Friday, 15 May 2015

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Well, just the statistics actually. But I got your attention. First, a news update.

Just after I debuted as Edith Cavell, I took Queen Elizabeth 1st to the capital to perform before an assembly of past and present London Blue Badge Guides. A thoroughly indomitable bunch, they are the folks who take tourists around the Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster Palace, Hampton Court and many other world famous landmarks. 

To be perfectly honest, I don't think I told them anything about QE1 that they didn't already know! But they loved the costume, the general spectacle, and were extremely complimentary about my talk structure and presentation skills. They also took me out to lunch in a local restaurant- my first experience of an authentic Turkish meal. It was a delight...

Back in East Anglia, I was due to perform Marie Lloyd to a group of elderly Norwichers who at the last minute requested that Marie wasn't too bawdy, because they're a church group. My heart sank- I mean, if you take the bawdy out of Marie Lloyd there's not much left! In the end I concentrated more on the biography and reduced the emphasis on the innuendos in the song lyrics. I kept in the famous -but unproven- story about cabbages and peas, which raised a chuckle.  It was ok, and they all enjoyed it, but I did feel very odd standing there in full costume when we had to stop for a prayer half way through! 

In April I performed Marie Lloyd for each of the four 2015 NCC Pensions Forums: total audience of about 600 council retirees. Difficult acoustics, no set-up time, large venues, terrible sight lines, and Marie had to use a very anachronistic handheld microphone because the clip-mic couldn't cope. But I was rewarded with a lovely bouquet and fantastic reviews, so all was instantly forgiven.

So, to statistics. Marie Lloyd is currently my most popular character, by a long way. In the last six weeks I have performed her nineteen times, compared to five times for each of the others. Of course, I've been performing QE1 since 2007, so there can't be many Norfolk WIs who haven't seen her. Queen Victoria is not far behind.

Surely I must run out of WIs soon?! 'Seven Ages' is building momentum and I have a lot of future bookings for that one. I'm not including Edith Cavell in any of these figures, because she's only a temporary fixture on my list.

My current average across the year is 2.5 talks per week. 

The average wasn't that high when I started eight years ago in 2007, but I'm happy to say the work has steadily increased ever since. A very quick calculation estimates that I've given over 600 talks! 

Audience numbers vary wildly- I can have anything from 15 to 200 people watching me. I never know exactly how many will be there until I arrive, but I'd guess the average WI is roughly 35 people. 600 x 35 is 21,000 people! If I halve that amount to take into account repeat visits, it's still 10,500 people! I can't actually believe I have performed to that number! 

Busy-ness has its down side. Mistakes can happen. I'm proud to say that in eight years of doing this, I've only had to cancel one talk through illness, I've only ever forgotten to turn up once (!!!!!!) and I've only ever turned up with the wrong 'Queen' once. 

That is, until a fortnight ago, when I arrived as the entertainment at Old Buckenham WI's Centenary celebration with all my Marie Lloyd kit, only to discover they had booked 'Seven Ages'. We delayed the start time by 15 minutes while I broke several land speed records driving home to get the right kit. Oops.

Four mistakes out of 600 performances isn't bad going (0.6%, in fact). And I've never (well, hardly ever*) forgotten my words.

People are always nice about what I do, and I genuinely appreciate all the kind words and thanks I receive- let's face it, for a natural show off like me, all ego-polishing is gratefully accepted! However, I was particularly thrilled and touched to receive a vote of thanks from Humbleyard WI group this week after my performance of 'Seven Ages', which summed up exactly what I aim to do with my talks. The lady said I never failed 'to encourage, inspire and entertain' them: praise indeed. 

Thank you to everyone who's ever booked me! 
Long may it continue.

*the phrase "watched the ladies swimming in the sea" once came out as "washed the babies singing in the sea". Right vowels, wrong consonants. Marie Lloyd was quite tired that night!