Telling the colourful tale of Vesta Tilley at Abbey - The Evesham Observer

Telling the colourful tale of Vesta Tilley at Abbey

Evesham Editorial 16th Nov, 2018   0

THE LIFE of a county star who made her name as a male impersonator in the music halls will be told at Pershore Abbey in the town’s Armistice centenary concert.

Claire Worboys will appear with the Worcester Philharmonic Orchestra at tomorrow’s (Saturday) concert which gets underway from 2.30pm.

Vesta Tilley was a male impersonator from the music halls. Born in Worcester in 1864 she had a huge interest in theatre as a child and first wore male clothes on stage when she was just five-years-old.

Later she became bored with her song and impressions acts declaring, ‘I felt that I could express myself better if I were dressed as a boy’. Success quickly followed and by 1874 she had made her London debut at the Canterbury Hall.

Tilley rehearsed her act down to the last detail, practising every word and every gesture. She impersonated dandies and fops and her dress was so immaculate she became a fashion icon for men.

Vesta paid meticulous attention to detail when dressing and took over an hour to get ready. She never cut her hair short but wore it plaited into tiny braids and coiled around her head under a wig.

Her most famous character was the man about town – smart, middle class, well dressed and polite. This was the character in her hit song ‘Burlington Bertie’. It tells the story of a ‘swell’ who stays out all night partying and doesn’t get up till 10.30am in the morning.

In the first Royal Variety Performance, she appeared as Algy, ‘The Piccadilly Johnny with the Little Glass Eye’, and was described as ‘the most perfectly dressed young man in the house’.

Vesta also performed as a judge, a clergymen and a soldier. Her songs included: ‘After the Ball’ and ‘Strolling Along with Nancy’. During the First World War songs such as ‘Jolly Good Luck to the Girl Who Loves a Soldier’, ‘The Army of Today’s All Right’ and ‘Six Days’ Leave’ inspired men to sign up, thus earning her the nickname ‘England’s greatest recruiting sergeant’.

She also poked fun at men and their vanities and retired in 1920 with a special matinee performance.

Like many music hall stars, she made the crossover from music hall to pantomime, appearing as principal boy in Augustus Harris’s spectacular pantomimes at Drury Lane theatre.

She married Walter de Frece, who was active in theatre management and later became an MP. On his knighthood, she became Lady de Frece and died in London in 1952.

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