Miss Bluebell's dream alive and kicking at Paris's Lido
Draped in jewels and feathers, and with the longest legs in town, Bluebell girls have embodied Parisian sexy chic at the Lido cabaret since 1948. Their founder Margaret Kelly, nicknamed Miss Bluebell for her stunning hyacinth-coloured eyes, would have been 100-years-old this year. Bluebells past and present share their impressions of living the dream.
Some 10,000 showgirls have high-kicked night after night on the Champs Elysées since Irish-born dancer Margaret Kelly brought her troop over from the Folies Bergères to the Lido in 1948.
“She was on a pedestal but at the same time she was like a mother to us” recounts Lindsey Raven, a Bluebell from 1981 to 1983 and who now lives in Rome.
To commemorate what would have been Bluebell’s 100th birthday on 24 June, Raven brought together more than 200 former bluebells (and Kelly boys!) from around the world via her showbiz networking site showbizzfriends.com.
“A once in a lifetime moment” says Raven as four generations of Bluebells gather at the Lido.
“Miss Bluebell taught us discipline, stage presence and things you can use in life afterwards, like the confidence you can do what you want to do. […] It was a title; I never had to audition for another job. As soon as you said you were a Bluebell it was a passport into another show.”
Slideshow - Bluebell girls at the Lido
Former Bluebell Annette Hirsch from Australia says the new generation is a bit different.
“I think we were a lot more reserved and we did wear nicer dresses. Lots of us worked for Dior as well. Nowadays it’s more sunglasses and jeans”.
Hirsch is proud of the Bluebell title, but admits it wasn’t easy to wear.
“I was always very discreet about it because, to be honest, the fantasy of a bluebell girl, you immediately go 'Oooh, that’s interesting!', especially the males in this world, so I never mentioned it in the beginning when going for a job.”
And yet the reality of being a Bluebell was rather different.
“[It’s] not just a dancer that is barely dressed on stage and doesn’t have anything in her brain because lots of girls when they left the Lido have gone on to have very interesting careers. There’s some intelligence there as well.”
Hirsch herself went on to study psychotherapy.
Miss Bluebell handpicked her dancers not only for their long legs, beauty and elegance but for their strength of character too, says Pierre Rambert, Bluebell’s former assistant and now Lido’s artistic director.
“Bluebell was actually a very avant-garde woman and very feminist. There was an independence, strive and dedication [about her]. She kind of forwarded on the image she wanted to give to her girls.”
Apart from the 1.75m minimum height (still the case) the elegance, discipline and radiant smiles, the girls were not formatted. Rambert says this strong identity is the main reason the Bluebells, along with The Rockets at Radio City in NY, are the only two line-girl formations to have survived.
Currently around 60 girls appear on stage each night - 44 girls both topless and clothed (known as nudes and bluebells) and 16 Kelly boys. Roughly half are French, the rest from abroad, particularly the UK, Australia and Russia.
In Miss Bluebell’s days they were mainly Anglophones and press cuttings from the 60s quote her as saying French women didn’t have the “right bustline”.
Rambert admits that while Bluebell indeed preferred Anglophones, it wasn’t necessarily about boobs.
“In the 70s it was difficult to find French girls who were 1.75m, now there are plenty.” It’s a fact, French women are now taller and slimmer.
When I watched the current show Bonheur, the stage was a sea of stunningly-coloured feathers and sequins, but all the showgirls’ faces were white. Can you have black Bluebells? Rambert insists that colour is definitely not a barrier.
“It’s just that way at the moment. Two of our lead boys are black and [in the past] one of our lead girls was a stunning Afro-American. A beautiful girl dancer is a beautiful girl dancer no matter what colour she has.”
For the spectators it’s a world of glamour and grace. But achieving that requires a good deal of grind.
Bluebells have to be resilient, doing two two-hour shows a night, six nights a week. The feather backpacks can weigh up to 10 kilogrammes, the headgear up to six kilomgrammes and, while the kits have got lighter with each show as materials improve, the heels have got higher. Former Bluebell now maîtresse de ballet Jane Adamik says making what is very physically demanding appear graceful is all part of the job.
“Running up and down the stairs, the continual costume changes … all on nine-centimetre heels, the girls make it look glamorous but it’s physically very hard,” she says.
And, for some, a bit repetitive. Bonheur is now in its seventh year. Rambert admits a few girls are not cut out for such shows and have to leave.
“Even if they seem enthusiastic about the show and manage to keep smiling on stage because they’re professionals, I can see their hearts are not in it. Some girls need to be constantly on the move.”
But the magic still clearly operates. Jane Adamik says she receives around 50 CVs a day. So what makes girls keep on aspiring to be a Bluebell?
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Mariel Evans from Wales who joined the company two and a half years ago and has worked her way up to fourth captain. She started classical ballet aged three but, like so many, turned to cabaret when she grew too tall to make it as a ballerina.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was four-years-old. People say don’t be silly you’ll never work and here I am living the dream.”