like a jewel in heart of London’s West End. This evening I am the ring mistress of a cavalcade of cabaret, circus and burlesque darlings for La Reve, London’s hottest cabaret show.
I may be semi-recumbent, but my mind is racing as the backstage gossip is passed around as quickly as the bottle of champagne. There is the usual chattering of personal success and public failure, a mothers warning about which promoters have failed to pay, and rather a caustic critique of a rather famous act (no names from me!)
Sharing my bed is burlesque princess, Rose Petal. She’s a showgirl that literally sparkles, even in the dimly lit dressing rooms of Café de Paris. Her hand made costumes are individual works of art. A dazzling display of crystals, beads, feathers and vintage lace that all combine to create moments of pleasure for her adoring audience. Of course the real treasure is what lays underneath her exquisite costumes and the journey she takes to get there.
I cast my eyes fleetingly toward my other bedfellow, circus starlet, Miss Lilly Lace, who is stretching in some comprising positions while still managing to take occasional swigs of white wine, such is the dedication to her art. The art of drinking of course! I take one sip of champagne and I start to primp and preen myself for this evening’s show.
Café de Paris is one of my favourite venues. She’s like an old showgirl herself; sexy and opulent, sensuous and knowing, history woven into the very fabric she’s adorned with. Indeed, the blue velvet curtains that frame us as we teeter on stage hold the promise of so much. If these walls could speak, what would they say of the famous and the fashionable? Would they tell us that during a WW2 air raid the band kept playing while the building was bombed?
If the mirrors could talk, would they pass us glimmers of Frank Sinatra rubbing shoulders with Tony Hancock, Eartha Kitt with Spike Milligan, Grace Kelly with Noel Coward? With another sip of champagne I consider my part in the looking glass of history.
And if this bed could speak…?! Eeugh! Well enough of that, I really must stop reminiscing and start getting ready. Now where’s a chair!
Clearly backstage is not designed for showgirls putting on their make-up. No chairs and little light! Lilly and I decamp to the powder room where the light is better. The soft lighting may be kind, but a little rouge goes a long way and no one wants to go on stage looking like a drag queen… Well except me… Oh and drag queens obviously!
So, lipstick on, corset laced, false eyelashes that finally consent to stick, my accompanist, Jack ‘The Piano Man’ and enough perfume to intoxicate the audience and overpower the now imagined smell of the dubious bed! Hmm… What shall I sing? Whatever I choose now, I know the hearts of the crowd will always sway me.
Jack disappears on stage and the adrenalin starts to kick in as my music starts to play. I climb three flights of stairs in heels only to be told I’ve gone the wrong way. I need a gin as a matter of urgency. Just as well I keep a mini bottle or two in my hair… Depending on the style obviously!
My goodness, this corset is far too tight and I really need a lay down. The penny drops as I step on stage… Oh, that’s why there’s a bed in the dressing room!
More adventures from the gin drinking, time travelling showgirl, Ivy Paige next week!
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.