Saturday 22 June 2013

Interview with British Burlesque Star, Pin-up, and Pianist Extraordinaire Chrys Columbine!

Photo by Velda Lauder 
It’s been a little while since my last burlesque interview and I am sure you are in need of your burly fix so what could be better than hear from burlesque superstar, pin-up and pianist extraordinaire Chrys Columbine! In total star fashion Chrys answered this interview over the last few days, in Paris and from a yacht in Brittanny! Keep reading to hear about all things burlesque, beauty, costumes and much more!

A true queen of international burlesque, the stunning Chrys Columbine has been frequently described in the press as Britain’s answer to Dita Von Teese but with a twist - she’s the only burlesquer in the world who combines her stunning skills as a classical pianist with the art of burlesque!

The London-born showgirl is known globally for her unique, exquisite routines and has been a driving force alongside her contemporaries, in bringing British Burlesque into the mainstream.

From the likes of her ethereal “Venus” show (inspired by Boticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus) and her out-of-this-world “Fan Dance Phenomenon”, to her impossibly-seductive Naked Nocturne which sees her combining her playing of Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor with striptease, Chrys is a truly charismatic entertainer whose musical prowess puts her own, inimitable spin on burlesque.

Having mesmerised crowds all over the world - LA , Paris, Sydney, etc, her credits include MTV, Dom Perignon, Cannes Film Festival and London 2012 Olympics!

She was also a leading figure for two years, on burlesque’s biggest-yet theatre tour, An Evening of Burlesque, at major venues all over the UK and Europe. 

With the incredible, ethereal beauty of a Greek goddess, the sex-appeal that would give any Hollywood film star a run for her money, and a number of exquisite, original routines, she is one of the most original, charismatic and celebrated figures burlesque has ever known.

Find Chrys on Facebook and Twitter.

How did you get into the burlesque industry?

From childhood, I've always been enamored by old-style Hollywood glamour, silver-screen sirens and the entertainment of a bygone era. Like a lot of other little girls, when I grew up I wanted to be like the film stars and pin-ups.
Having been to a top London stage-school with bit parts in theater and TV, and my training as a concert pianist which later lead me touring with rock bands, meant I was already no stranger to the stage.
But it was my briefly being a fashion model in my late-teens and hating every second of it, that I got into what I really wanted to do, the world of alternative modelling - gothic-horror, fetish-fashion, latex and BDSM! Through this world I was lucky enough to have my first corset/lingerie shoot with Fairygothmother aka Lulu and Lush (who are my official sponsors) and it reminded me of the fascination with retro- pin-up style, and that bygone Hollywood era that I’d had as a child... and this particular chapter in my life would lead me to burlesque!
I saw my first ever burlesque show at a top fetish club by the exquisite Brit burlesque pioneer Gwendoline L'Amour and I was hooked! This was in 2003, when for a year or two I was fortunate enough to be her assistant - but it wasn't till 2007 that I would perform my first burlesque show! I’ve not looked back since - it’s taken me all over the world on stages great and small, on tour, on TV, on mad adventures, to even madder people... kind of how I’ve always wanted to live my life. 

How did the name Chrys Columbine come about and what does it mean to you?

Chrys is my real name (not spelt like that) and I named myself Columbine for two reasons. Both names came before burlesque though! When I was working as a fetish model I was part of a troupe of gothic models and performers (they would later, as I rose into the press long after I’d left them, also appear in the papers for a particular scandal involving one of them). The company spelt my first-name like that so that it looked more catching on paper. I chose Columbine, a doll (in the Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker,) and also, in puppet stories Columbine is supposed to be Harlequin’s suitor - all alluding to the part of my style-influence being “porcelain doll”. The name Columbine was also fitting for the darker side of what I do - it’s the name of a massacre. A little outrageous, but there is a side of me that’s also always been fascinated by the morbid and depraved, so there you go.

Do you have a favourite routine/performance?

Photo by Gregory Michael King
My Naked Nocturne piano/strip show that is renowned throughout the world for being the only one of its kind.
It sees me play Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, Opus Posthumus on the piano (one of my all-time favourite pieces) and take my garments off simultaneously.
What I like most about it is that it takes the mick out of the sometimes austere, classic -music-types that I had to encounter throughout my childhood. I start off all serious and get more and more playful as it goes along, and I love it when the audience play along with me! Oh, and the outfit is emerald-green - my favourite colour in the world.

Where do you get your inspiration for your routines from?

From all over; films, fairy tales, ancient-Greek mythology, porcelain dolls, visual art, beautiful objects, the list is endless. Obviously for a bespoke act for a brand or an event, I’ll base a routine on their criteria.
But music is the biggest one for me! With my classical-concert-piano background the music is often the first thing I’ll think of as often, my routines will revolve around the piece I’ve chosen to play. For non-piano routines even the music is often the first thing I’ll decide before I’ve even given thought to costume.
The piano has been the by far, the biggest inspiration for me - it’s I guess, my USP. When I first started with burlesque I wanted to give the world something that had never been done by any burlesque performer so I made it my signature to combine classical piano with the art of striptease.

You have headlined for UK & International Theatre Tour 'An Evening of Burlesque', how have you found the experience?

Well, Amber Topaz or “Showpaz” as we affectionately like to call her, was the premier one, I was the other headliner... but I did solely headline a few of the shows and the Germany tour (and I do add that I did feel weird not having Amber on those ones). It was amazing - the blood, the sweat, the tears.. No seriously! Whatever anyone says, touring is NOT glamorous, very tiring and even more stressful ... but sure is an experience to cherish for a lifetime!
It was such a joy to work on an on-going level with a furiously-talented and fantastically-fun cast, doing shows on beautiful stages from the likes of big city theatres - i.e. Palace Theatre, Manchester to the tranquil towns and ornate, oldy- worldy types such as Opera House, Buxton... and of course, the crowning glory O2 Arena’s IndigO2.
One of the most rewarding experiences I took away from that tour, was that we were often performing to burlesque “virgins” ,who had no idea and often, understandably, a misconception of the art form, but 99% of the time we would guide the them and turn them into burlesque aficionados!
It was also very interesting to see how the audience’s reactions varied. The Welsh audiences I remember were very loud and lively, the Italians appreciative but a little more restrained, the Germans very conservative BUT as we learnt from the post- show brochure signings, in no way did that mean they disliked the show; in fact the contrary was only too true.
On a personal note, I learnt that for my future performances of Naked Nocturne, I may benefit from the compere announcing that my piano-playing is actually live. I
think my most often-asked question at the signings (apart from how small my waist is in the corset) was whether or not I was really playing the piano!

I have seen you recently appear on E4’s hit TV show Made in Chelsea. How did that come about?

Myself and Jolie Papillion - Winner of Burlesque Idol 2011 and good friend, were asked especially in conjunction with Proud Cabaret. It was fab. We both did our signature fan dances and I did Naked Nocturne (though you don’t actually see me de- robe). I was pleasantly surprised that they used my live recording. It was the most efficient TV shoot ever - only took an hour and two takes! Unheard-of!

Can we expect to see you on our screens again anytime soon?

Yep, on Monday 24th June at 10pm on E4, myself and Jolie will be presenting the BAFTA award (feathers and all) on the Made In Chelsea End-Of-Season Studio Special!

 Photo by Gregory Michael King

Tell me all about your show The Secret Rendezvous that is held every Thursday night at McQueen Shoreditch!

I’ve been with McQueen since the grand, celeb-studded opening in 2010 and it’s always been one of my all-time favourite places to perform. The Secret Rendezvous was created on the back of the opening night which featured burlesque and variety, and saw how well it worked in the venue. The previous faces of the night have been Front magazine cover-girl/writer and world-renowned tattoo model Arabella Drummond, and the fantastic, multi-skilled, multi-talented Britain’s Got Talent semi- finalists Girls Roc, so I had hard acts to follow.
But since the relaunch in March, it’s been amazing AND a different experience week by week. I try to make more of a show of it, rather than a revue of having performer after performer. We always do a group number at the end and that works particularly well as the stage is panoramic, right in the middle of the bar and really engages the audience.
I’m lucky to have had some of the best performers in town such as Cabaret Rouge, Vicky Butterfly, Jolie Papillion, Tempest Rose, and Gwendoline L’Amour - and I am doing a very special one during the August Bank Holiday weekend with a top Ibiza producer where I will have the opportunity to have many amazing performers simultaneously!

You are on stage and being photographed a lot of the time. Looking after yourself must play a big part in your life. What are you favourite beauty products and why?

I DO believe it’s vital to look after your body and your skin, but to do what’s right for you, and I have very sensitive skin so fancy products will just irritate it. I face-scrub, and moisturize with the simplest of products and creams, either Simple, Nivea or Neal’s Yard, and I use cocoa butter all over my body on getting out of the bath.
I ALWAYS wear Factor 50 sunscreen, even in in the winter. Keeping yourself from sun exposure really does keep your skin younger, and a tan doesn’t suit me so nothing lost there.

Do you have a set beauty routine?

Yes, a regimented one but it’s nothing earth-shattering, just sensible and simple. I face-wipe, face-scrub, moisturize AND drink plenty of water without fail, even when I’ve been wasted beyond routine and logic...and these days I’m never in that state. I’m t-total for a while now, and that’s been part of my new beauty routine - it’s fantastic for the skin!

On that note how to you keep yourself in shape for your performances - What’s ‘a day in the life of Chrys’ diet’ like?

Exercise-wise, I do a lot of the warm-up, work-out and conditioning I learnt as a child whilst training in gymnastics, karate and competing as a swimmer on a national level.
Food-wise, I’m not particularly sweet-toothed. I’m into savoury stuff. My diet is really healthy, mainly consisting of tons of salad and vegetables, fish, meat and rice. I am a coeliac so I don’t have wheat or dairy. What’s my weakness? Anything greasy and salty I’m afraid, crisps, kebabs - I have to indulge occasionally as my diet is so restricted I’d go mental if I didn’t.
I’m known to drink more-than-a-little-coffee, but plenty of water to cancel it out - well, that’s what I tell myself!

Lulu and Lush by Gregroy Michael King 
Describe your fashion style?

Feminine, classy, trendy-with-a-retro-hint, and a little bit saucy.

Where are you favourite places to shop?

I love buying new things but hate the act of shopping - it’s a chore, so I tend to do the “going-where-I-can-find-everything-under-one-roof” thing.
For dresses and underwear I will go to Lulu and Lush as I can buy from an always- varied selection of pretty over and undergarments.
For shoes, I’ll go to Selfridges - again, find many amazing brands and designers under one roof!
For bags, I do like a designer-bag. Burberry and Vivienne Westwood are particular faves of mine.
In Sydney, I have one word - babylikestopony. I’m obsessed with, and collect lingerie even if I never wear it - some girls are shoe-girls, I’m the former!

What are your must have pieces of make up?

Everyday life? I couldn’t be more simplistic - Light-brown eyebrow pencil to give a full forties-arch (but not be too harsh against my pale hair and skin) and full-volume mascara. I need a rest from everything else.
Showtime? I must have the above, plus sparkling light and dark eyeshadow, foundation, pink blusher and false-lashes - usually all from mac (it’s professional and
reliable). I often wear nude lips as it goes better with some of my shows like Venus (when everything is pale) but when I do wear red lipstick it has to be either Chanel, Dior or my own Chrys Columbine shade from RED by Jac Bowie.
I never over-do it with make-up, my on-stage persona is an extension of myself, not a different person altogether!

What is your favourite perfume?

Dior Cherie - I carry a tiny little bottle of it everywhere I go. It’s little-girly and coquettish - a bit like me at times.

What do you like to do with your time off from being Chrys Columbine? 

Time off? Who’s lucky enough to have that these days?
I love the simple things in life like spending time with beloved friends, going for walks in the open air. I’m naturally quite highly-strung so it takes a little effort for me to take time out. At the risk of sounding misanthropic sometimes I just LOVE nothing more than being by myself!
I’ve recently started playing piano again a lot. Long gone were the days when I was a concert pianist practicing 6-hours a day, but now that piano is becoming more of key part of my show and my brand, am doing as much of it as I can in my spare time. Although it is work, it is COMPLETELY de-stressing and takes you to another world...
I am also soon to be embarking on a new challenge that appeals to the fast-and- furious side of my nature - it’ll be a big challenge and far more than just a hobby, a way of life - and I can’t wait! For now, all I can say is look out for social-media updates!

How do you go about making/creating your costumes?

I’ve been very lucky from the get-go! One of the top corset and lingerie companies I have been modelling for since way before my burlesque days, Fairygothmother aka Lulu and Lush, offered to sponsor me and they supply with the most gorgeous items, and often make bespoke numbers for me.
I usually come to them with an idea, and they make it come about in the most amazing way! For instance, for my Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow show, I wanted a 7- part skirt (for the 7 colours of the rainbow) which would come off individually, without it being obvious that it works that way - and they did just like that! Unlike a lot of very-talented burlesque performers, I am NOT skilled in costume-making or textiles so I’ve been very grateful to have had this.
One thing I can and am obsessed with is embellishing what I own in Swarovski crystals - and I do it quite a bit.

What exciting things are coming up for you in the future?

Hmm, that would be telling. Let’s just say, to-do-with, and not-to-do-with burlesque, I always set my sights at the highest, most-challenging points. I have a few exciting projects ahead, here and abroad and I’m enjoying every step of their progresses.

Who is your favourite burlesque performer to watch?

(Laughs cheekily) Well, there are a few, and am rather lucky as I’ve got ample go’s at watching them over and over:
Gwendoline L’Amour - favourite fan dancer of all time who I got to see again and again from being her assistant in the early days and recently, having guest-starred in my The Secret Rendezvous show at McQueen.
Any of Amber Topaz’s all-singing-all-dancing acts - no one does it quite like her. I was on tour with her with An Evening of Burlesque for two years and have seen her show time and time again from all angles - I’m a very lucky girl!
Roxi D’Lite’s Runaway Bride act which sees her doing an impressive aerial-hoop act, hanging from a giant diamond ring! I got to see that for several shows when we were on tour together for Burlesque Ball Tour Australia 2010.
Finally, Dolly Rose’s Peel Me a Grape has to be my favourite balloon pop of all time - the girl is dressed I purple balloons as a giant grape and as she pops them, they turn to glitter wine forgodsake - what’s not to love?!!!

Photo by Gregory Michael King
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?

Ludwig van Beethoven. He is by far, my favourite composer both to listen to and play on the piano. But I also fully-admire his personality and spirit.
“God works in mysterious ways”... they say? Here is a shining example. He gives a man the immense musical genius to create what was to become some of the world’s greatest music in history, whilst simultaneously giving him an illness that results in his eventual stone-deafness! As a result he had a very hard life, was not really able to relate to people and above all tormented by the fact that he could not physically hear his own music, or any other in fact. But rather than sinking into the depths of despair, he went on to create works such as his 9th Symphony (which is arguably one of the greatest works in history, has every emotion in it to the point where it could touch the heavens). Living through the turn of the 17th Century after the French Revolution kicked off and when Romanticism was born, he really supported the idea of man being an individual with the freedom of expression and to be master of his/her own destiny -not oppressed by man-made power of others... and he really took that to the nth degree. If he was upset, EVERYONE would know about it - archdukes, princes, any other wealthy patron in his life AND he got away with it! His musical genius, belief in his art, determination despite his infirmary and blatant passion for life makes him a role-model for any man or woman, I think.

What advice would you give to a girl reading this interested in getting into this industry?

In the first instance, I would ask her if she comes from a performance background or has any other arts/performance-related skills and if so, to combine an existing skill with burlesque. I find it much more exciting to watch a burlesque routine that may have another art form, be it singing, circus, body-piercing, playing the xylophone, or whatever!
If not, then I’d advise her to take not just burlesque classes, go to a few beginners ballet or jazz classes to get the poise and posture fit for a stage. And go and see as MANY shows as you can to take in the art form - how the de-robing can be done in different ways, the theatrics, the facial expressions, the putting together of costumes, the recreation of retro hair and make-up - to really focus on attention to detail.
One final thing! When comes the time to create her routine, I’d tell her to think of a theme to base her show on, a character, a story-line, and to pick music other than “Harlem Nocturne” and suchlike. There are SO MANY classic showgirl stripteases and tassel-twirls (and many done by girls that are ultimate experts at it) - the world doesn’t need too many more! 

Lulu and Lush by Gregroy Michael King
I would like to thank Chrys for her time with this interview. Remember to make sure you watch E4’s Made in Chelsea to catch a glimpse of the lady in action! I have more very exciting interviews lined up for you so keep reading!


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