My First Job: Jenny Eclair, star of 'Grumpy Old Women', was a life model

'It was ideal work for a lazy actress'
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The Independent Online

"Lucky students from 1982 and 1983 will have sketches of me in their attic." Nude sketches, that is. In her forthcoming Because I Forgot to Get a Pension Tour, Jenny Eclair has ditched her fellow Grumpy Old Women and returned to the way she began: as a solo act.

"The girl I was living with was, and still is, a great beauty, like a beautiful milkmaid, and was working at an art school as a model," she recalls. "I copied her. There was no audition. They were prepared to take anyone who was prepared to drop a robe and not fidget for 20 minutes. I'm idle, so it was the ideal job for a lazy, out-of-work actress wanting to be the centre of attention. It's a performance. Everybody's looking at you quite closely.

"The thing is not to get into a stupid position. You want to be interesting – but lying down. I used to get competitive, wanting to be the best live model there is, like a living statue. You have to groom yourself: if you bend over slightly, there should be no toilet paper up your bottom. I am very short-sighted and if I don't like a situation I take my glasses off. I've never been prudish. I've always been happy in a communal dressing-room (although I'm not so sure now).

"The money wasn't bad. The money was better – and I should have known better – when I posed for a gentlemen's photographic club, which was not the most fragrant of deals; the fact it was cameras rather than charcoal meant it was rather seedy."

While at Manchester Poly's School of Theatre, she began posing for art students and after moving down south she carried on disrobing for the trainee artists at Camberwell College of Art.

"When I came to London, I was anorexic, six-and-a-half stone and very weak. I had only the strength to undo my buttons. I think that being a model was compounding the anorexia. I liked shocking people by being thin and hairy; as I got better from the anorexia, people would have said, 'Oh, she's put on weight.'"

Finally she decided to stop baring her bottom: "I'd be finishing my stint and going to a bar and socialising with the students, which was a bit awkward: 'I don't recognise you with your clothes on – narf narf!' Also, I got bored with sitting still.

"I don't think I put this in my CV but I was used to dropping my clothes and in 1997 I did Steaming [a revealing play set in a Turkish bath] in the West End. I wouldn't do it on stage now; I think there's a cut-off point."

If the bottom, as it were, ever fell out of the comedienne market, she could always return to life modelling – with one proviso: "I would have a sit-down clause in my contract."

For details on the tour, visit www.jennyeclair.com

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