Whaplode Drove woman grew up on the stage

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Bob James jokes to his wife that she takes a bow if he so much as opens the fridge door in their kitchen.

Wendy, the butt of this little quip, can be forgiven for any touch of theatricality she cares to add to their quiet life in Whaplode Drove.

She grew up surrounded by performers, from being dragged around summer season shows as a three-year-old while her father took to the stage, to choosing two husbands in turn who were involved in organising big name concerts and shows.

But it was those early years with her mother and father, Derek Williams (stage name Derek Dixon), that probably steered the course of Wendy’s life.

“I used to say I was 11 before I knew my father was a man because I used to see him dressed as a dame so often,” says Wendy.

Derek worked as a comedian, a performer and, when variety theatre fell out of favour, as a drummer in a night club band. He was also a well-known panto dame of his age.

Wendy, who wanted nothing more than to be on the stage, was sent off to theatrical boarding school, which was followed by secretarial work – during which time she learned to speak both French and Italian fluently.

Her dreams of performing were not forgotten as she went on to work as personal assistant to the vice-president of the Israel airline EL AL, nor when she met and married her first impresario husband and they travelled around the world with various famous singers.

That marriage behind her, Wendy was asked to join a large company looking after its hotels all over the world.

Wendy says: “Going to Kenya changed my life because Africa became almost like home to me. People who worked in the hotels and even at the airport used to say, ‘Mama you have come, we are pleased to see you.’ It was like a huge family.”

As executive director of a huge hotel Wendy became known for entertaining guests by singing and one of the important guests, the former President Moi, asked her to sing at his wedding.

Wendy says: “I sang all my life whenever I got the chance but I realised I was never going to be a big star and it didn’t really bother me because I was living, working and rubbing shoulders with so many famous people it was almost as if I was a star.”

By this time she had met and married the impresario Bob James. By the late 1980s the couple decided to sell up in London and move to the house they had found in Whaplode Drove, which was big enough for Wendy’s late parents to live in too.

And so it was that Derek Dixon finally performed on stage with his daughter Wendy (also known as Wendy Melodie) – at the Elizabethan Centre at Whaplode Drove.