An Interview with Ty Jeffries

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Ty Jeffries has a widely adored diva alter-ego, & her name is Miss Hope Springs…

Hello Ty, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I left the pandemonium of London’s Pimlico for sleepy Somerset about a year ago. It’s absolute bliss here! I live in the middle of nowhere. It’s so quiet. I can think, rehearse and write in peace.

Can you tell us about your famous father?
So, my late father was the British character actor, screenwriter and director Lionel Jeffries. He starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with Dick Van Dyke, and made masses of movies in the UK, many with Peter Sellers, and films like Camelot with Vanessa Redgrave in Hollywood back in the 60s. He also wrote and directed the much loved classic family film The Railway Children.

Can you tell us about your training?
I was trained classically in piano, voice, composition and violin at the prestigious Purcell School of Music in London from the age of 13. It stood me in good stead.As well as my career thread, as my piano playing nightclub chanteuse alter-ego Miss Hope Springs, I also write and perform my own original classical piano music, which was very recently featured on BBC Radio 3 Essential Classics.

What is a ‘Gender Illusionist’ & how did you become one?
I sometimes even call what I do Gender Tromp L’Oeil. Anything but ‘drag’. I suppose I have always been fascinated by the Golden Age Hollywood movie stars of yesteryear, and I wanted to emulate the female artists of that era. I approach what I do as a character actor/actress. I’ve always been fascinated by transformation, the power of makeup and masks and how you can magically become someone else and access different parts of your personality. My transformation takes a good 2 hours before each show and, once I am fully Miss Hope Springs, I don’t even respond to my name Ty. He has left the building and Hope takes over.

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So, how did you get into ‘Gender Tromp L’oeil’?
I come to it from a love of showbiz and movie stars and old Hollywood musicals. Compared to other ‘drag acts’ my show is really not a drag act. It is theatre. And that is the thing I’ve been up against all along. There is a lot of prejudice in this country about drag. Not so in the USA, where it is perceived as an art form. Here you are battling the image of a ‘cock in a frock’ miming to Barbra Streisand in the back of a pub.

Can you tell us about Le Crazy Coqs & your role with them?
I was very lucky to be invited by Jeremy King and Chris Corbyn (OBEs) to open their new cabaret room Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly in 2012. It’s pure art deco and the most beautiful cabaret room in London, right smack in the heart of the West End, now possibly better known as Live at Zedel. I’m lucky enough to say that I have been resident there pretty much ever since. The programme, the room and the quality of what you get there is the best in the country.

What is it about being performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
I simply love the in-the-moment interaction with a live audience. They stimulate me. You are bouncing off each other like sparks. Sometimes you have to work a little harder to win them over but I always get there in the end. It’s like a brief but very intense love affair. There’s a lot of adrenalin involved. I compare it to an extreme sport. Some people like to do ironing as they jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet…I perform live.

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Where & when did you get the idea for for Miss Hope Springs?
Listen, I’ve been writing songs since I was 7 years old. I had my first publishing deal at 16 and went on to be signed to Elton John’s Rocket music in the 80s. But, to be frank, I was getting nowhere fast. I was writing what were considered ‘old fashioned’ songs back then, suitable for Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne and to be honest no one was interested. Then along came the renaissance of ‘Vintage’ and suddenly my songs were considered classics, new standards. Well…Judy, Peggy and Lena are all kind of difficult to get in touch with these days, so I created my own diva, Miss Hope Springs, the never quite made it, down on her luck nightclub denizen. It’s been a wonderful roller-coaster ride ever since.

How has the character evolved since then?
Her look has evolved… although intrinsically the same. Just more her. She has developed an extremely rich and fully populated backstory (she now lives with her husband Irving and his ‘close’ hairdresser pal Carlos in a camper van in Dungeness). I suppose having played the part for 7 years now, I know her inside out. In fact it’s difficult to know where she ends and I begin…or is it the other way around?

Miss Hope Springs is performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; what is she bringing to the table?
Whatever she’s bringing, she’s bringing it to the piano! Live, original vintage Vegas-style songs in an array of styles, from toe tapping showstoppers to heartrending ballads. She’s a lovable character who people really relate to. Her ‘Ritz to the pits’ story is one of thwarted ambitions and broken dreams. It’s a laugh a minute,plus a few moments of turn-on-a-dime pathos that have been known to bring tears.

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How important are your self-penned songs to show?
I created Hope as my muse. The songs are the reason she exists. Each one reveals another moment in her life, another thread, her hopes and aspirations, her ups and downs. They are closeups into her mind. It’s a universal story. I think that’s why people of all ages and persuasions relate to her so much. And you’ll go home humming a few of the songs, The Devil Made Me Do It and A Seedy Little Nightclub in Pigalle, amongst others, are famously ‘ear worms’. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Can you tell us about your famous fans?
I’ve been so lucky since I started to have had a glittering array of celebrities come to the show. From marvellous Miriam Margoyles who is truly a joy, and ravishing Rula Lenska who’s become a dear friend, to Marc Almond and Will Young, who’ve both been to catch the show a few times. Pete Waterman loves the songs, which with 22 number ones is a good sign. Oh! and The Pet Shop Boys and Frances Barber too…who, funnily enough, are on directly after my show in the ‘Bijou’ as part of the Assembly Rooms Edinburgh Fringe.

You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street, what would you say?
It’s without doubt the best show you will ever see in your life! Even though I say so myself (laughs)… If you want to be entertained to within an inch of your life, get your butt down to the Bijou and don’t forget it’s a chance to dress up in your sequins, boas and bling. Miss Hope Springs is a firm believer that MORE IS MORE!

Its Miss Hope Springs

Assembly Rooms

Aug 1-24 (20:20)

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