Starting off in revues produced by her aunt's dancing school during the 1940s, 82-year-old British expat Gloria Nicholls has enjoyed an entertainment career that has lasted for almost 80 years. Today, the Mollina-based performer has virtually retired from the stage, although she now uses her fascinating experiences to raise funds for several Malaga-based charities.
Gloria was born in Lambeth, London, and first set foot on stage when she was just three years old. Her grandfather was a showman called Isaac 'Jack' Nicholls, while her grandmother was a ballet dancer in a circus. Her parents were in the amusement business, so Gloria was surrounded by the entertainment world from birth. Her aunt owned and ran the Nichollet School of Dancing in Battersea until she died of cancer at just 27. The school was taken over by one of her cousins, and Gloria began to help with its daily running.
The aspiring dancer knew from a tender age that she was destined for the showbiz world, but her dreams were shattered by World War II. When the war ended, Gloria joined The Regal Entertainers concert party and this was to be the start of a long and enjoyable career rubbing shoulders with some of Britain's top entertainers. Gloria stayed with the company for two years, performing two shows a week and earning 35 shillings per show.
At the age of 17, she performed at a dancing competition held at the renowned Windmill Theatre, where she met Lillian Rowley. Rowley was a celebrated dancer and choreographer who helped many young performers towards successful careers, and she quickly noticed that Gloria had an incredible talent and advised her to take up dancing professionally. Gloria's father had no desire to let his daughter enter the world of entertainment, but her mother intervened and took her to a meeting at Rowley's office, where she was offered a lucrative contract with Cecil Buckingham Productions.
"I was offered seven pounds a week and a rise of ten shillings each year. It was a seven-year contract that would take me abroad, but I turned it down because my mother was very ill and I knew that she didn't have long to live," Gloria explains to SUR in English.
Instead, Gloria formed her own company called the Beaux Belles, with which she wrote and produced shows for 35 years. As well as producing the shows, Gloria also designed the costumes, and the company went on to perform at some of the UK's top venues, including Stars and Garters in Leicester Square.
"I formed the Beaux Belles, which I produced, costumed and ran for 35 years. I also wrote and produced pantomimes and we performed at many of the major theatres in England and Wales," she says.
Mixing with the stars
The Beaux Belles went on to perform all over the UK, entertaining audiences at Butlins and Haven holiday camps, and venturing further afield to places like Spain, Germany, Dubai and Canada. They also regularly appeared on radio and television, collaborating with some of the top personalities of the era: these included Ted Rogers, Dick Emery, Hugie Green, Arthur English, Roy Castle and Ken Dodd.
"We worked with some wonderful people, especially Ken Dodd, who was someone very special. He was a lovely man. We performed with him at Butlins during the 1980s and he was so polite. He was a showman and he never stopped working: it was difficult to get him off stage," Gloria recalls affectionately.
Because of her husband's work commitments, in 2002 Gloria moved to Mollina near Antequera. She soon formed an amateur theatre group (Mollina Artist Group), with which she performed an array of shows for local charities, including La Asociación Los Girasoles de Ara, a Malaga-based association formed by a group of parents to cater for people with intellectual disabilities.
Gloria remained active on the local amateur theatrical scene for many years, before she decided that maybe the time had come to hang up her dancing shoes, but she soon realised that her days in the limelight were not quite over. Her friends in Mollina were fascinated by tales of the London music hall scene and the neverending list of famous personalities Gloria had worked with over the years, and so she was soon persuaded to organise a series of talks based on her life in showbiz. Gloria has no plans to retire and she has decided to continue giving talks about her life in order to raise funds for worthy causes.
"I am 82 now and I thought it was time to retire, but I found that people were interested in my life in show business. I don't think I'll ever retire: showbiz is my life." the tireless entertainer concludes.