This is a very sneaky preview of my contibution to the 2nd issue of His & Hers magazine.
Pic above taken July 2006.
Pic above taken Nov 2010 for The Fashion outside the capital exhibition.
It's a dull foggy Monday afternoon. My interviewee Harrie, Ex New Zealand missionary kid, tiptoes through the door of Cafe Tabac. Before she notices me, I can’t help but look her up and down. She's wearing black engineer wellingtons, a black and white striped Parisian angora jumper and a cashmere red beret, which can only be described as war time chic.
This dainty vision is wrapped up in a black circle skirt overcoat, her lightly made up face complete with matt burgundy lipstick looks surprisingly understated, yet charmingly demure.
With her cult following she still somehow manages to be recognised as her alter ego, internationally renowned strip tease artist Millie Dollar, curator and lead act at the risqué burlesque extravaganza The Martini Lounge.
I order a mocha for myself and hot chocolate for Harrie, then the interview begins.
I first met Harrie in 2006 when we shot a burlesque story. She was studying for an Arts degree with a mutual friend, but her paintings of bygone burlesque icons and her idols Betty Paige and Jane Mansfield didn't impress her tutors. Then during a trip to L.A. and the opportunity to perform amongst the greats, she decided to cut her losses to pursue the ‘dream'.
You’ve been performing for over five years, how did it start?
I've been practicing in my bedroom mirror since I was young, in the style of old musicals that my mother and I used to watch. I never imagined what it would develop into. When I found out there was a whole scene, I was really excited. I thought, hey! It wasn't just me that's practicing strip tease in my bedroom at the age of twelve.
Where does the name come from?
Jonny Dollar, the forties spy drama, referenced in the Maralin Monroe film- The Seven year Itch, was the first part of my name. But what would go with Dollar? Then It hit me, Millie, short for million.
Finding out my granddads headstrong sister was also called Millie and my burlesque idol shared my real name was a calling. How else could I take this?
Are Millie and Harrie the same person?
Not at all, but one girl blamed her alter ego for throwing pint glasses and cigarettes at the audience. You can't do this. An alter ego is still part of your own personality. Millie is more confident, it’s not something to hide behind, but it's a confidence I wish I could always have. I’m quite shy really.
When we first met burlesque was becoming main stream, I predicted it would become so big so fast it would become a passing trend…
I've read that people have become jaded about it, but it’s made people more aware. It's become this fashionable thing to do and it's drawn in a brand new audience that didn't know it existed.
Who are your idols?
The graceful 20s star Sally Rand and the raunchy 50s star Zorita, she was so wild. Zorita performed with snakes, but one day a snake pissed on her. Instead of toilet training them she taped them up. Unfortunately, she kept them taped up for so long they often died. She was obviously controversial and a renowned lesbian, rumoured to have a relationship with Marlene Dietrich. She was such an entertaining character.
How would you compare yourself to them?
I started performing with classic burlesque like Sally Rands feather and balloon dance. That involves dancing inside a giant inflated balloon, quite a feat. However burlesque gets very bitchy and I kept finding my balloon slashed before I was about to go on stage. Now I perform to songs like Ram Jam - Black Betty, which is from the 70s but very modern for me.
Burlesque put simply is stripping, do you think there's a difference?
There is this infamous list that's been written, by a burlesque performer I worked with only last week- Jo Boobs. She lists the reasons why Burlesque different to stripping or lap dancing. Firstly Burlesque is for the audience, stripping is one on one. With Burlesque you think about the full article/routine, lap dancing you would be thinking about, well... just making tips. They make a lot more money than we do.
Do you frown upon them?
Stripping is frowned upon in my industry but it’s just an evolution. Burlesque turned into go-go dancing, then in the 70s poles were introduced and then in the 80s laps. I give all respect to it, these girls get bruised from throwing themselves around poles. Lots of them, like me, see it as an art form. Seeing them as lesser performers is an ignorant statement.
They go all the way to make a living how far would you go?
Probably all the way. I’m not that shy... (Note, am I interviewing Harrie or Millie now?) There aren't many pictures of early burlesque, as it was illegal to be naked in public and as we're famous for nipple tassels which weren't invented back then, it proves something else was happening. So in the underground scene they had the full monty, it was called 'working hard'. I'm sure you can guess why.
How did they get away with this?
A blue light signalled the police arriving and Zorita's marvellously hidden contraption, where she simply kicked her leg back, made sure she was covered up just in time.
I can tell you’re head strong, have you had to deal with sleazes?
I once got pressured to give a lap dance for the groom (by the groom) at this so called 'classy' stag do. There where also normal strippers there, but I insisted your asking the wrong dancer. Apart from that it's either rich middle aged men or over accomplished celebrities. Stop the tape Matt, I can't name names...
Has it ever got in the way of your relationships?
Yes, it's been hard. I was in a relationship when I started. He didn't know Millie so I understood it was a change. I knew I had to do it, but he felt like he had to chaperone me to all my shows, even outside the UK. When he started becoming a problem with promoters I took a step back and thought about what I really wanted.
My boyfriend now met me knowing both Harrie and Millie. (Harrie smiles)
Where has burlesque taken you?
Geneva, Paris, Zurich, Milan, Croatia, Amsterdam… many places. The best was L.A. It was life changing. Apart from being able to learn from the best and developing my act, it made me realise I wasn't missing my boyfriend. I could see my future. Unfortunately, that wasn't with him anymore.
Tell me about your parents and upbringing, I mean it's not the average girls dream job?
They brought me up on the road in Australia and New Zealand as a missionary kid, but I never felt passionate about the church.
My mum now runs DADA, the disabled arts festival, she's seen me perform unlike my dad whose coming to the next Martini Lounge, that will be interesting?
How do you prepare for a show like the Martini Lounge?
My whole presentation has to be perfect, it's all part of the performance. Then a glass of champagne. I don't get butterflies anymore, but I miss smoking backstage before hand.
Smoking and drinking, am I painting a good picture of myself yet?
The picture that's been painted that maybe my photographs haven't picked up is an image of infectious self empowerment that anyone who takes their clothes of for a living would struggle to project. Has her old fashioned profession cast out that old fashion opinion that making money from your body is degrading?
I hope so.
This was taken to promote the new shopping centre when the whole of Liverpool one was still an isolated building site. Strange to think of now it's an open plan part of the city I walk through on my to work every day. Literally Millie was the first person to ever set foot in there with out a hard hat on. Even as I took the picture the site manager insisted I wore the helmet. Either side of this shot there are builders staring waiting to walk past, it was one of the only angles it could be took where the place looked complete....yet somehow, she still looks demure!
Liverpool pride! There's more info on liverpool pride and my interview on sevenstreets.com if you search it at the top left.
Book Tickets to the Martini Lounge 25th Feb at St Georges Hall.
Interview featured in this months His and hers Magazine.
Check out matt's new website...