No fairy tale for Madeleine

Fame doesn't always bring fortune, even in the fairy tale world of beauty queens and rock stars, as former Miss UK Madeleine Stringer revealed when she spoke to Beverley Addy .

Fame doesn't always bring fortune, even in the fairy tale world of beauty queens and rock stars, as former Miss UK Madeleine Stringer revealed when she spoke to Beverley Addy .

It sounds like the setting for a fantasy future, a national beauty queen title and marriage to a chart topping musician.

But that was a far cry from the truth for 1977's Miss UK Madeleine Stringer, who married Animals' bass player Chas Chandler.

After all these years, Madeleine, 6ft tall and still bearing an air of innocence at 51, has finally pulled the plug on the `jet set' fantasy that surrounds two of the North-East's most high profile 1970s figures.

Her converted chapel home set in three acres in West Allerdean where Northumberland borders Scotland, looks like an idyllic retreat.

It is, in fact, all she could afford with what little was left after Chas died suddenly in 1996, aged 58.

"I had to come this far from Tyneside to get this much," says Madeleine, who was born and raised in North Shields.

She has spent eight years getting over Chas's death and is now looking for a job as the last of her cash is about to run out.

Madeleine was forced to sell their palatial detached home in Cullercoats, North Tyneside, when the family finances were totted up.

Chas, physically imposing and mentally astute, managed Jimmy Hendrix and Slade after he left the Animals and was the inspiration for what is now Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena.

Yet there was nothing left for the family. No insurance, no promised stake in the arena, no savings and no income to speak of. The royalties of his most famous hit, The House of the Rising Sun all went, according to Madeleine, to Alan Price, leader of the original jazz combo from which the Animals was formed.

But from the start of their relationship there was little cash to be splashed about.

"Chas and myself never had money. I wasn't allowed to tell anybody, though. I never thought we would have any money problems but we did, all our lives."

Their first home as a couple, a luxury Surrey farmhouse, had to be sold for £250,000 soon after their wedding in 1977.

Along with that "went the Rolls and the oils", says Madeleine.

Chas told her it was to pay tax debts to do with his first marriage. They moved to a £36,000 home in London but, back then, even that got them a place with a garden.

But after their whirlwind romance there was little in the way of the `rock and roll' lifestyle.

"There was more of that lifestyle before we married in the first few months after we met, when we lived in London.

"But of course it calmed down after that because I was pregnant and we lived in the country. By the time we moved back to the capital it was more me and Chas going to the theatre and then maybe a club," recalls Madeleine.

"I look back on the time with Chas as happy, but not `rock-star-ish'. It was just home and children, bringing up a family."

Chas proposed a week after they met following a North-East charity event. "I still have this image in my mind of the first time I met him. I saw him across this huge room.

"He took me out that night. I saw him every day from the moment I met him. He didn't let me out of his sight. Wherever I was, he was there.

"We were at this party in Beadnell, on the balcony at this cottage, when he proposed. I burst out laughing because I had only known him a week.

"He pinned me against the wall - in a nice way - and said `I'm serious, will you marry me?' I couldn't get married while I was Miss UK. It was in the rules. He proposed in May. My year finished in September and I was married in October.

"I was pregnant by the time I got to the altar. I always wanted four children. I had three, but really I had four with Chas's son Stefan."

She enjoyed the domestic life bringing up Alex, now 25, Katie, 21, and Lizzie, 15.

Stefan's now 35, just become a father himself for the first time, and owns his own record label in London.

It was Stefan who bolstered the family finances after his dad's death selling tapes he had of Chas's which gave Madeleine the cash to invest.

She had splashed out what little cash she'd earned as Miss UK on the couple's wedding reception at Gosforth Park Hotel.

Madeleine smiles as she says: "But Chas had to pay the bar bill which was just as much; 1977 was expensive and you didn't earn much during it.

"There was some prize money, £3,000, but while they provided travel and hotel expenses, I had to provide all my own clothes and make-up and get my own hair done."

She had launched herself on to the beauty pageant merry-go-round in a bid to get more modelling work, with her eyes firmly set on Miss World.

But as she faced the final of the international competition the Daily Mirror published topless photos of her which she believes hampered her chances of winning. In later competitions rules stipulated entrants must never have done topless work.

"The pictures were taken in St Tropez and I was never paid for them."

And at 17, when she swapped Tyneside for a role with the Parisian Bluebell dancers, she worked topless: seven-nights-a-week, two-shows-a-night, no time off, 10pm until 3.30am for "pitiful pay".

She came home to drama school in London but found she been led up the garden path again.

Her "kindly" sponsor wanted more from her. When she refused, he pulled the plug on her finances.

"So, I came home, with my tail between my legs."

A local model agency took her on and so began her trail to Miss UK.

But Madeleine says she was happy to trade-off her beauty queen crown for motherhood and domesticity.

"Being with Chas was exactly what I wanted. I would have liked a bit less stress, but it was a home and safe. He was a rock, an anchor. He grounded me."

"I remember going for a walk along a country lane after Chas's death. I was tired, so I just sat down. It was raining and I sat there and thought `no-one cares where I am'. Then I felt even worse.

"I had come from a home with rows and I didn't want that. Marriage to me was an important step. I wanted it to last. I had come from one that hadn't. I regretted that," says Madeleine, whose Victorian principled father had left to go south for work when she was nine and then to a job in Canada two years later. She remained on Tyneside as her mother refused to join her husband.

Her Northumberland home is plush and comfortable. The lounge walls are littered with original art. A piano and keyboard nestle among big comfy sofas looking out of floor-to-ceiling windows on to the lawn.

Her children enjoy music and youngest Lizzie has learned to play bass guitar, violin and now piano. She also sang with a thousand other schoolchildren in `her dad's arena'.

Building it was close to Chas's heart and he told Madeleine that watching Ray Charles play there was "like watching him play in my own front room".

But his death revealed the real financial state of the project.

"We had re-mortgaged to pay the accountants. The arena was supposed to be a family investment. It was supposed to be leased for 20 years and return to the two families - Chas's and business partner Nigel Stanger's. That didn't happen in the contracts.

"There was so much awful stuff."

She never worked after her big year in 1977. "Chas didn't want me to go back to work and I had always wanted to have children. I loved it," says Madeleine.

At 35, she was accepted on a degree course to become a teacher. But her plans fell down when her mother fell ill and died of cancer and a year later Chas collapsed.

Chas spent three months in hospital for heart surgery. In that time his kidney's collapsed and he suffered strokes.

He recovered long enough to build the arena, but seven years later had a relapse and died within a week.

Madeleine describes herself after his death as "bonkers".

"I borrowed some money at his funeral to buy a horse for my daughter, Kate. For some reason, I thought I was going to die and I had to do all the things I had promised for the kids. Even though we didn't have any money.

"After his death and with the business gone I was just frightened."

Friends, family and faith have got her through. "I need to do something now, but I don't know what." She doesn't think it will be modelling.

"There's too many people doing that sort of work. I don't know if I'd be any good at it now.

"Maybe work on a cosmetics counter, or asking questions in the street," she laughs. "Nothing too taxing though!"


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