For some reason, Sussex has always been home to a most interesting array of personalities. Some of them homegrown, some imported. Perhaps it’s the revitalising air of the South Downs, or the stimulation of our beautiful Sussex coast which gives rise to such creativity and adventurousness of spirit but long may it continue. There is truly nothing better than coming across a soul who has thrown caution to the wind and wholeheartedly embraced who they are and want to be. And that pretty much sums up Sussex Gardener, Lucy White-Simpson!
Bizarre as it sounds, I met Lucy doing a bikini photoshoot of middle-aged, menopausal women for a friend for the Daily Mail. Whilst I stood awkward in my cozie, she was bold and beautiful! But even then, at 5 foot and a very important half inch, I would never have guessed her hidden talents. After all, Lucy, is cracking 53 and like me, a mother. But look a little closer and Lucy lights up the stage!
Bulbs to burlesque
For most of us, life is never short of curveballs. It’s what you do with them that counts! In 2016, Lucy, a self-employed gardener, was widowed at aged just 48, leaving her to bring up a teenage daughter. She’d always loved singing, particularly jazz, and the 1950s era and was even in a band way back in the 1990s, so in 2018, as she picked herself up from the storm of bereavement, she decided to take up burlesque dancing! As you do (no, I don’t).
Female empowerment takes many forms
“It’s about female empowerment,” she explains after telling me she’d started by enrolling on a beginner’s course in Brighton with a Veronica Blacklace! “You get a lot of support from Veronica who is very protective of us would-be dancers, but you also get a lot of support from the other ladies on the course and from the audience too. They’re all willing you to succeed!
You start with simple choreography; gloves off, hold-ups down and simple moves. Then you build up your skills to a point where you can go it alone, using other props and developing your own style as you go. I also did a photoshoot in my gear at Hotel Pelirocco.”
The resulting photos are fantastic, I think you’ll agree.
“And it’s hugely liberating,” Lucy explains. “The dancers come in all shapes and sizes and you learn to love your body and be happy with who you are. Lots of women on the course have body issues or anxiety. But the group is so inclusive and fun. I love these people and I love being with them. I really have found my tribe.”
Burlesque for the WI
The beginner’s course culminates in a show in Brighton and Lucy is now one part of a burlesque quartet called the Sparkling Diamonds, made up of other dancers she met on the course. They do open mic style cabaret and have even been asked to perform at the Brighton Fringe notwithstanding that their ages range from 30 something to over 60. Lockdown may have put paid to performances recently but, undeterred, Lucy is still hopeful that she will be able to perform at this year’s Brighton Fringe on the 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 26th June.
Hooked on this new and colourful lifestyle, Lucy has performed elsewhere in Sussex and now wants to marry her burlesque moves with her singing and get a band together. Better still, she’s hoping to teach the local ladies from the local WI a few handy moves. Now that I have to see.
But will she give up gardening? “No, I don’t think so. I love what I do. Feeling the earth between my fingers and being outside is part of who I am. I just might make it a bit more glam!” and in fact since lockdown she’s signed up to a garden design course in Brighton.
Lucy is a most extraordinary Sussex character and leaves you feeling inspired and excited to find your own tribe and hidden passions. And if the pandemic restrictions do allow it, I know where I’ll be heading. Down to Brighton to cheer on Lucy’s beautifully bold, burlesque dancing tribe.
You can see more of Lucy at https://www.facebook.com/thesingingburlesquegardener/