Wartime star celebrates 100th birthday at The Dorchester
On November 23, the eve of her 100th birthday, singer Helen Clare headed back to The Dorchester where she began her illustrious career – a fitting way for her to mark her momentous milestone. Having enjoyed a day of reminiscing about her performances in the hotel’s ballroom, she was treated to a memorable lunch at The Grill at The Dorchester.
As a professional singer, Helen regularly performed live at The Dorchester between 1936 and 1939. Originally from Bradford, she moved to London to start her career and within a week she was spotted on the dance floor of The Dorchester as a potential star. Helen began to perform as the hotel’s resident singer with Jack Jackson and his Orchestra, to guests including celebrities, diplomats and members of the royal family, who were all regular guests at the hotel.
Helen was one of the first female singers to have a hotel singing residency with a band. As The Dorchester was one of the only hotels in London at the time to have its public rooms wired for sound, complete with a private room created for a sound engineer, Helen’s performances were broadcast on BBC Radio. Within a year she was a household name and in high demand as a professional recording star.
At this time, The Dorchester was London’s top night spot, putting on spectacular shows and lively cabarets with a stage built on hydraulic power, which lifted dramatically out of the floor. As Helen herself says, “It was the place to be.”
Helen recounts that one of her favourite perks when working at The Dorchester was, “Going down into the kitchen when the cabaret was on and the chef would make me a crêpe suzette, which I thoroughly enjoyed before going back for another hour’s work.”
When war was declared in 1939 Helen was recruited by the BBC Variety Company as a full-time singer, and she continued to broadcast despite air raids and tough war-time conditions. Her voice became a comfort and source of inspiration to many people, both at home and those serving abroad in the forces.
It was an honour for us to welcome Helen Clare back to The Dorchester on the eve of her 100th birthday, so that she could relive her experiences. Having enjoyed lunch at The Grill at The Dorchester, chef Ludovic Cuny served her favourite crêpe suzette, complete with birthday candles.
Find out more about the history of The Dorchester.