“So I definitely can’t drink before I go on stage. If I had a gin I would be much more flammable!”
Glamorous, natural, earthy and exquisite, Lady May Den-Voyage is one of life’s exotic and alluring beauties. Standing at 6 ft 2 she’s a giant in stature, character and personality.
Based in London, Lady May works as a fire-eater, burlesque performer, and as a teacher and Head Girl at ‘The Cheek Of It!‘ school of burlesque and cabaret. Throughout her career so far she has played to crowds at Proud Cabaret, The Hundred Watt Club, and many other superb events throughout the UK. She’s also graced the pages of Cosmopolitan, both in the UK and in Australia.
In short (and the long and the tall), she’s 360 degrees of fire-eating Fahrenheit!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Lady May Den-Voyage…
How did you get started in burlesque?
It was the usual post break up – some people get a tattoo – I got involved in the London burlesque scene. This was back in 2010. Burlesque was something that I had always enjoyed and in some ways it was a two finger salute to the ex. I got involved in a night that was running at the time at Proud Cabaret.
My involvement at Proud was to help stage manage and doing things like selling tassels in the breaks. Another part of my job was to walk the performers back from the backstage area so they could perform on stage and then walk them back safely so the audience couldn’t touch them. I wasn’t really a burly bouncer but somehow it stuck (laughs).
During the intervals we were held in a corridor alongside the deep fat fryer smelling kitchen. But down this environment were these beautiful girls – world class performers – and even though they were at that level they were excited and enthusiastic and feeling amazing when they came off the stage.
So I thought there’s a little bit of that that I’d want for myself if I had the confidence. But I definitely didn’t have the confidence to get on stage myself at the time. But that sparked the interest and that helped me think that this was something that I would potentially want to do.
And then it was a funny year – I said yes to a lot of things, as people do for new year’s resolutions. I said yes to a phone call about appearing on a TV show, which was a bit of a weird one. A few weeks later I went and filmed the TV show Take Me Out, where I was introduced as a burlesque loving girl from London.
One of the really good things about the show was that I got to wear all my favourite vintage clothes. I think being in that show and getting quite a positive reaction from people about my style gave me more confidence to carry things off.
Then a friend of mine asked me to be involved in a cabaret that he was putting on so I decided to do my first performance – a non reveal. After that first performance I ran off stage and threw myself on the floor in genuine joy (laughs).
I try and do something every year for a cancer charity, so I organised and ran my own cabaret to raise money. I didn’t tell my friends or family before hand, but when I performed that night I did my first ever reveal, with my mother in the audience! Mother and two ex boyfriends actually, so I don’t do things by halves. (laughs) I thought now I’ve done it I can definitely do this.
I signed up to the Cheek-Of-It burlesque school and progressed really well. I now teach at the school and I’m also a head girl and a body confidence ambassador. I teach hen parties, birthdays, corporate groups, 1 on 1’s and take one of our Showtime beginners groups each term.
How do you go about putting together your acts? Or does the music or performance lead you into it?
It starts there for me. My graduation piece and my name came together at the same point. I’ve always loved moving to Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. I think there’s a certain train of thought that some performers should perform to classic pieces of music and things that the audience that would like to hear or expect to hear. Because I choose to do this and it’s a second job for me to the teaching, I want to perform to things that I feel amazing moving to.
I feel like there’s been an evolution for me of how I perform. I think my act has evolved as my confidence has, so Lady May’s Ride is my fetish edged dominatrix act, and that feels like a good indication of where my character’s going for me.
I have a new act coming out called Dark Queen. It’s very much dark horns and velvet cloaks. It’s amazing and I love it. My teacher at The Cheek of It! said she feels like there’s a dark goddess inside me that’s coming forward this year, so it kind of felt right. I wanted to put that out there and for it to be a signature for Lady May. I’m tall already, so I might as well put horns on my head that make me taller. I can’t make myself shorter, so I might as well go with it!
Which part of your whole act do you have to work on the most? And how sizzled does your tongue get when you do you fire performances?
(laughs) So I definitely can’t drink before I go on stage! If I had a gin I would be much more flammable! There has probably been two occasions when I’ve come off stage and asked the stage manager to very quickly get me some ice. But I’m a very safe performer. I follow all health and safety checks and I was trained very well at the Fire School of East London. I would love to perform massive fire tricks, but I’m not at that level yet.
In terms of what part of act I work the most on, I would say aesthetics and costuming and possibly my own personal feeling in terms of what I want to put across to the audience. Compared to very classic showgirls I probably, as a percentage, spend less time on my choreography.
I would say I have a real idea of where I want the story in my head to build. Where I want to be at certain points, and what I want to give the audience at certain points or what I want them to feel or think is going to happen. I like to feel fluid with my choreography, so if an audience reacts in a certain way I’ve got enough time to get back and do something else or if they’re loving it perhaps I can spend a lot longer looking over a shoulder giving them winks and doing nothing more than giving the photographer the chance to get a pose.
What has been your most naughty or most outrageous moment in your performance career so far?
I did a naked photo shoot for Cosmopolitan, that was quite naughty. That came about because they were looking for people to talk about what had led them to be body confident and I talked about how my training through The Cheek Of It! and finding burlesque had led me to much more accepting of my curves. I did a full naked shoot with them which was in Cosmo and they picked it up and put it into Cosmo Body and Cosmo Australia. That was amazing.
Naughtiest moment? It happened when I asked a stage manager if they were happy for me to interact and use my riding crop on a member of the audience [fire alarm goes off in background – cookies are burning!] Anyway, on one occasion I was asked to come out and use my riding crop on a friend’s boyfriend, who I had never met before, which was quite weird to do in front her. The guy is tiny compared to me at 6’2” plus heels ,so of course I play up to the fact that he fits under my bust! Everyone’s chuckling and I leaned this guy over a chair and give him a good whack with the riding crop while realising “I know you, I know you from somewhere”.
How much do you like to rope the audience into your act?
I think it’s really important. What I love when I come off stage is if I’m able to stick around afterwards with people. Funnily enough, it’s always the women, they want to come up and say “I love what you did”, and that was amazing, and they want to stand next to me and have their photo taken because they can’t believe I’m not the largest person in the world! So it’s important to me to have that. I feel the more play I have with them, the more they’re on side with me, and the more they buy into the act as well.
How much whips and decadent naughtiness can we expect to see in the future? Are you looking to add more fetish content?
I think it’s definitely the route my show will continue to go. I’ve got a new act called Voodoo Voyage, which although it’s not necessarily whips and chains, there is a storyline.
Essentially I’m a pissed off ex-girlfriend who has found out that her ex-chap has got together with someone else. The story is me essentially tracking down this girl and becoming a voodoo priestess. I pour blood on myself while wearing an elasticated harness bra and obviously set light to my tongue. It has skulls and lovely voodoo motives, so I feel like that is evolving and I think that will involve looks wise in terms of the costume, into more fetish. I don’t think it will necessarily have instruments of pain, but it will have the look.
There’s an American performer, Roxi D’Lite, who has this amazing act called Madame X. She has this enormous quilted red X that she writhes around and climbs up while she’s doing her strip. You think you know where this act is going, it’s very pretty and sparkly and gorgeous, and then the X turns round there’s a chap in a gimp mask who is strapped to the other side of the X! You think she’s going down the route of being the one who is subjected, but when the X spins, she’s the one that is completely in control and she’s been hiding this guy the entire time. It’s brilliant.
I can’t afford a giant X on stage yet, but that’s really where I’d love Lady May to go. That sense of fun, that people know what kind of performer they think I’m going to be, and then have these little surprise elements. I don’t want to be a one trick pony. I don’t want to use a riding crop in every act, but I think its going to be a part of my thing going forward.
Finally, talk us through how you would start to train someone new to burlesque:
Amazing! Okay, if you think you know everything about burlesque I would instruct you about the history so you don’t just think it’s the Christina Aguilera film with Cher jumping out of a closet! You would learn from me how to move to different kinds of music, so I put on Jessie J or current tracks as well as classic numbers and we see how your body and confidence gains and moves in time to the music.
I would teach the basic tease, which includes presenting an item, playing with an item, partially revealing an item, peeling and playfully discarding an item. And I would send you out to spend a lot of money on lingerie! So that you feel amazing.
Anyone with a one to one with me, one of the things I want them to learn is, whatever they think about the history of burlesque, whether they want to do it again or not, is the rule that there is a sense of power in the performance. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with strippers or pole dancers, the difference with burlesque is that you have the choice to show what you want to.
You direct, play and interact with the audience and you direct them into what you are going to remove or not. You don’t have to remove, you don’t have to peel. You have choices in the genre you adopt and it’s really key to adopt a character. So we would encourage you to think about what character you would be. Someone completely different to you or a different or enhanced type of character. And use that character and think about that character in everyday life and how that effects how you might start to dress, how you might dress that person, and what music you would perform to. Because having that character almost gives you a cloak, a security blanket that you take with you onto the stage. When I perform I arrive in character, I leave in character. I think it’s important for my own security that people know me as Lady May Den-Voyage.
I encourage my students to think in that way as well, because one day you could close down your performer and you can still carry on with your life. I think giving the girls the chance to have a character gives them the chance of security and the choice to remove or not. The choice of what music and where they direct the audience’s attention. And ultimately by choosing to learn with us, they’ve chosen to have that power. To have that power over the audience, over their bodies, over their confidence.