“I could have been a celebrity”
In 1963 Daisy was living in Brixton with her husband and twins, when she responded to an advertisement in The Daily Mirror newspaper for people who wanted to make it in Hollywood.
In conversation with our guest blogger, Ritchie Foster, this vivacious 78 year old Londoner tells the story of how she nearly made it.
words by Ritchie Foster, photos by Zoe Gilmour
“I saw the advert in The Mirror, so I phoned them up and then they gave me an appointment,” Daisy begins, “and I should try and make myself look nice, cuz I am gonna take a lot of pictures. Naturally I went to the hairdresser to get my hair done.”
With a glint in her eye and a slight tilting of her head she smiles: “They did my hair very well”.
“When I went there, there was a crew of twelve people there. I was a little frightened y’know…there was many girls and they call you one by one to take your photo”.
A professional crew of twelve looking over the shoulder of a photographer telling you how to smile? One imagines that must have been ever-so-slightly unnerving.
She tells me there were approximately fifty other candidates there beside her in the waiting room. She puffs out her cheeks: “It was a long day”.
“Then they interview you…how did you get to know about it, blah blah blah, what would I like to do? So I said to them I love singing. I have sung since I was 12. I don’t mind acting in plays, but you have to train me. They said if you want to sing, we train you. If you want to act, we train you. They said ‘Are you from America?’ I said no!”
They told her that she didn’t look like “one of them”. I didn’t feel the need to delve too deeply into the line of questioning she received, but assumed my own conclusions from that. Perhaps Daisy felt the same at the time – as she went on to tell me that she was often perceived to not be from Africa. People often told her that she looked like “an American negro”. I imagine in the early 1960s that this term was used as a differentiation between a black American and a black person from either the Caribbean or from the continent of Africa.
“They asked me ‘Are you married? Do you have any children? How long have you been in this country? Do you like it here?’ I said ‘of course … the only thing is the snow.’ Back then the snow was heavy in this country. You don’t get snow like that anymore.” (This is a statement echoed by my own father, who came to the UK from Jamaica. A quick internet search states one of the worst recorded winters in UK history was in fact 1962-63.)
“Anyway,” Daisy continues, “so after a long interview they picked the last three. They said, ‘You go home. you hear from us.’ After a few days they ring me on the phone to say they picked me and what time would I like to come. Then they wrote me a letter to follow up.”
“So my husband comes back from school. He was studying then. I show him the letter and say they rang me to say they picked me. He said ‘What!?!’ I said they wrote me, they shoot me, they want to take me. He said ‘Not in my house!’ (Daisy chuckles out loud) ‘How you gonna do that? You have two children, how are you going to do it?’ I said ‘I’ll send them to my Mom in Nigeria…he told me ‘No way. You are not sending my children home.'”
So, I say, you didn’t go for the life of glamour, you looked after your children instead. “Yes.” she replies, “There was no way he would let me send them home”.
“Anyway!” she exhales “That was the end. He wouldn’t let me go. It’s hard because…”
At this point she cheekily smiles, breaking out into a barrel laugh that rocks her back into her chair and I ask the obvious question ‘And if that was nowadays?‘
“If it was nowadays I would go away! It’s true, I’m telling you” she continues to laugh. “Then I was too young. He was scared. He thought if I go…”
We both say in unison, while grinning, “Cause I might not come back!”
Daisy slaps my thigh as if it was my rebellion. I tell her I believe deep down that it is every man’s worry and that time hasn’t changed that. When I suggest she might upgrade him with a fresh looking Sidney Poitier I’m met with feigned embarrassment, followed swiftly with another even louder laugh.
“He wouldn’t let me do nothing! I put in an application for nurse’s training. He wouldn’t let me. Even my relations back home asked him to let me study. ‘She likes to study’. When he is out at work, I am at home with the duster. What does that mean?”
It’s a different world now, I proclaim.
“Yes, he was a jealous man. Very jealous.” Giggling, she leans over to tap my notepad, demanding I make sure to note: “He was very jealous”.
I asked Daisy if her husband is still alive – he isn’t. But she gets the date of his passing confused with that of her father’s. The conversation suddenly changes direction as she proudly announces her father was 92 years old when he passed away in 2007. “He never needed any walking stick, or anything like that”. I’m already sat there, slack-jawed, only for her to properly blow my mind when she goes on to say, “He was still driving! I tell him ‘No Dad, you have to stop’. Still driving at ninety! He liked driving.”
Her father not only owned and ran his own petrol station, but he was also the Chairman of Police. “He was a hard working man” says Daisy, with admiration, and for a moment her gaze leaves me and wanders somewhere into her memories. She smiles. “He worked very hard. I think that’s what keep him fit. Why he lived for so long.”
“I took from him to be fair y’know. Because when I went to the funeral I was talking with some of my cousins and they say ‘I don’t know why you are a woman? You should have been a man!'” Daisy barrel laughs once more. Her family told her she was like her Dad – I take this to mean that her personality and way of thinking were so akin to her father and her place as the eldest of his children, she would have been afforded the same respect and opportunity as he, but for her being born a female.
I ask her if she was a Daddy’s girl. “Oh yes, I was. I was a real Daddy’s girl. When I lost him, I didn’t even feel like he was old. That he was going to go. I felt it. I really felt it y’know. Very much. It was very hard. But what can you do? He died at an old age”
I sense her sadness and try to bring some levity to the conversation by remarking how he has set a target for her to aim at, age-wise. He lived well past ninety and at the tender age of only 78 years old, she still has plenty of time to fill. We both laugh and Daisy goes on “I think by the grace of…” she nods her head to insinuate that she will live as long as her father. “He prayed with me before he died. He put his hand on my head, prayed for me and said, ‘You will live longer than me.'”
I say to Daisy that she still has a long time to go. She confidently concludes, “Yes. Long time to go; with the grace of God I will make it. Life is great by his power. Not by my power, but by his power I will make it”.
Daisy with Ritchie, below