HOW WE MET; DILLIE KEANE AND ADELE ANDERSON
Sunday 02 February 1997
Adele Anderson was born in Southampton. After graduating in drama from Birmingham University as a man, she began the lengthy process of changing her sex. She then worked as a civil servant and a secretary before becoming a jazz singer. She joined Fascinating Aida in 1984, and she lives in east London
Dillie Keane: We met in 1984, when we were looking for a new third singer for the group. Our manager Nica Burns, who was at that time running the Late & Live cabaret at the Donmar Warehouse, said that she had met an extraordinary woman who had been singing extremely funny rewrites of Cole Porter, and who might be useful as a collaborator. So Adele was invited to audition.
Adele arrived wearing this completely absurd - but I have to say quite glamorous - outfit: a huge, long, rust-coloured trench coat and a matching hat pulled way down over one eye. Anyway, after she'd sung - incredibly well - we sat her down and asked her what work she'd done, whether she had an Equity card; all the useful things we needed to know.
Then finally Nica said, "There's no easy way to put this, but... are you a man?" I was mortified. I hadn't actually had any strong sense of maleness from Adele. I thought she was probably just one of those girls who was rather frightening on the hockey pitch at school. Poor Adele went puce. Her mouth dropped open and she said, "Uh... uh... No." And that was that. She did a second audition, and we asked her to join the group. She just fitted: the voice blended wonderfully, and she looked slightly wacky. She does have an androgyny, a certain puzzle about her which I think is quite endearing and good for the group. We're all misfits in some way or another, which is how we can be as rude as we are.
After that first hiatus we didn't bring up the male thing again, though I suppose we still wondered about Adele. I didn't know anything about trans-sexuality then. We'd change together in the dressing room and she had, you know, a proper female body. And she used to carry tampons, which certainly put us off the scent. Then, an old girlfriend of mine came to see the show, rang me up afterwards and said, "It's really great to see Adele again. I knew her when she was a bloke." I rang the others in the group, and they felt bamboozled, more so than I did. They were concerned that any publicity about it could rebound badly on the group, just when we were starting to do rather well. So we sat on the knowledge and didn't tell Adele we knew. We just went on working.
That summer, doing the Edinburgh Fringe, we got a review in the Financial Times that said: "You could have fooled me that the one with the smoky brown voice isn't a man in drag." We nearly died, because we knew it would be hurtful for Adele. Sure enough, we found her in tears. We said, "It's all right. We know. It's not going to make any difference." And that was that.
I think she was relieved that we knew and that she hadn't had to tell us. But then the press started to quarry us - well, not me personally, or they would have got a biff on the chops - but they rang her aged parents late at night, and tried to track down an old university lecturer of hers. We began to realise that the only thing to do was to release the news properly. Adele was terrified, but she went ahead and gave an interview to a paper. It's strange because we bullied her to let the news out, and then protected her fiercely, having done it.
Adele and I have never actually sat down and talked about why and how she became female. Something as enormous as realising you're in the wrong body and changing it can't be dealt with in a three-hour chat. But it has sort of come out in dribs and drabs.
I can't actually imagine Adele as a man, and anyway I think she's entitled to be who she is. I think of it in terms of this guy I knew who used to come up to me and say, "Of course I remember you before you were blonde!" I always thought that an incredible intrusion and bloody rude.
I do tease her, though. I once said to her, when she was being very weedy about something, "Oh Adele! Are you a mouse or a mouse?" Her face dropped - and then she laughed for about half an hour. She's started to crack jokes about it herself now. When asked, she always says she was the best man for the job. The difficulty now is for the third member of the group - currently Issy van Randwyck - because there's such a strong bond between Adele and me. I came in late one day, seriously frazzled, and I started ranting about having too much to do, and how what I really needed was a wife. Adele said simply, "You've got me, Dillie." I was touched.
ADELE ANDERSON: In 1984, I'd never heard of Fascinating Aida. So when their manager asked me to audition for the group, I had to ask my next- door neighbour who they were. The reply was, "They're some girls from university, and they're quite funny."
So I went along to the flat Dillie shared in West Hampstead, armed with my own version of "Anything Goes" - which was the song I'd been performing when Nica Burns, their manager, spotted me. I remember that I was wearing a big trenchcoat in a colour I would never wear now - not since I went to House of Colour, who told me what colours suit me. Dillie finds it highly amusing that I'm now ruled by this swatch card. Anyway, I had on this terracotta coat and a kind of Thirties hat with a big feather - to make an impression. Dillie didn't know whether they were looking for a soprano, or someone to take the middle part, or what, so she got me to sight-read a song that she had arranged in different ways. I think she was gobsmacked by my voice. She'd been expecting something an octave higher. She said, "Wow, that's quite... er... low."
Then Nica Burns asked me the $64,000-question: "Are you a man?" But she asked me the wrong question, of course. I could honestly say, no, I wasn't a man. All the same, I was very embarrassed and felt myself blushing furiously. Dillie saved me by chipping in rather brightly, "Well, that was very good," and asked to me to come back for a second audition. I knew that if I joined the group it would mean regular work, which I was desperate for. I rang up my friends and said that I had been offered this job, and that I had been asked this question at the interview - should I say anything or not? All my friends said, no, that I had got the job on my merits, and that as it was an all-girl group, and I was a girl, that should be an end of it.
There are two schools of thought among sex-changes. Some say it's best to be up-front about it. But in those days, I definitely didn't want people to know. I should have guessed that the theatre is such a small world it was bound to come out, but I suppose I was living for the moment.
Even after Dillie and I began working closely together, the topic wasn't raised again. My secret was forced out when we went up to do the Edinburgh Festival in 1985. A theatre critic wrote a review in which he said that in a certain song I could easily convince him that I was a slinky transvestite. It was actually a great compliment, but I was completely freaked by it, and broke down in floods of tears.
Dillie hadn't been speaking to me much at that festival; she kept locking herself in her room. She said it was because she was depressed by reading The Brothers Karamazov, but later I discovered that it was because she knew that the tabloid press were sniffing around. She'd known early on that I was a sex change, but I hadn't an inkling that she knew. When you go through what I've gone through, you learn to blinker yourself to what's going on. In the early stages after the operation everyone sniggers when you walk down the street, and you develop a thick skin.
Anyway, it all came out, and Dillie and the others told me what a strain it had been and how unfair it was that I had lied. Then they said we were going to have to talk about it to a broadsheet newspaper. I really didn't want to - but looking back, it was the right decision. That's the maddening thing about Dillie. She is invariably right. But I didn't enjoy being outed; my friendship with Dillie had to begin all over again.
On my journey to being a woman, I had always fought all my own battles. But since that time, Dillie has fought them for me. If anybody asks, Dillie either roars with laughter, or she says, "A trans-sexual in the group? Yes, it's me: I used to play rugby for Trinity." I just sit there and smile sweetly.
At the beginning, I was very much the third member of FA. Nowadays, the bond between Dillie and me makes it difficult for anyone else coming in. We were born three weeks apart, 20 miles from each other, and we're both Gemini, though very different. She's driven; I'm lazy. I went through a period of being jealous of her talent. She was my hero, and I wanted to be like her. She's disciplined about work but scatty about possessions. So we've developed a system. I'll arrive at her house to pick her up, and she'll ask me, "Where is my handbag? Where are my shoes?" I might have only just walked in, but I'll find them. We've never been tempted to share a house, though. We've shared a bed from time to time, at a party, when there was nowhere else to sleep. But that didn't happen for a few years. Even Dillie took a while to come to terms with that.
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