|“There’s no right way to take a bloody glove off!”|
“Tea!” shrieks the monstress, in her West Lothian brogue, over the head of the bewildered photographer. Er, sorry? “You asked me what my vices are! The answer’s tea!” And she stiltwalks over to the kitchen to stick the kettle on again.
Missy Malone, burlesque star and fan dance fan, is a down-to-earth gal, whose super-sharp costume-making skills and love of bump’n’grind have made her one to watch on the UK burlesque scene.
Performance-wise, she’s the real deal – an only child, little Missy would perform to anyone who was willing to watch and remembers “desperately trying to turn 10” so that she’d qualify for the local acting class. Before that, she studied dance and gained inspiration from books. “I’m dyslexic, so my mum used to read to me – probably until I was way older than most kids! I really loved fantasies like The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe – I’d always imagine I was a horse-man or whatever.”
Brought up in Livingston, west of Edinburgh, Missy went to a state school that had a bad rep. “There were lots of pregnancies ’cause it’s a small town. Loads of my class got knocked up – for fun! It was all drink, drugs, sex...”
Why didn’t you get involved? “Because I was so desperate to get out and go to university!” she explains. “I was a goth – I’d go out, underage, to metal nights. It was the chavs who were scary at school – I just kept my head down and was the weirdo with black lipstick on that nobody spoke to.”
The “gothy, angsty teenager” became involved with acting, choosing challenging emotional roles. Her first professional job, aged 15, saw Missy play a twin whose sibling was blind, in a play about teenage suicides. “It was addressing real problems in society, so I found that really interesting,” she says.
The play was on at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years running, and Missy now goes there every August to join whatever variety nights are on. This year it was Frank Skinner’s Credit Crunch Cabaret. “Frank’s really cool and funny,” she says. “His girlfriend’s into burlesque and pushed to make it happen.”
During the Fringe, she’d do up to three gigs a night. “I’d do one at 9pm, then I’d run along the road for another at 11, then maybe another at 1am. And after four years of me paying in blood, this year I got paid in real money! You can put that in writing.”
After school, Missy finally headed off to Edinburgh University to study performance costume design, where she discovered that she preferred the research and designing to the actual sewing.
“The ‘making’ was so not my thing!” she says. “But I’d rather be in complete control of how my costumes work than pay anybody else. If I’m taking something off onstage, it needs to work how I want it to work!”
Missy, who has 12 solo acts and four double-acts, confesses to having countless suitcases full of outfits. “I’m also a collector,” she laughs, “I’ve got loads of vintage pieces and odds and ends. I could open a shop!”
She collects 1940s hand-painted postcards that girls would send to their soldier sweethearts, and all things 1950s kitsch. “I’m a huge fan of the 1950s,” she enthuses. “But as I have to tell 1950s purists all the time, I’m not from the 1950s! I’m not ashamed to like modern things and my act uses elements from both eras.”
Missy’s burlesque career was born on the week of her 18th birthday – before that she performed circus skills as street theatre, during which she honed her 1950s style – then, “the minute I was 18, I took it into nightclubs”.
Her favourite night of all time is The Candy Box in Birmingham, and it was through meeting comedy chanteuse Kitten On The Keys there in 2007 that Missy ended up getting her big break: touring with seminal UK punksters The Damned. “They wanted a burlesque performer on their UK tour, so Kitten recommended me, they checked me out, and that was it!” she explains. “I finished university, went on holiday to LA, then went on the tour. And then – and I know this sounds incredibly wanky – everything changed for me.”
She moved to Cheltenham to be with her tour sweetheart: The Damned’s chief sound technician, Magic Dave. She certainly doesn’t feel like she’s missing out by not living in the Big Smoke. “I’m scared of London! Cheltenham’s deadly quiet, and I can walk and cycle everywhere. The London scene’s really saturated, whereas I think I’ve still got something ‘exotic’, ’cause I’m not always there. People always make a nice effort when they book me.”
The Damned tour was a big, glorious “smelly tour bus” adventure; but wasn’t always a picnic. “The burlesque got a mixed reception,” says Missy. “Some of the punks loved it, but some hated it – they just didn’t get it, ’cause they’re old scummy punks! Of course, being a punk gig, you got beer thrown at you! But because I was 9ft tall, I could see exactly who’d done it and I just pointed at the culprits until they’d been removed from the building – and so they didn’t get to see The Damned! I just thought, ‘Well, if you’re gonna be an arsehole...’”
Perhaps Missy’s proudest tour legacy was inspiring the band’s lead singer Dave Vanian to reinstate his trademark two-tone hairstyle. “When I first met him he didn’t have the white streak, but he said to me, ‘Oh, damn it, I miss it!’ and it’s back now!”
These days, Missy’s act takes her here, there and everywhere – perhaps most often to Milan. She’s flying there the day after the Bizarre shoot for a Disney-related catwalk show… to be Snow White. “Not sexy Snow White, though!” she giggles. “And I’m also going to be the Evil Queen – I have the eyebrows, you see.”
Another gig saw Missy dancing at high street fashion brand Miss Sixty’s area at Berlin Fashion Week, at Tempelhof airport. “The fair was inside the airport, but also spread right out onto the runway. Even the baggage carousels had brochures and goodie bags going round.”
She also worked on a Bollywood movie. “It was like being in a film,” she says – without irony – of living in India. “I’ve never seen poverty like that before. And they made us dance until our feet bled. They wanted cabaret-style dancing and proper dance routines, which none of us had ever done, with a bit of Bollywood dancing thrown in!
They could have got West End dancers but they wanted something a bit more ‘risqué’.” Don’t expect to see Rafter any time soon, though: the film appears to have disappeared.
Another much-loved side to her business is the one-day workshops that she runs with long-time burlesque buddy Leyla Rose, at which amateurs are given free rein to try belly dances and fan work. “It’s definitely not a class!” explains Missy, “We’re not trying to teach people. I truly believe that, as far as burlesque is concerned, there is no right or wrong way to do it.”
So it’s not like, say, trained dancing? “No! Burlesque was spawned from people imitating other art forms and not getting it quite right. They’d see Egyptian belly dancers, go, ‘Oh, that looks awesome,’ not know what they were doing and invent the cooch dance. The hoochie coochie was belly dancing gone wrong!”
Missy’s desire to distance herself from the snootier side of the scene gives her tone an impatient edge. “There’s no right way to take a bloody glove off!” You won’t learn striptease or tassel twirling there, either. “I can twirl tassels but I don’t tend to,” she says, “because there are better tassel twirlers than me. I’m more proud of being able to stiltwalk!”
Her act’s become so popular, in fact, that the great Vince Ray – designer of Bizarre’s own Ultra Vixens logo – has created a T-shirt just for her. “I danced at his Voodoo Crypt at the London Tattoo Convention,” says Missy. “We hung out, kept in touch and then collaborated on the design. He’s such a cult icon!” Not surprisingly, interest in the T-shirts is through the roof.
Missy’s also about to embark on another level of entertainment – having her own show. It hits the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, in February, and stars Leyla Rose, Vicky Butterfly, magician Christian Lee and compere Desmond O’Connor. And its name? The Missy Malone And Friends Burlesque Revue!
“I felt like a massive wanker to start with – like a total diva, but they insisted,” she says. “It’s the first time I’m calling the shots and paying the money. The next step is to be more involved with producing shows. I really enjoy running my own business – even the accounts side of things.”
The 5ft5in honey never divulges her real name, but even her teachers called her ‘Missy’. She took her moniker from a Catherine Cookson story, The Mallen Streak, in which all the men in a family have a shock streak of white hair.
She explains, “My dad had watched the TV version of the book, and used to make fun of my white streak of hair. Originally my name was going to be Missy Mallen, but it didn’t quite roll. Missy Malone has a good trashy sound to it.”
Missy’s into rock and roll – Metallica, Dolly Parton, Screaming Jay Hawkins and electro (she performs her Bride Of Frankenstein bit to Basement Jaxx’s ‘Get Me Off’) – but she’s rarely to be found in clubs unless she’s performing. “I like hanging out with my family, my boyfriend... and I’m really into hot rods, so we go to the Hemsby Rock’n’Roll Weekenders. We’re saving for a car,” she adds. “I’d like to get a Morris Minor, a cream one, with a leopard print interior.” Fierce.
For now, her mode of transport is her purple’n’gold 1950s-style Dawes bike: ‘The Duchess’.
She also relaxes by “generally disappearing out of the city. I’d also love to learn a proper dance skill, such as flamenco or ballroom”. And with that it’s time to dress up again for another shot – stopping by the kitchen first, though, for another cup of tea.
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