Meet Miss Hope Springs
Drag Performer Extraordinaire, Comedy Chanteuse and Recovering Showgirl
Interview by Samantha Byrne Leyte
Miss Hope Springs is the Drag Queen alter ego of British born musician, comedian and performer Ty Jeffries. Ty spent much of his childhood in Hollywood. He comes from a show business family. His father was veteran British movie actor Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Camelot). Miss Hope Springs has been starting to sell out houses and rave reviews in London's West End since 2012. She plays piano and performs original songs accompanied by double bass and percussion. Miss Hope Springs has been described as "One of The Most Important Cabaret Creations of The Decade" - Musical Theatre Review, "The Definition of Classy Cabaret" - Todo List, "Hysterical.......Sleeper of The Year"- The Times London. Miss Hope Springs is currently in residence with her hot jazz combo ay The Hippodrome Casino in London's glittering West End. Miss Hope Springs is a riot with her songs and her glittering "riches to rags" standup comedy rapport. Very much an extrovert, Ty Jeffries, the performer who created Miss Hope Springs, graciously consented to an interview.
PSF: As a child did you have a central female hero who inspired you? Or perhaps did you have several of them? Movie stars, singers, etc.?
TJ: I was, and still am, obsessed with Greta Garbo, from the age af about 7 years old, and used to write to her...never heard back of course. I have read everything there is to on the subject. She was an enigma... complex and fascinating... psychologically and sexually ambiguous. She still weaves a magic spell with her mystery today....not many of today's so called "stars" will be doing that in 90 years' time. I love all those Hollywood ladies of course, Crawford, Davis, Dietrich, Lucy, Ida Lupino and Jean Arthur, too. As far as musicians go, Judy and Liza and Shirley MacLaine, Peggy Lee is a huge favourite as she was, like me, a songwriter. I'm a big fan of Lotte Lenya and Hildegard Knef as well, I love that old-school Berlin cabaret stuff.
PSF: At some point in your childhood or adolescence, being gay and being interested in female comportment and costumerie began to emerge. How did your Mom and Dad and your teachers react? And did you have to put up with any kind of bullying or harassment situations at school possibly?
TJ: I have always been a masculine man and luckily a feminine and convincing woman. Even very sophisticated (people) have come to see Miss Hope Springs perform and haven't twigged that she's not a real person. When I reappear after a show as "me," no one recognizes me at all. I like that duality. I come to this work as a musician and actor not a "drag queen" per se, although I'm sure I'm perceived as one and I'm proud to be called and to call myself one, I see myself more as a performance artist. As a gay man, I came out to friends and family as soon as I could put a name to my sexuality. I have never been in the closet, not even as a kid to try on my mother's clothes. It was not really ever discussed with my family. I felt no real need to. I told my mother I was gay when I was 20 and that was it. My mother and father were in the theatre and had lots of gay friends one being the most famous British drag artist of all time, namely Danny La Rue. My father passed away in 2010 but my mother and sisters come to see my shows when they can. My mother now reviews my reviews, which I love. As far as harassment, apart from the occasional lunatic, I have had no problems in that department. I do believe that if you are confident in who you are you, attract the right people to you. If anyone were to give me or anyone else a problem about their sexuality they would get extremely short shrift from me (that's a polite British way of saying ‘ass whooping').
PSF: Your parents were actors and you had access to their makeup kits and supplies?
TJ: I remember they had an old cigar box, the traditional receptacle for ‘grease paint,' as it was known back then, little sticks of '5 and 9' I remember them calling it, various tones of flesh, brown, black and something dark red for lips. Not modern cosmetic makeup, but the real old fashioned stage makeup. I studied theatre from the age of 18 and learned the old ways of applying stage makeup…which have served me well.
PSF: Was there any one person who taught you certain preliminaries like how to roll on hosiery and how to do makeup the way women do it?
TJ: You need no better teacher than watching Joan Crawford in any movie. I absorbed everything I needed to know from the silver screen and Golden Age Hollywood female movie stars. My mother of course was a very glamorous woman and I was fascinated watching her tranform herself from a hard working every-day ‘mom' into my father's (the British actor and film director Lionel Jeffries) sparkling, perfumed, Hedy Lamarr look-alike wife and disappear, in a chauffeur driven car, down the driveway and off to some glamorous premier or other in London. I learned how to do makeup by reading magazine articles in my sister's copies of Vogue and reading books by the brilliant late Kevyn Aucoin. Genius Way Bandy from the ‘70's fascinated me too and any makeup that transformed people from one thing to another, like that photo of Liza as Marilyn (have you seen it?). Makeup is magic.
PSF: You make a very good looking bald man, very handsome. But when you were younger, you had hair. And did you wear women's hairstyles?
TJ: Well, thank you for the nice compliment Samantha but no, possibly unlike many other 'gender illusionists,' as I said earlier, I was always happy to be a boy and still am. I had no interest in being feminine or female apart from when it came to expressing my songs and my performing as Miss Hope Springs. I not only played rugby football at school... but I boxed too. I was a model in NYC, Paris and Milan when I was in my ‘20's, the first and only top model at the time with a shaved head. I worked for Jean Paul Gaultier and Commes Des Garcons and did shows all over the world. I created my own theatrical career from nothing apart from my songs and a dream, and the reason I did that was to give life to my music and a chance to reveal my inner movie actress. And as I naturally write for women, I created my own female ‘personage' as they say in France, as a vessel to communicate the music and lyrics I write. I have always felt male on the outside and female on the inside, and I'm quite happy with that.
PSF: You spent long periods of time in Hollywood as a child when your dad was filming, you must surely have some interesting stories to tell from those days. People you met, etc..
TJ: Going to mass at the 'Church of the Good Shepherd' in Beverley Hills as a little boy with Rosalind Russell, who was a friend of my parents, dancing with Fred Astaire down Sunset Boulevard after dinner one night with him, my father had made a movie called Notorious Landlady with him, Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak and they became lifelong friends - Mr Astaire's daughter Ava is still a very dear friend of mine to this day. Shelly Winters came to our family home for dinner as did Shirley MacLaine and Lee Remick. British blonde bombshell Diana Dors was my mother's best friend. So, it was indeed a very star-studded childhood. However, that didn't stop me being star struck. I go to jelly when I meet someone famous. I had lunch with Dame Helen Mirren last year at her BAFTA Fellowship Lunch and became a gibbering idiot incapable of sensible conversation when I met her. I'm sure she thought I was having a stroke or something.
PSF: There were female impersonators on American network TV variety shows in the late sixties. Literally, drag queens. All things LGBT/TG/TS/CD were treated as seen but not heard in those days. Gay liberation only got started in 1966 and 1967. They say you were aquainted with a few of these drag performers. They must've been interesting people. Could you elaborate on that?
TJ: Well, yes, my father was fascinated by drag I think, not the rough and tumble drag performed in the back rooms of pubs and underground bars in the UK at the time, nor the Pantomime Dame kind of drag, which I don't believe you have in the USA. It's a tradition hundreds of years old, going back to Commedia dell'arte and Shakespeare when men would dress up as women. I'm sure you and your readers know this but just in case, back in Shakespeare's time, women were not allowed to perform on the stage at all, and all female parts were played by boys who were 'Dressed Roughly As a Girl' and they would write ‘D.R.A.G' in the side margin- it is believed that this is where the word comes from. My father loved the American entertainer Jim Bailey's work and we had (I still have it) his first LP. I remember watching Charles Pierce doing his Bette and Joan routine on British TV. My father also worked, as I said, with Danny La Rue and other British TV favourites Dick Emery and Benny Hill, who both performed the occasional drag characters in their shows. There was Stanley Baxter, Morecambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies, all big British TV stars of the ‘60's and ‘70's, and all very happy to do scenes and sketches as ‘women,' and that's what I loved.. They were acting quite seriously as women, which made it hugely funny. Apart from Danny La Rue, they were all ‘straight' when it came to their private lives. As far as I know, it was more about the comedic possibilites I think.
PSF: Where did you learn to sing and play the piano? Were you taught? And can you read music?
TJ: I am self-taught to a great extent. I went to the prestigious Purcell School of Music in London from the age of around 13 to 18, and was trained classically, but I suffer with dyslexia - very specifically musical dyslexia which means, although I know the theory and have the practical skills, I find reading and writing music very hard indeed - to the point it makes my brain fizz. So I couldn't pursue a career in classical music even if I'd wanted to. However, other parts of my brain work better to make up for that. I write all my own music and lyrics for every show, they have a very retro vibe, genetically related to the jazz, pop and musical theatre standards of the ‘40's ‘50's , ‘60s and ‘70s, and I have a back catalogue of hundreds of them. I seem to have a mind like a sponge and can remember hours of material, thank God, music, lyrics and gags. It all seems to be stored away in some big filing cabinet in my mind (they say bald men are very intelligent you know- that's why the hair doesn't grow, the brain gets too hot working overtime! ha ha).
PSF: When did you decide you wanted to perform in drag? And how old were you the first time you left the house in drag for a couple of hours?
TJ: I started working full time as Miss Hope Springs in 2010. Although I had done a few bits and pieces before. And the idea of Miss Hope Springs was germinating for many years. I knew there was something in there. It just took me almost a lifetime to get it out into the world. Someone once said Miss Hope Springs had an 'elephantine gestation and was born fully formed,' which I like. I very rarely go out as Hope. Sometimes to a special event or party for charity or something. But when I'm doing my shows, I always arrive as Ty and leave as Ty. Miss Hope has a whole different life story from mine. It get's very tricky trying to keep the act up in 'real life.' That's not for me. When she comes off stage, everything goes into a box until the next time.
PSF: How old were you when you first performed in public?
TJ: Well, I performed at school concerts as a little boy and in my early teens. Even then, usually my own work and did my party pieces for my parent's friends. I took to the stage as a solo performer first probably in the ‘90's when I was singing jazz standards at The Ritz Hotel in London and other rather swanky restaurants like the Roof Gardens in Kensington and Langhan's Brasserie in Mayfair. But I was really just a background cocktail pianist- it helped me hone my skills and I always got well fed too!
PSF: Who sews Miss Hope Springs' gowns and do you design them yourself?
TJ: I design and make all my own costumes. I call it ‘Hope Couture' ha ha. It was really out of necessity. As a hard working artist with a limited budget, and I certainly can't buy anything off the peg in my size at 6 ft. 2" in my stockinged feet, not in the UK anyway, I learned to cut from a pattern which a friend made to my measurements and I make all Hope's pantsuits. She only ever wears pant suits. In an homage to Liza, Shirley MacLaine and even Judy who often wore pants when performing. I like it, as it plays, yet again, on gender stereotypes. I find it glamorous but work (wo)man like.
PSF: What are some of the places you like to shop at back home in London?
TJ: I buy a lot of vintage and costume jewelry, from markets and online... The lady who makes my foundation garments buys them from a supplier and then customises them for me. I think a good foundation garment is the secret to feeling comfortable on stage. You don't want to be worrying about things pinging open or popping out, God forbid! I am not much of one for shopping. I always feel guilty buying anything for myself. Hope gets all the good stuff.
PSF: I know I'm immature,but how many wigs do you own?
TJ: That's not immature at all. I wish I could say I had a walk-in closet full but I don't have a huge collection. For me, as usual, it's about work. I make my wigs myself, not from scratch. But I buy a couple and pad them out and sew them together then get them styled, so, I have 3 on the go at the moment- one (that) I'm wearing in the show, one at the stylist and one for luck. Hope has her look. She's stuck in the late ‘60's/early ‘70's and there she will remain.
PSF: Do you have a wig stylist?
TJ: I know this sounds impossibly glamorous but it's true, Jennie, the lady who actually styles and sets them for me actually did Marlene Dietrich's ‘hair' when she was performing over here in 1972. And it was funny as I took her a photo of Marlene as a reference, quite a coincidence. She does a great job she captures that Diana Dors-style vintage glamour perfectly.
PSF: And about how many women's shoes and boots do you own?
TJ: I buy shoes in the 'high street' (as we call what you call main street in the UK) Top Shop, New Look very glam but extremely affordable shoes that come in my size…thank goodness my feet are not too big so can fit in to ladies size UK 8 (which I think is a US size 10.5). Also I find some vintage shoes. I bought a fab pair of original 1960's white lace ankle ‘booties' with a zip on the side and a cute heel in a thrift store. I wear them a lot.
PSF: If I'm not mistaken, you were contracted to Elton John's Rocket Records for a while back in the late ‘80's. That must've been an interesting experience!
TJ: Yes, I was in my late teens and was lucky enough to have someone make an introduction and I signed a publishing deal. Not that it went anywhere really. Although I did have a couple of songs in the UK charts that I wrote. I went on to work with artists as varied as Vangelis (Chariots of Fire) and Chaka Kahn and others.
PSF: I'm sure you rehearse and catalog jokes and one liners, right?
TJ: Oh yes. I write my scripts very carefully. My shows are all about Miss Hope's life and loves. She has a complete backstory going all the way back to her grandmother Augusta Wind in the 1890's and her heyday in the ‘60's and ‘70's in Las Vegas when she was a showgirl at the fictitious Pink Pelican Casino. One liners do have a way of coming off the top of my head, especially if there is any interaction with the audience. I love it when someone clever and funny comes out with something cute and I get to respond…but I am not a fan of drunks and people who don't know how to behave in an audience..playing with mobile phones etc. I have physically ejected one or two hecklers. That's where the rugby football and the boxing come in handy. Little did I know back in the day...
PSF: Do you rehearse in front of mirrors and take DVD's of yourself
TJ: I am not really a fan of looking at myself, either as a man or a women. I am awfully self-critical. Being a perfectionist is a blessing and a curse. But I have a very good imagination and a clear vision in my mind's eye of what is going to work on stage, and, thank God, it seems to. Costumes, yes. I always take shots of the new costumes to make sure they look right from every angle. I like to keep things very very simple-staging, lighting, instrumentation etc. Less is more in my book. For me, it's all about creating an illusion and taking people into another world for a couple of hours. I do film the shows but I'm seldom happy with the results. I directed and edited my most recent music video which I am happy with, "Where Have the Good Times Gone".
PSF: Where do you buy your makeup?
TJ: From MAC previously. But I was very sad to hear they have started doing animal experimentation on their products so they can sell them in China (which insists on that for all cosmetics). I hate to think of poor innocent animals being subjected to a lifetime of horrendous pain and suffering, just for our vanity- there is really no need for it anymore. So I look for cruelty-free products and use them. I shop at Illamasqua now, they are against animal testing. And I use Nivea skin products as, likewise, they do no testing. I do think the more you pay, the better it is. We only get one skin and it's important to look after it. I never go in the sun (like Dame Joan Collins and Dracula) and I have never smoked, so I am very lucky to have skin that looks pretty good for my age.
PSF: When you were growing up did you have favourite stores for buying women's stuff?
TJ: As I said earlier, I never even tried on my mum's clothes. I was into the magic of women, their allure and glamour from a very early age, as I said. But it was something for me that existed on stage or in photographs (I have a multitude of books of Hollywood portraits from the Golden Age and I poured over those for hours and hours lost in another world). For me, clothes are a means to an end. I think of my stage wear as a necessity and work hard to make sure they have the right feel and look about them to communicate, at a glance, the character I'm portraying. There is, I'm afraid, nothing fetishistic about it for me.
PSF: Lastly, what are Miss Hope Springs' plans coming up in the near future?
TJ: After being blessed with 2 years starring in my own show every Sunday at the gorgeous 'Le Crazy Coqs' in Piccadilly Circus in the very heart of London, I started a new residency in January this year at The Hippodrome Casino also in London's West End. I was thrilled to be nominated and shortlisted 'Best Musical Variety Act 2015' in the London Cabaret Awards this year, which was very nice and it's great to have a poster of Miss Hope Springs right smack bang on Leicester Square along with all the big shows in town. I am booked there on a regular basis until the end of July and, possibly, beyond. I am currently in my brand new show ‘Queen of Fools' and I am really hoping to come to The States this year but I just need to find the right contacts to make that happen. So, if anyone out there knows some nice venues with a decent piano and can pull some strings, just let me know.
Hope Springs and her Hot Jazz Combo- March 24th and April the 14th-The Metropolitan Room-34 W 22nd St. New York, NY 10010 USA
Miss Hope Springs Sings her Songs-Solo at the Piano on 17th of April at The Duplex 61 Christopher St. New York, NY 10014 USA phone 1-212-206-0440
1 show in San Francisco Friday 8th of April @ 7:00 at OASIS 298 11th St. San Francisco, CA 94103 USA phone 1-415-795-3180.
More American Hope Springs dates to be announced on www.misshopesprings.com
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