For fun, I'm going to conduct two or three interview with interesting older women in unusual jobs. Where better to start than from, as it were, the bottom? Enter Rosemary Hawthorne, aka "The Knicker Lady". Rosemary is wife to a retired vicar, mother of seven, and grandmother of many more. She talks about knickers.
Me: how did this all start?
Rosemary: I went to RADA and trained as an actress, but married young, and gave up acting to start a family. I started off with an interest in "top" clothes and was always fascinated by clothes and costume - the way they develop character and tell a story. Clothes are not only practical; they can also be entertainment. I started to collect costumes when I was stuck at home with the kids.
Me: and the talks?
Rosemary: while the children were still small and money was short, I was asked to give a talk on clothes generally. I was paid £8.
Me: and the knickers?
Rosemary: I gave more talks, and started to show a few bits from my collection of underwear. I discovered that this made the audience laugh, and that's where it all started. Someone suggested that I ought to write a book about knickers, and this was published as A Brief History of Unmentionables. There was insufficient publicity, and the book didn't sell until it was reissued - with extensive editing - by a new publisher, this time as "Knickers. An Intimate Appraisal." This was a huge success. The vicars/knickers thing helped, of course.
Me: and then?
Rosemary: I was invited everywhere: the North, Wales, South coast - you name it. I've spoken to Rotary Clubs, as after-dinner speaker, to magistrates, all-male, mixed groups - you name it. I must have given several hundred talks. And after my husband retired, I did some theatre tours as well.
Me: what is it about knickers?
Rosemary: they're funny, just a bit naughty. I have to keep it fun; entertain, but not shock; put in a bit of history.
Me: and your collection of knickers?
Rosemary: I found that I needed to have "actuals" rather than, for example, slides. Real knickers. I've now got between 300-400 pairs, including Queen Victoria's knickers. The talks work for groups of mixed ages and sexes, and make very good ice-breakers.
Me: what's the most embarrassing question you've been asked?
Rosemary (sighing): someone always asks what knickers I'm wearing.
Me: and your reply?
Rosemary (laughs): clean ones!
Take it from me, Rosemary's talks are brilliant, and very funny. To see this beautiful, very petite figure flitting about a stage waving a pair of bloomers twice her size is something not to be missed.
Here you can see Rosemary in action.