Carlotta’s a Paddington girl these days. Her house is very Paddington: spotlessly clean and gorgeously furnished. And her hair, while it’s done each week by a nice gay boy in Kings Cross, is quite Paddington: shiny and gold, like Lisa Kudrow’s.
But her voice is not very Paddington at all. It’s still got the larrikin intonations of her Balmain upbringing.
Carlotta’s been using her voice a lot lately. Most specifically, in spilling forth her life story for her friend and biographer Prue MacSween. The book, called I’m Not That Kind Of Girl, promises to be a bit more dirt-dishing than her early 1990s effort, He Did It Her Way.
This time, I’ve spilled a lot more beans, she promises in her prologue. And she does -“ revealing some painful personal secrets, including the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather. But there’s also some good-natured name-dropping of some of the famous men she’s slept with over the years, including entertainer Peter Allen and Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham.
But there are other names she’s not yet ready to divulge, including the name of a famous (and now happily married) TV personality, with whom she had an affair in the 1970s.
Unfortunately with our libel laws, you have to guess, because if they’re alive, you can’t say it, she says. I could ruin his career, but he’s a married man and he’s got children, so I think if I really could have named him, I probably wouldn’t have, because I’m not that sort of person. I’m not a Joan Collins. I’m not a bitch.
Later on in our interview, Carlotta confides that she’s no Doris Day, either.
You take me or leave me, she says. I’ve gone through too much in my life to worry about who likes me and who doesn’t like me. I can’t stand whingers. I don’t hang around boring people, and I can’t stand people who moan and groan.
Moaning about one’s lot in life is not the Carlotta way, it would seem.
I made up my mind early on that I wasn’t going to be successful as a gay boy, and I looked better as a girl, so I went and did something about it, she says matter-of-factly. I never regretted it.
I’m Not That Kind Of Girl pulses with the thrills of Kings Cross life in the 60s and 70s, and plots Carlotta’s rise from obscurity to stardom through the Les Girls cabaret show. Other eras and episodes get a look-in (including the Sydney 2000 Olympics closing ceremony, and her experiences as a beauty on the TV show Beauty And The Beast), but the book comes to life most vividly in the chapters detailing the 60s and 70s. The supporting cast includes other showgirls and a bevy of shady Kings Cross characters.
It was difficult, Carlotta says of her early days in drag. It was nerve-racking, because you always wondered if you were going to get sprung. But you’d get sprung easily, because you were over-painted and over-the-top. We looked like puppets walking around.
Unlike some Kings Cross contemporaries, Carlotta’s path to fame was in the straight world rather than the gay ghetto.
I chose to go into the straight scene; I chose to fight them for acceptance, and it worked, because no one in the straight scene challenges me now. If they do, they get a good tongue-lashing, she says with a laugh.
Still performing at the age of 60, Carlotta is also full of praise for the younger generation of showgirls and performers in Sydney.
I think they’re fantastic, she says. I’m not envious, I’m not jealous, I think they’re fantastic. But I always warn queens: never get conceited, because there’s always someone better around the corner. If you get too conceited or blas?n this business you don’t last long. I think I’m the proof in the pudding in that.
Carlotta attributes her own down-to-earth nature to her Balmain upbringing -“ a nature that seems unaffected by her recent move to Paddington.
I love it here, I feel rich, she says. But I hope the bloody book sells a lot. I need a few more frocks.
You can take the boy out of Balmain, it seems, but you can’t take the Balmain out of Carlotta.
I’m Not That Kind Of Girl by Carlotta, as told to Prue MacSween, is published by Macmillan, RRP $30, and available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst.