With the pin-up looks of a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, it’s easy to see why Frankii Wilde has taken the world of burlesque by storm. MIEKA SMILES met her
I’M not a dancer. I’m a burlesque performer with rhythm. And I know how to tease...” says 25-year-old Frankii Wilde.
As any aficionado will tell you, burlesque is not about throwing shapes and belting out show tunes a la Christina Aguilera in the blockbuster movie of the same name. It’s all about the art of the tease.
And if you watch one of the many YouTube videos dedicated to Frankii’s rather racy performances you will see that it’s a skill that she’s got down pat.
But Frankii, originally from Bishop Middleham, County Durham, wasn’t always quite so glam.
“When I was at school I was always a goth or punk,” she says.
“When I left school I went to art college and I was exposed to so much – films, design, everything.
“At art college people need you to model for projects and so I started to do some for my peers – and the pictures actually turned out quite well, so I started in modelling and found an agency.
“I actually started to be quite successful making money on the side.”
Frankii dabbled in everything from fashion to fetish modelling but eventually found her passion recreating the style of 1940s/50s pin-up models.
Due to the retro nature of her pictures, Frankii, then 19, was asked to become a resident performer at a new burlesque night in Stockton, Teesside, called The Flaming Ace, despite never giving it a go before. “I said ‘Hell, yeah!’ and it kind of developed from there,” says Frankii.
“It was the right place at the right time I guess.
“It was at the time when burlesque was just trying to revive again.
“I researched and looked to see how Dita Von Teese did it. It’s a bit like modelling, but to a live audience. That’s how I go about my burlesque routines.
“It’s all about creating movements – it’s kind of what dance is, but not as technical.
“There weren’t very many girls doing it at the time.”
Frankii was quickly bitten by the burlesque bug and started travelling across the UK with her act.
“I was there for a couple of months and then I started performing on my own, going to different nights around the country,” she recalls.
“When you are starting off you kind of have to pay your dues and just accept expenses as payment.
“But because of the pin-up modelling I became quite well known. People would say ‘She looks fantastic, we will book her’.”
Due to her unique look and burlesque abilities, Frankii became sought after by a range of corporate clients – becoming the face of fashion labels such as Miss Fortune and Glamour Bunny as well as modelling for a host of other retro-inspired brands.
Frankii has appeared in a commercial for top lingerie company Tallulah Love, travelled to Milan to perform her routines and is also currently fronting the campaign for new diet aid Skinny Sprinkles.
But perhaps Frankii’s favourite opportunity to date was meeting her idol Dita Von Teese.
“I met Dita when I had the privilege to be invited to a VIP party at a club called Movida in London,” she says.
“We had been working at the same event called Erotica. She was performing and I was modelling. My friend Slinky Sparkles was her assistant.
“I was sat right next to her. It was awesome. She was lovely.
“She introduced herself and was so humble.”
As well as concentrating on her personal success, the former Cleveland College of Art and Design (CCAD) student also helps other burlesque performers make their name in the industry.
In 2009 Frankii set up her own burlesque event called The Headline Honeys that is going from strength to strength.
“I was doing some promotional work at a pub called Spensley's in Middlesbrough and I was asked if I wanted to put a show on there.
“I said ‘Yeah! I’ll put a show on!’ and that was in July 2009. I had three performers, which wasn’t enough for a show.
“I had no DJ and charged £1 to get in.
“I thought it was packed. It wasn’t.
“But friends and people I knew were willing to help out and as the years went on it kind of evolved into a huge event with six resident performers, a DJ and a compere.
“Now the Headline Honeys event can be picked up and put anywhere and this appeals to corporate clients.
“Last year Teesside University got in touch and they wanted us to do a show for their freshers’ week, for example.”
The resident performers at Frankii’s popular night are called The Honeys and consist of Frankii, Betty D’Light, Lola Rainbows, Ebony Silk as well as two new members Lulu Roxx and Amber Von Tassel found after an X Factor-style hunt for fresh burlesque talent.
“We had about 50 girls apply. I didn’t even know there were 50 girls up here doing it!” says Frankii.
“We put four girls into one heat, four girls into another heat and had four girls in the final.
“We were originally only going to choose one, but it was so hard to choose we had to pick both of them.
“I was inspired by all the girls who competed. They were just so creative.”
And now for the million-dollar question... how far does Frankii actually go on stage to keep her audience entertained?
“I go down to my nipple tassels and also something called a C-String, which covers the front part but not your bottom!
“From the back it looks like you have no pants on! Just a bit more bum cheek than usual.
“It’s all about being on stage for me. Before the burlesque and the modelling I used to be in bands. Rock bands. I was the singer. I can’t describe how exhilarating it is.
“But for a few years I wasn’t on stage and I missed it.
“And when I had the opportunity to do burlesque it recaptured those feelings that I’d lost. The high from being on stage is brilliant.”
So what does her nearest and dearest make of her on-stage nudity?
Frankii’s boyfriend Tom Lewis, 23, a chef at Newcastle Racecourse, is quite happy for other men to admire his other half’s assets while she’s performing. “I was doing it before we met,” says Frankii.
“At first he was like ‘This is brilliant,’ but now it’s so normal for him. He doesn’t bat an eyelid.
“He knows that at the end of the day I come home to him.”
She adds: “I don’t think my parents quite ‘get’ what I do, but they are proud anyway. They are proud that I’ve got my own business and that I’m making this my living.
“I think they’re just really proud that I’m doing something that makes me really happy. Mum just thinks I dress up a lot!”
To find out more about Frankii visit www.frankiiwilde.co.uk/blog/
Keep a look out for upcoming Honeys events at www.headlinehoneys.co.uk
I can’t describe how exhilarating it is. The high from being on stage is brilliant
1+2: Alan Mountain
3: Paul Wright
4: Flashes and Lashes