Given the last 12 months, it’s little wonder that many of us are seeking an escape from the real world by wallowing in a little nostalgia. For some, that might mean nothing more than indulging in a few repeats of Only Fools and Horses or blowing the dust off albums which are a reminder of simpler times.
Chloe Dance though has gone one step further. The 28 year old has created an alter-ego and when she steps out of her home in Selby as Miss Marina Mae she is channels the spirit of the 1940s.
“I describe myself as a walking piece of history,” she says wearing a fake fur trimmed white jacket, red vintage dress and looking every inch the starlet. “Some days I will relax in leggings and a big jumper, but when I put as soon as I go downstairs to my dressing room and put the outfit on, I almost feel that I become a different person.”
Chloe can trace her love of the era in which Vera Lynn became the Forces Sweetheart and Hollywood was making stars of the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Olivia de Havilland to her grandma who introduced her to the films and music she had grown up with when she was just a small child.
“Gran ran a wartime militaria stall selling Second World War uniforms, in fact she still does, and so from as long as I can remember I was surrounded by the era. We would watch 1940s films starring people like George Formby and gran would play me songs from the time. I instantly loved everything about it”
As a young child, Chloe would also accompany her granddad to old people’s homes were he used to sing wartime classics to the residents, but it was a visit to the Pickering 1940s Wartime Weekend that sealed what would become a life-long love affair with the period.
“I will never forget it,” she says. “I was 12 years old and I thought it was incredible, a really intoxicating mix of music, fashion and memorabilia. The whole town gets taken over by the event and I know the people who live there might find it a massive inconvenience, but it has a really special place in my heart.
“At that very first event I bought my first vintage suit. It was bright red and I loved it. When I put it on I felt incredibly grown up and from that moment I was hooked.”
The suit has since been sold, but in its place Chloe has an entire dressing room of original 1940s dresses, suits, hats and accessories and her granddad has also kindly agreed to accommodate the overspill in his spare bedroom.
“I always try to buy originals rather than modern replicas as I wouldn’t want to risk turning up to an event to find someone else wearing the same dress. Plus I like the idea that these clothes have lived another life before they ended up with me. .
“There’s a real ritual to getting dressed, from picking the perfect hat to making sure you have the right gloves to match. You can’t just throw something on. While being Chloe is fine, when I finish dressing as Marina Mae it’s another more confident and bubbly person who I see when I look in the mirror.
“These days we don’t tend to dress up much anymore and I think that’s why 1940s weekends are becoming more popular. They provide a sense of occasion that is sadly absent from our normal lives.”
Chloe doesn’t just dress as her 1940s heroines, she also sings like them and even before she was out of her teens she was carving out a career as a vintage performer.
“My parents bought me a little speaker system when I was 17 years old. That meant I could start putting on my own concerts and 11 years later I’m still doing it. I am not sure I can put my finger on what makes the period so special, but I love performing for older people.
“When I go into a care home I know that some of the residents might not have spoken to anyone for days and they also might have dementia and not even be able to remember their own name. However, as soon as I start singing they will be joining in with every single word.
“Music is incredibly powerful when it comes to memory and honestly and when I sing it’s a complete privilege to see someone connect with their past.”
While Chloe has a large repertoire, she has adopted A Nightingale Sang on Berkeley Square as her theme tune and few concerts pass without a rendition of the song which was written by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
“There’s a romance about the words and music that I just love and I will never tire of singing it. It’s one of those timeless songs that sounds as brilliant today as it did when it was first recorded.”
Over recent years, Chloe has performed at various Battle of Britain Balls, the Imperial War Museum and Churchill’s War Rooms and her love of the 1940s means that she has a friendship group unlike most people her age.
“I have one friend who is the same age as me, who I have known almost all my life. The rest are older and I mean much older. Most of my friends are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, but I like that. If I have learnt anything from doing what I do, it’s that as you get older you care much less about what other people think.
“I know people worry about getting older, but from what I can see, it’s liberating.”
Until two months ago Chloe was working three days a week in payroll department. However, the office job never really suited her and she is now hoping her alter-ego will earn her a full time living.
“This is where my passion has always been,” she says. “And now I have the time I am hoping to do more work with live bands as there is something really amazing about performing with musicians.”
A succession of wartime anniversaries, from last year’s D-Day commemorations to this year’s VE Day 75 celebrations, has meant that Chloe has been in much demand. However, she is also branching out to ensure that she remains relevant.
“Peaky Blinders nights have become a big thing recently,” she says. “It’s mainly women in flapper dresses and men in flat caps wanting to be Cillian Murphy drinking a whole lot of gin. They are much more informal than some of the concerts I do, but they are also a lot of fun.
“I also do 1960s nights, country and western sets and Marilyn Monroe evenings. I’ve had Marilyn replica dresses made and I attempt to do the accent. However, that’s not easy for someone with this broad Yorkshire accent. It’s an LA twang via Selby, but no one seems to mind.”
In tomorrow’s Yorkshire Post meet the York man who has turned his home into a shrine to medical quackery.