All eyes are always on every move internationally-renowned burlesque artist Amber Topaz makes as she twirls and teases her way through her saucy stage routines.
But stepping out onto the Sheffield Lyceum stage on July 18 and 19 will cause more than the usual flutter of nerves for Amber.
She hails from Rotherham and is performing on home turf - not only as a dancer, but as an actress.
The role could have been written for her. She stars in acclaimed musical Miss Nightingale as a Northern lass who becomes a burlesque dancer in war-torn 1940s London.
Q. Amber, what’s your real name?
A. I was christened Michelle Louise Andrew. Family and friends call me Sheli. A photographer friend named me Amber Topaz.
Q. Tell me a bit about your Rotherham background...
A. I’m from a very supportive and spiritual working class family with a wonderful sense of humour. Most of my family still live in Rotherham.
Mum is a volunteer at the Rotherham Hospice and dad is a piano tuner. One brother is a psychiatric nurse and the other unfortunately was made redundant recently.
Q. What were you like at school?
A. I didn’t enjoy school apart from art and drama. I was easy to distract, so I’d often get into trouble. I was one of the class clowns. I went to school at Herringthorpe Infants and Juniors, spent a year at Broom Valley then went to Oakwood Comprehensive.
I loved dance school, though. I went to the Thompson School of Dance from the age of nine - 19 hours a week after school and at weekends. I moved to London after securing a place to study musical theatre and started my career in West End musicals The Canterville Ghost and Les Miserables.
Q. How did you move from West End musicals to burlesque?
A. Hard work and being in the right place at the right time! I was in Les Mis in the West End when I started to write my own songs. I had some photographs taken for a CD I’d produced and the photographer asked me to do some modelling for him. The shots he did were 1940s and 50s pin-up inspired. He suggested I do burlesque. Not only had I never modelled before, I didn’t even know what burlesque was! When I found out, I realised it was right up my street. I did my first act in 2005 at a talent night. I came first, was signed up to an agency and have never looked back.
Q. How did you learn how to do it?
A. By osmosis. I rumbled acts together that I felt were burlesque. I’m naturally bonkers so that helps. And representing the UK at the Miss Exotic World Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in 2006, 2007 and 2008 were the ultimate master classes. I saw the best from all over the world and it was massively inspiring, though the competition was terrifying. I don’t think burlesque artists should be compared as burlesque celebrates uniqueness.
Q. What do your family think about you being a burlesque dancer?
A. My family are very proud and very supportive. They love seeing me perform. My grandma photocopies reviews and newspaper articles and sends them to all her friends. She calls herself Braggy Maggie.
Q. Do you feel sexy when you’re on stage?
A. A costume can make you feel sexy but I don’t think about being sexy. I often do something perceived as sexy followed by something ridiculous; I’d much rather make someone laugh.
Q. How does it feel to be lusted after by the audience?
A. I don’t think I am?
Q. Is teasing and titillation sexier than full-frontal nudity?
A. That depends on the artist and what they are doing. Though I think it’s always good to leave an audience wanting more.
Q. Do you get nervous?
A. I always feel a little flutter of nerves. More than a flutter when I perform a new piece.
Q. Do you create a character when performing a burlesque routine?
A. Often. I have my own take on film icons such as Jessica Rabbit and Mia Wallace in ‘Pulp Friction’ and I do numbers as an 18th century lush and a mermaid (the tail is very limiting).
Q. What is the difference between stripping and burlesque?
A. There is striptease in most burlesque routines but it is for entertainment. It’s a comical or glamorous spectacle. Strip clubs are geared to a male audience and they objectify women. Big difference.
Q. How far do you go?
A. As a burlesque artist, to nipple tassels and a thong. As an actress, as far as required.
Q. Have you ever stripped for a partner?
Q. Where do you get your gorgeous costumes from?
A. I make or customise most of them myself.
Q. I hear you’ve performed for fashion icons, rock royalty, Knights of the Realm and certain very senior, serving Coalition Government Ministers Can you name names?
A. Sir Terrance Conran, Jasper Conran, Mary Quant... But I’ve no idea about the politician. I read it in the paper too.
Q. Miss Nightingale, the burlesque musical - this must be the perfect role for you.
A. When I read the script and listened to the songs I knew I had to play Maggie/Miss Nightingale. I was thrilled to be chosen. It’s a gripping story of sex, scandal and showbusiness. I play a nurse called Maggie Brown, a Northern lass who dreams of becoming a famous singer. With her songwriter George, a Jewish refugee, she auditions at every nightclub and cabaret bar in London. But nobody wants their act. Their luck changes when they meet the charming and wealthy Sir Frank. A plan is hatched and the mysterious Miss Nightingale explodes onto the stage. Polite society is shocked by her scandalous exploits, outfits and songs.
The show centres around Maggie’s transformation into Miss Nightingale and her relationship with the two men.
Q. What’s the most challenging aspect of the show for you?
A. I’m on stage almost all the time. It’s like being a athlete, mentally and physically. On a two-show day I’m running around in heels for five hours. It’s taxing on the body.
Q. How do you keep in shape?
A. I eat very healthily. I have to or I wouldn’t have a voice or any energy. Throwing myself around on stage burns the calories and I do yoga when I have the time and energy.
Q. Are you happy with your body or do you have lumps and bumps that you strive to disguise on stage?
Woman have lumps and bumps. Why hide what we are? It took a long time but I’m happy in my skin now. I accept the earthly body that holds my soul.