IMELDA, BANQUETS AND LAMPSHADES…

and a tale of early “upcycling”

Regular readers of these pages will know that my wife Dido’s first career was as a professional ballerina, mostly, as a member of the touring arm of the London’s Royal Ballet; The Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (since renamed and relocated as the Birmingham Royal Ballet). Being the premier national touring company, the main remit of the Sadler’s Wells was to bring top-class classical ballet to all corners of the British Isles, otherwise starved of such elite spectacle. However, during foreign tours (which occurred about every two years), the company had the additional role of being artistic, cultural ambassadors for the United Kingdom. More often than not, when meeting the great and the good of other nations, this responsibility could seem like a perk, but on occasion, it was more of a burden, when the handshakes and smiles were purely diplomatic.

Perhaps the starkest (not to mention most surreal) example of the latter occurrence in Dido’s Sadler’s Wells career happened during the 1980 tour of the Far East (to South Korea, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong), during the company’s visit to The Philippines when they were hosted by the infamous Ferdinand Marcos, and – most especially – by his wife Imelda.

The self-proclaimed ex-diva and lover of the arts took a personal interest in the visit of the company, setting up their performances at her newly built Cultural Centre (part of the complex built for the visit of Pope John Paul to Manilla the previous year). She also attended all of their shows (including two matinees, they typically performed 7 times a week), and lavished the company with ostentatious hospitality. This included the dubious privilege, following the company’s final performance in The Philippines, of being invited to the Malacañang Palace for a banquet being held to honour another well-known visitor to Manilla, David Rockefeller.

The main banquet, with a full-service supper was held in the Heroes’ Hall, after which Imelda took the company upstairs, where she had laid on a disco, and more food – an enormous buffet – before the highlight of the evening, a tour of her shoe collection.

The first lady’s parting gesture, was to give every member of the company (over 60 dancers, management and crew all-told) goody bags, stuffed with an eclectic selection of gifts. While the audio-cassette of Imelda singing her “greatest hits” was merely an acquired taste, the set of teak salad bowls and servers were actually tasteful and useful (we use Dido’s to this day); but things like shell-decorated flowerpots (with accompanying plant), mahogany and shell-decorated light shades, were not only garish, but constituted a serious logistical problem for the already overladen company.

Ultimately, it was as much as people could manage, to schlep the unwanted extra luggage to the company’s next port of call, Singapore, where they were staying at the Mandarin Hotel. Thus, at the end of their stay there, rather than lug the goody bags to Thailand and beyond, all 63 company members left the pot covers and light shades in their rooms.

Two years later, the Sadler’s Wells returned to Singapore, and the Mandarin Hotel, where they were housed on the same two floors as on the earlier visit. To their collective astonishment, they found that all the rooms had been redecorated, and refurbished with Imelda’s light shades and flower pots! Who knew that the queen of shoes was also a pioneer of high-end upcycling – albeit, unwittingly – and as for her “greatest hits” cassettes, nobody knows what happened to them?

This was the menu for the main sit-down dinner and it’s worth bearing in mind that the meal started at midnight, following the company’s final performance immediately before. And all this on top of a matinee earlier in the day! The dinner took hours, including half-a-dozen speeches given by the hosts and the guests, all of zero interest to a bunch of exhausted dancers. Fortunately this was a Saturday night with Sunday off…
…Following the formal supper, Imelda took the company upstairs to her own private palace disco (she loved dancing) where she had also laid on this ginormous “after-dinner” buffet. While it’s true that dancers are generally ravenous after shows, this was all too much, even for them…
The first lady boogying with one of the company members. The disco (including a break for a tour of her shoe collection) lasted until almost daybreak…
…Waiting at the airport in Manilla to board the plane for Singapore, together with their goody bags…
Gisselle was one of the main ballets of the tour, and here is my lovely Dido in her costume, on stage at Manilla.

IMPRESSIONS OF A YOUNG BALLERINA

AND HOW TWO THOROUGHBRED “FILLY foals” HAD THE SAME NAME…

When my then-wife-to-be, Dido, took her first lead dancing role as a member of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet Company in 1981, it represented the fruition of more than eleven years, (literally) blood, sweat and tears.

Dido’s life as a ballerina began in earnest at the age of thirteen when she left her home in Lexington, Kentucky for one year to go to the Washington (DC) School of Ballet. After attending the Joffrey Ballet summer school at the age of fifteen, she returned to New York City to train with the American Ballet / School. Later that same year Dido left America to join the Royal Ballet School in London, where as a student she danced with the Royal Ballet itself. She then took up her first professional position at the National Ballet of Canada based in Toronto, where she danced for a year. Finally she returned to London where she joined the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet Company, seeing out the remainder of her brief career before a serious foot injury – sustained while dancing at Covent Garden – took its toll. Despite attempting a comeback in Monte Carlo, her foot never fully recovered and she was forced to retire at the age of twenty-three.

It remains one of my chief regrets that I never got to see Dido dance (we only met in 1988), and perhaps that’s why I treasure all and any archive material I can find from her time as a ballerina. However, when Dido left the ballet world for her second career in occupational therapy, and being one who rarely looked back, she kept very little such material.

Thus, a couple of weeks ago, when I was in the home of Dido’s mother Ann in Little Rock (Arkansas) I was overjoyed when we discovered a small envelope stuffed with photos of Dido as a fourteen-year-old aspirant ballerina. Although no expert, even I could tell that these were pictures of an precociously gifted and beautiful dancer, truly worthy of being given the “Degas”-type treatment presented here.

They date from when her family lived in Lexington, Kentucky, and from about the time Dido realised she had what it took to go far on her chosen path. Studying under Nels Jorgensen, who had recently started the Lexington Ballet, Dido went on to win the Southeast American Ballet Competition, and subsequently perform a solo dance before the great and the good of Kentucky at the mansion of Henry Clay.

As it happened, the lady who arranged the performance at the Clay Mansion owned a stud farm in Lexington, and was so enchanted with Dido that she named her recently acquired filly foal for her. The fact that Dido the foal was a daughter of the great Secretariat made the gesture all the more special. Talk about naming a thoroughbred for a thoroughbred…

DANCERS

Having had such a positive response to my earlier post “The Morning After…” I’m now following that up with another series of images which have done well for me in the past, having given them a similar treatment to the nudes.

These originate from studies I did of my wife Dido and a girlfriend of hers – another ex-Royal ballerina – as they kindly posed and pranced around for me one evening here on our terrace in southern Spain many exotic moons ago.

Enjoy…

BEFORE WE MET…

These are a photos of my wife Dido from her previous life, before she met me and before she became a leading UK paediatric occupational therapist and internationally acclaimed researcher into the development of children’s brains. In her first professional career she was a ballerina and danced with some of the world’s greatest companies, as a student and then later as a professional dancer. She was best known for her time at Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet Company – the old touring company of the Royal Ballet and since morphed into the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company. During that time, normally when she was injured and could not dance, she got modelling jobs. Some of you might recognise Dido as the face of the British National Savings Bank from back in the mid-80’s. Dido was the “National Savings Girl” – so when we first met I knew I’d seen her somewhere before…

Literally, beauty and brains: (click on the photos to enlarge…)

For more information about this exceptional person and the early days of her second professional incarnation see this follow-up picture post: My Gal the Fellow…