By Harriet Whitehead
A bad grandma has found a new lease of life after taking up burlesque dancing – and she could be the oldest performer in the UK.
Septuagenarian Marilyn Bersey, from the Isle of Wight, took up the racy hobby just after her 70th birthday last year and said she’s never felt sexier.
The 71-year-old felt she’d lost her identity after her husband died and children moved away but is now loving performing after losing seven stone in weight – and claims it makes her ‘the coolest gran ever’.
The gran-of-two now regularly takes to the stage as her alter-ego Foxy La Mer, complete with corset and nipple tassles – and even reckons burlesque should be on prescription for fellow OAPs.
Retired outreach worker Marilyn, from Newport, Isle of Wight, said: “Burlesque encompasses everything I want to do. From the first day I was hooked. I suddenly felt feminine and so glamorous.
“Before, I’d felt like I’d lost all my femininity. Since my husband was ill there was nothing to make me feel glam.
“I’d lost that wife role. Sex was out of the window, there was nothing making me feel sexy.
“It was like I was just existing. I felt very alone. I felt there was something missing.
“At 70 years old people have this idea that you’re old and should just sit at home but that’s not me.
“I wanted something to make me feel like a woman, to feel glamourous and to feel desired.
“I say it’s ‘tease without the sleaze’. There’s nothing sleazy about what we do. It should be on prescription.”
At 5ft 1in, Marilyn had always been big and was bullied at school by a girl who poured salt on her and called her a ‘big fat slug’.
Turning to drama and acting as a way of escape, she gave up performing when she got married at the age of 22 and had her children Cymon Hulmes, 48, and Rachael Knight, 45.
But her marriage broke down after 16 years while her confidence had plummeted as her weight crept up to 18 stone.
Marilyn found love again with second husband David Bersey but the pair were devastated when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease shortly after they married in 1997. He died four years ago.
Marilyn said: “The wife role had gone and I had become more of a carer.
“I felt I’d lost my identity – as a wife and a mother, my children were all grown up. I was thinking ‘who am I?’
“My weight was up and down and I’d been suffering from high blood pressure for years. I started to steadily lose weight.
“I lost three stone then another three stone after I retired and joined Slimming World. Another stone fell off after my husband died. I now maintain my weight of 9st 7lbs.
“I was scrolling through Facebook and saw this burlesque group pop up and I thought it sounded interesting.
“I was very tentative at first. There were a lot of younger ladies and I was the oldest by a long way. They were in their twenties up to their forties.
“But I loved it and now go once a week. We learn a routine for four weeks and in the last week we dress up in burlesque and perform it. They’re a fantastic group of girls.”
Marilyn quickly took on the persona Foxy La Mer and now has two comedy burlesque chair routines that she does at charity events and parties – where she strips down to a sexy corset and nipple tassels which she makes herself.
Marilyn, who has a grandson Brandon Hanmore, 22, and step-grandson Aaron Knight, 27, said: “One is to the ghostbuster tune where, as sexily as I can, I take off a bit of clothing and strip down to my burlesque outfit.
“The other routine is the Burlesque Granny. I’m an old lady with a walking frame and do part of the routine as a grandma then the music changes and I take off my wig and glasses and strip down to my stockings and corset for the burlesque routine using the walking frame.
“Then I rip my bra off and reveal the nipple tassels.
“I love performing because I’m not being somebody else – Foxy La Mer is an extension of me rather than a character.
“It’s not important how old I am. I prefer it if they don’t say my age when they introduce me on stage. I want them to clap me because I’m doing well and they like it.
“It’s also toned me up. When I first started I couldn’t get my leg over the chair but it’s built up my stamina and strength and I can do everything that the others can do now.
“My daughter will come and watch me. She thinks it’s fantastic and my son is really proud. My grandson thinks I’m the coolest gran ever.”
Although not looking for a relationship Marilyn said burlesque has given her the confidence to flirt and look men in the eye.
She added: “It’s made me feel sexy again. I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing and if it met someone I’d feel confident enough to go for it.
“I would say to anyone just to try it. We’re all living longer and should be out there doing things not staying at home feeling miserable.”