Last month World Burlesque Games audiences were witness to staggering performances from a variety of acts, from the unrivalled madness of BigChief RandomChaos to the old school charms of Lada Redstar, but one woman was crowned Best British Female – mesmerising beauty, Eliza DeLite. The epitome of vintage glamour, Eliza has an eye for detail which is obvious in her gorgeous costumes and flawless hair and makeup. In this interview with Jo Taylor, Eliza gives us a fascinating insight into her journey from student to showgirl.
First of all, huge congratulations on your recent success, you must be thrilled! Can you tell us what motivated you to enter the World Burlesque Games 2012 and what winning meant to you?
Thank you very much! I’d performed at the London Burlesque Festival the previous year (2011) in the “British Bombshells (Best of the UK)” event and had been attending the festival for a few years prior to that. I’ve been a big follower of the festival since I was introduced to it in 2009 and, having had fantastic experiences of it before hand, I couldn’t not apply! It was incredibly tough choosing which of my acts to put forward knowing that this time it was to be a competition.
My reason for choosing “Like a Prayer” is that I believed it to be my most unique and artistically inspired act and certainly one of my most striking costumes. I did put a lot of work into improving various aspects of the act in the final months before the festival, I gave the costume a little make over but was careful not to make any major changes as I wanted it to remain the same in essence. By the time the actual competition came around I was preparing myself for the eventuality that I might not win, I really hate disappointment so I did an awful lot of thinking and mental preparation for what I was up against and what the outcome could have been. The actual performance went really well and whilst I remember I was up there my main focus was trying to engage with the audience and judges. Even right up until the moment that the compere (Benjamin Louche) had announced the two runners up and had the whole audience doing this incredibly nerve wrecking drum roll… I was ready to accept the possibility of not winning. So naturally when he read out my name the feeling was more one of relief that all the hard work had paid off.
Actually winning has meant a huge amount to me. The prizes, the crown and the certificate were lovely but the recognition means so, so much more. The last month has been crazy in the wake of the event, my twitter follower count racked up within hours of winning and I’ve received some really exciting bookings.
Your winning act is called Like a Prayer and you say it was inspired by religious iconography. When you first performed the act were you afraid of the reception you would receive and have you encountered any criticism with regards to the subject matter?
I’ve been incredibly lucky and haven’t received one bit of criticism or harsh words regarding it, which is great. When I debuted the act it was to a crowd I knew well, so I actually wasn’t too worried. I was very careful in creating the act, not so much to make sure it wasn’t offensive but to take the inspiration seriously and execute the idea in the right way. I am not a religious person by any sense but there is something about religious artwork that I find beautiful and evocative. This act drew specifically from catholic icons and paintings (hence the rich reds, blues and opulent gold), though the original source of inspiration is a photo by Pierre et Gilles (a French photographic art duo) who base a lot of their kitsch portraiture on religious icons. The photo in question is called ‘La Madone au coeur blessé.’ It’s an image I have adored since my time studying art and photography, so I didn’t have to go looking for the inspiration; it had been with me for years.
How much research and planning do you put into your routines?
Developing new acts is taking longer and longer these days as I strive to put as much of myself as possible into the preparation. I’m now planning acts months in advance and always with a deadline in mind (usually a specific show).
When I started out I would throw an act together in a matter of weeks but as I’ve developed and invested more of myself into what I do, I’ve found that it’s better to take things a little slower to make sure it comes out as a well developed and rounded routine. When you spend so much time on an act there’s no room for error or the ability to throw it away and start from scratch. Obviously my acts continue to evolve after their debut, but I make sure I have a solid foundation to begin with. In terms of research I don’t have a set method, but I draw inspiration from so many sources – art, film, history, culture, music, fashion; never really from burlesque itself. I’ve always seen burlesque as the product of all the things that inspire me.
Your look is faultless. Do you always maintain the perfect vintage image or can you be found on Sundays bimbling around Asda in jeans and a ponytail?
Bimbling?! I’m not sure I even know what that means!
Asda – NO! Ponytail – NO! Jeans – yes actually, can’t beat a good pair of Levis! It doesn’t take much time to pop on my make up every day and dress up a bit, I actually find this helps me through the day as I work two “day” jobs which can often be very long and tiring, so I take comfort in the fact that no matter how exhausted or fed up I feel inside, on the outside I remain confident and “visually inspiring” (I hope). I’ve had a life long battle with my naturally straight hair and so ponytails are a no-no. I’ve come to learn a few go-to emergency retro inspired hair dos for during the week when it’s not set or styled. I try to keep my image constant as much as possible, but I wont lie, I do have the occasional day off from make up and glam outfits.
Was there a moment when you decided you were going to ‘become’ a showgirl completely and what influenced you to do that?
No, it wasn’t an over night transformation, it happened very gradually. The moment I decided I could achieve something vaguely vintage in terms of look was probably when I was about 18 and happened to have an abundance of make up accumulated over various Christmas’s and birthdays, amongst which was a red lipstick. I wore it properly for the first time at my end of college ball and gradually it became a part of my every day look.
My look kept evolving over the following years and then a wonderful lady called Claire taught me the joys of setting lotion and how to wet set my hair. I think that was a big turning point for me as my hair was the one thing had held me back in terms my look both on and off stage. I think a point came where Burlesque was so prominent in my day to day life and when gigs increased I decided it was far easier to just maintain the vintage showgirl look on a day to day basis than to have to make a full transformation every time I did a show. I feel more comfortable & capable when I’m properly made up and ready to face the world.
In terms of actually fully accepting burlesque as a way of life, it was the best decision that I’ve made. After I graduated from university I spent about a year trying to find work in photography or video production (as this is what I had studied), I ended up getting very down about things and all the while I think I knew what it was I actually preferred doing (burlesque). So yes; there did come a point when I decided that rather than look for a job in what I was expected to do, I’d be happier doing what I loved and was good at (and could still utilize my creative training). After that point I got myself two very enjoyable part time jobs that I could easily fit around shows and that weren’t going to leave me feeling stressed out.
What do your family think of your career?
My family is incredibly supportive and encouraging, I count myself very lucky for that. Completely letting them in on what I was doing as a performer was by far one of the hardest things I have had to overcome during my time doing this. They’ve been attending my shows and following my career in burlesque for just over a year now, as I invited my mum and my sister to see me for the first time at the London Burlesque Festival in 2011. That was the most nerve-wracking performance ever and looking back I was worrying for no reason! It took a little while longer to invite my dad (I’m not sure who was more freaked out by it – me or him), but he’s seen a couple of shows now and came along with my mum and some friends to support me at the World Burlesque Games.
Do you think that the scene is very different in London compared to Leicester? Would you ever consider moving to the capital?
Obviously the scene in Leicester is smaller than that of London, but it’s certainly expanded over the last couple of years and found it’s rightful place among the array of other thriving Burly hotspots in Britain. I feel proud to have contributed towards it with my own event – ElectroTease at The Basement, which is a cosy underground cocktail bar. The night happens every other month and is a fusion of burlesque performance and electro swing music. I can’t make any judgment on the London scene yet as I’ve been working predominantly in the Midlands for the past few years but am hoping to expand and get to know it a bit better in the near future. I’m happy living in Leicester for now and am lucky to have a fast connection to London by train (I can be there in an hour) so getting there to perform is pretty easy.
Obviously the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend took place in Las Vegas recently. Is that somewhere that you see yourself competing in the future and why?
It would be incredible to go there and compete and is certainly something I’ll be aspiring to now. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the biggest burlesque get together in the world!?
If you had freedom to choose any line up from anywhere in the world for a burlesque night who would you pick and why?
That’s a really tough question! I still feel that there are so many performers that I’m yet to see perform live who would probably influence this choice but for starters I’d like to bring Sherry Britton back from the dead (is that an option?)! Seriously though, I don’t think I can answer that question right now, ask me again in 5 years!
What’s next on the agenda for the Best British Female of burlesque?
Well, I promised myself I wouldn’t but I am already working on a new act. I’ve put my feet up for a month now since the games and my creative juices are now restored and ready to be put to good use. I have set myself a deadline of September, which is when I’ll be hoping to debut it. This is actually an act I’ve wanted to do for over a year now but time wouldn’t permit it until now and I feel that the idea has developed nicely and is ready to come to life. I have a few fun things lined up for the summer aside from some great shows I’ll be doing some catwalk modeling at Retro Festival and also the Miss Vintage Twinwood Glamour Pageant in August.
We (myself in conjunction with The Basement) have also now gotten a sponsor for ElectroTease, which is incredibly exciting and will hopefully take the event up a notch or two. I’ve had to work really hard to keep it quiet for a little while but I can now officially announce that ElectroTease will be sponsored by Cointreau! It’s great to have a sponsor on board and obviously the significance behind the brand and its already strong links with burlesque makes this extra special.
I hope that the future holds more exciting opportunities and will continue to work hard to make the most of my new title.
For more on Eliza visit her website