This month @primpmycostume speaks with London Burlesque “First Lady of Frivolity” Chastity Belt. Chastity is a highly sought-after event host, cabaret compére, and Master of Ceremonies.
A powerhouse of a singer with razor-sharp wit, she really is the thinking man's crumpet and the crumpet man's thinker. As her name suggests, she can belt with the best of them and has been doing so in some of the top cabaret venues in London and around the country, including Proud venues, Cafe de Paris, and her shower room in South London.
Chastity's inner self is a trained actress and singer who has been performing for the best part of 20 years. She appeared in 'Stepping Out' on London's West End and it’s these skills, honed over many years that make her one of the best hosts in London and the UK. She is reliably charismatic enough to get even the most stoic of audience-members chuckling.
Charlotte Pacelli (CP): Before we get into any nitty-gritty, I need to draw every reader’s attention to your most excellent weekly Showbiz Pub Quiz! Streaming on Wednesday evenings at 8pm GMT on Facebook/ Instagram throughout lockdown, I can assure you all that it’s one quiz you will definitely not have tried yet! I’ll add the details on how to join in at the end of this interview.
Okay, questions. You are putting on your own Revue show. It can have any theme under the sun. Performers are creating new acts especially for it. What’s the theme and who are you casting?
Chastity Belt (CB): Wow, my own Revue is the absolute zenith for me, so this is awesome. Okay. The ideal scenario, it’s the Albert Hall. That’s in the budget, right?! Perfect.
It’s a little cliché, but I’d love to create something epic and classy, that celebrates iconic people through time. Activists, renegades, people that created change; that kind of thing. I’d love it to be a huge spectacle, in the round, with a live band in the middle. I work with a fantastic band at Bunga Bunga, so I’d task them with finding us a full modern orchestra of lovely people to make us sound awesome. Over the years, I’ve seen that cabaret performers go absolutely wild when performing to live music. It sets things alight. So, a live orchestra is a must for me.
The first act I would ask for is my absolute favourite, Demi Noire’s Josephine Baker tribute. It’s an incredible act as it is, but imagine it expanded into a full production number backed by 100 different versions of Josephine *drool*. We’re also booking the lovely Ulrike Storch to bring us Marlene, obviously. Because it’s beautiful. The biggest pleasure with a show like this would be to ask performers I love to create something that matters to them.
Letting people unleash their creativity on something that really inspires them is the key to awesome acts. I would love to ask aerial artists Korri Singh and Katherine Arnold to create something that mattered to them. The way they move in the air is just the most incredible thing. Maybe a duet?
Crumbs, I’ve got excited here. I’ll stop before I go wild! Also, I want Cleopantha because I love her. When I first saw her last year I nearly died. She’s the most exciting, anarchic burlesque act I’ve ever seen. End of. Okay. Now I’ll stop!
CP: I am seriously hyped hearing about all this. SIGN ME UP for the front row! Moving on, your most exciting venue discovery? Any details that were of particular interest?
CB: Walking into a new venue is one of the moments in my job that excites me the most. The thirty seconds when you work out whether the show will be a dream to run, or an absolute nightmare is hilarious. Last year I did a gig that was circus themed, they had a giant bespoke Big Top with bars around the outside and a ring stage in the middle. It was an absolute wonder.
Designed exactly for the needs of show, it allowed all the performers to hide in the crowd until they had to perform, which sent the audience wild. In terms of real bricks and mortar, my favourite venue is Cellar Door, for both performing and drinking in. It’s intimate, not many people know about it, and the cocktails are second to none!
CP: I love Cellar Door! Fun fact. Don’t know if it’s still there, but it used to have a magical toilet door that turned from clear to frosted glass when you switched the lock. This freaked me right out after a few wines, whilst thinking I’d have to do my business with my playsuit around my ankles in front of a queue of people through the clear glass. MAGIC DOOR! Anywhoo, returning to our actual business...
Catherine D’Lish has agreed to make your next burlesque costume. What’re you asking her for?
CB: OOF. Now we’re talking. I can’t help it, I love the floof her gowns have. I think I’d be going something in her traditional silky style. Blood red, as floofy as she can get it. But not too much floof around the face. Belty notes and mouth floof don’t mix!
CP: You can never have too much floof! Let’s talk music. I can really remember the first compere’s song that made me fall in love with cabaret (Dusty Limits’s ‘Let’s Do It’). Do you have a favourite inspiring-compere moment?
CB: I’ve had a couple of these. I was first introduced to Cabaret by one of my trusty best pals, Joe Morose. We went to drama school together and I was helping him write a few gags. I went to watch his show and he performed his version of ‘Bring On The Men’ and it really killed me off.
The contact with the audience, in a skillful safe way, the subversion of a classic musical theatre piece, and the little b*stard is just funny. There, I said it. That’s the last time! We went home, he had some spare gags that didn’t suit him, and we created ‘Chastity Belt’ there and then.
A few months later, and I had just started a few gigs. I was terrible, too loud, too shouty, nervous in my singing and horribly unrefined. I was watching the lovely Mister Meredith perform a show at Proud City, the crowd just loved him, as did I. We were chatting afterwards, and I had said I wished I felt I could sing big songs during my sets.
I felt I had the voice but not the confidence (this was a while ago now!). Luke looked me directly in the eye and said, “Darling, you must. There’s a lot of people that have the confidence but not the voice and are doing it anyway, so get on with it.” Luke may not even remember this, but it had a huge effect on me!
CP: We are all so glad you did - watching you sing is a total pleasure! Finishing off then. Most glamourous “Wow this is actually my job” moment? Weirdest, ‘Wow, this is actually my job’ moment?
CB: Oh, this is a good question! I’ve had my fair share of both of these! Last year, Dita von Teese was performing a private show at a Gentleman’s Club in Manchester, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to host. It was a long, intense day, but I couldn’t believe that I had found myself in that position. It was wild! She was everything I’d hoped for - remarkable! I still pinch myself.
Weirdest moment was fairly early on in my career, I was booked for a gig in Norway to host a Christmas party for a chain of hairdressers (other performers will know the gig I mean!). The gig was odd, as I don’t speak Norwegian, but it was generally fine. But the Managing Director’s Mother took a shine to me.
My flight wasn’t until 9pm the day after. I happened to mention this to her in conversation after the show, then went to bed. The next day I received a room call, summoning me down to the hotel reception, to be bundled into a Landrover so she could take me sightseeing. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, so spent the day being chauffeured around the city and up into the mountains to see the snow. I loved it. We conversed in broken English and the little French both of us knew, and the day wore on. She then informed me it was a national holiday, as it was finals of the Norweigan football league.
I was effectively abducted and taken back to her house to watch ‘The Game’ with her family. I’m an early person, and was desperate to get to the airport, and by now had convinced myself this was the start of my own episode of Panorama. There’s only so many times you can ask to be taken to the airport before you have to Great Escape your way out and order an uber! I’m ashamed to say I actively scurried out of there whilst she was in the loo. They still paid me, so it can’t be all bad!
CP: That was everything and more I thought I’d get out of asking that question. Thank you!
Chastity Belt runs a weekly online ‘Showbiz Pub Quiz’ on Wednesdays at 8pm, live streaming on Facebook and Instagram.
To join in the fun, sign up at tinyurl.com/showbizquiz from 7:45pm and if you enjoy yourself, please tip at paypal.me/chastitybeltcabaret