Heaven and Hell: Jane Hoggar

Jane Hoggar, who has written a book about her treatment for breast cancer, with her daughter, Holly

Jane Hoggar, who has written a book about her treatment for breast cancer, with her daughter, Holly Bishop, who supplied the illustrations - Credit: Archant

Jane Hoggar travelled the world as a showgirl before hanging up her dancing shoes and settling in Ipswich where she became a teacher and singer. Here she tells Gina Long about her fascinating career.

Born in Ipswich, Jane studied ballet at The Linda Shipton School of Dancing during the 70s. Realising at 17 she was too tall to become a ballerina, she had to accept she was more 'Pan's People' than 'Margot Fonteyn' and set off on the adventure of a lifetime as a showgirl. She travelled the world dancing and singing on cruise ships. Since meeting her husband and hanging up her dancing shoes, she has been a mum, teacher, singer, magicians assistant, dinner lady, breast cancer patient and author amongst other things. She currently is writing about all of the above from her Norfolk home. Here she talks to Gina Long.

What is your connection to East Anglia?

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I grew up in Ipswich and although, at the age of seventeen, my career took me away for 35 years, I always came back during breaks, to catch up with family and friends. I am living in the area again now and feel very much as though I have come home.

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What is your East Anglian Heaven ie what do you love most about East Anglia?

The beauty of living in East Anglia is the relaxed approach to life. We have the quiet towns and beaches in summer and log fires and cosy pubs in winter. Although everyone works hard, we have our priorities in the right order and have time to stop, chat and listen. There is less talk about money and achievement and more about people and feelings.

What is your East Anglian Hell ie what you hate most about living here?

The weekend engineering work on the railways means it can take three or four hours to get from London to Diss with a replacement bus service. This means that my daughter is less likely to manage a weekend visit. Saying that, I love popping to London so I manage to go to see her during the week now that I am working less. I have to save up though because London prices in bars and restaurants are eye watering these days compared to here.

What's your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

You can't beat the seafood platter at The Boardwalk on Southwold pier with the waves crashing around you. As good as it gets.

What's your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

If money were no object and I could really design my perfect night, I would eat a large seafood meal at Mariners on the Waterfront in Ipswich and then be driven in an open topped vintage sports car, the weather would be balmy and glowing, to the Angel in Bury St Edmunds where I would dance the night away to a local jazz band in the basement bar.

What's your favourite East Anglian landmark?

Christchurch Mansion, built in 1548, on Christchurch Park in Ipswich is very special to me. As a child I ran free, exploring the endless beautiful rooms for hours. There was a wonderful victorian toy exhibition every Christmas and a beautiful dolls house that took my breath away. As a teenager I would meet my sweetheart in there to kiss in secret and now I go with my mum for tea and we walk around inhaling the smell of wood and polish, remembering happy days and feeling the calm, comforting atmosphere. If only the walls could talk.

What's the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

In early April the nightingales sing in a secret location that my father knows. If you walk in thickets and blackthorn around Minsmere you will hear the mating call and it is a real treat. Once paired and breeding, they go quiet. The swifts arrive a bit later. Their screeches and swoops mark the start of summer for us as they flash past in the blue skies overhead at great speed.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?

The life and times of Margaret Kelly, 'Miss Bluebell', of Paris. I am proud to say that I danced for her at the world famous 'Lido de Paris' on Le Champs Elysee in Paris and I am currently writing my memoir that includes a detailed account of her fascinating life.

What is always in your fridge?

Oatmilk, dark chocolate and masses of fruit and veg. I'm dairy-free.

What's your simple philosophy of life?

Don't pile up too many things to do each day. Train yourself to limit your time on social media. Instagram and Facebook are useful but time consuming and can stop you from being creative. Richard Curtis told me this at The Ink Festival in Halesworth this year and I've read so many books and written so many pieces of work since I took his advice.

What's your favourite film?

My good friend Alexandra Boyd has made a superbly artistic film called 'Widow's Walk' here on the coast of Suffolk. Her beautiful ghost story captures the beauty of our stark winters and the spell binding light of the beaches. Cast includes Virginia McKenna and David Caves and will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. My all time favourite film has to be 'Chocolat' though because I have always yearned to move to France and restore an old shop in a little town, just like Juliet Binoche did. I love the scene when she paints the walls of the shabby shop with duck egg blue paint. I bought the sound track and sometimes I play it while doing the housework but its not the same….and we don't have a Johnny Depp in my town.

What was your first job?

I worked in The Purple Shop on Fonnereau Road, Ipswich, in 1977. I was 12 years old and it was the most exciting thing, at that time, that had ever happened to me. This job made me the coolest girl in the school with my love beads and voluminous Andy-Pandy suit. I earned 50p for the whole day on a Saturday. I would have paid them to let me work there anyway. I go in there sometimes just to smell it.

What is your most treasured possession?

I was going to say that my children are, but you don't really own your friends and family do you? I would say that I treasure my health after recovering from breast cancer five years ago, thanks to the NHS.The fear of recurrence is always there, making each day on this earth a gift.

Who do you admire most?

Mr. James Wilson MacDonald, Orthopaedic surgeon. This man operated on my daughter's spine when she was seventeen. These unsung heroes are quietly saving and improving lives of distraught families every day. He arrived at the hospital on his bicycle and popped in for a chat with her before spending seven hours re-aligning her entire body.

What is your biggest indulgence?

It has to be food related. I get so excited about it. I am so glad that I enjoy beautiful food made with local produce and don't spend my life worrying about how much I've eaten. Since my cancer scare I have become extremely healthy and careful with food choices and I feel wonderful.

What do you like about yourself most?

My tireless sense of adventure and excitement. I am blessed with a very optimistic approach to everything. On my travels around the world as a dancer, I was able to dig myself out of some tricky situations that came my way. I laugh now but I really did get myself into some scrapes. This optimism even kicked in while I had chemotherapy during my cancer treatment and was the reason I wrote 'Chemo Summer,' a surprisingly humourous memoir based on my diaries throughout my illness. The book seems to have helped many other ladies in the same situation and I'm very proud of that and hope to donate money to cancer research from the sales.

What's your worst character trait?

I talk too much and tell people too much. Ask my husband.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

I don't like long journeys anymore. I travelled so much during my twenties and now I am happy to pop to France or the Isle of Wight. I love the old fashioned charm of The Royal Hotel in Ventnor. Most of my summer is spent in Suffolk and Norfolk though, lazing on the beach, pedalling in the countryside and floating along rivers in little boats.

Best day of your life?

The arrival of my babies. Nothing prepared me for the joy. I felt complete, but terrified at the same time, and the feeling hasn't really changed even now that they are adults.

What's your favourite breakfast?

I like breakfast in hot sunshine, freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, fresh figs just picked off the tree and french pastries. This doesn't happen very often….it's usually freezing cold in our old house and so I light candles. Cornflakes by candlelight.

What's your favourite tipple?

I don't drink - know right? Five years now….Amazing and rare! I drink champagne at celebrations to be sociable and it reminds me how much I love it. I think I'm really entertaining when I'm drunk but my husband would disagree.

What's your hidden talent?

A lot of people don't know that I renovate houses and gardens. I just love a 'before and after' and have restored four homes now and it has been a joy. I may have to start doing other peoples soon because my husband is tired of moving house. My instagram has photographs of some of my projects @janehoggar

When were you most embarrassed?

I feel ridiculously giggly when some things happen and I suppose that is a type of embarrassment but I've never felt that I wanted the ground to swallow me up. Passing wind is the best thing, when someone thinks its going to be a quiet one and its not. That happened, shall we say, once, when I first met my husband and we went on holiday to Greece. We were waiting on a harbour for a catamaran to take us to an island with five other guests and I was reclining elegantly on the paving in my floppy hat, palazzo pants and sun glasses.

A little fart rather spoilt my image but showed my husband what I was really like and I nearly fell in the water I was laughing so much. It was quite a bonding holiday….

What's your earliest memory?

I was hugely jealous at the age of three when my friend was cast as Mary in the nativity play and I was stuck at the back as a little angel… the only time I've ever been cast as anything little. I can remember glaring at her from a bench in the shadows as she sat in her blue satin scarf looking all bashful by the manger.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Well it would have to be the Can Can music taken from Act 2, Scene 2 of Offenbachs operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld with a full set of dancers at the front. As my coffin flew through the curtains they would all jump into the splits screaming.

Tell us something people don't know about you?

I've stopped buying things. Obviously food and essentials but no items or clothes. I can't bear the way we are creating waste these days. If we stop buying plastic they will stop producing it.

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

You have a cancerous tumour in your breast and we have to remove it and see if it has spread anywhere else. Bit of a shocker. I went home and watched back to back costume dramas until the results came through two weeks later.

Tell us why you live here?

There are several reasons that I am glad to be back in East Anglia. There are many affordable, unspoilt, period homes to be renovated so I can continue my passion for returning neglected houses to their former glory. I am currently putting the finishing touches to an elegant town house in Harleston. Living here also makes it easier to visit my mum who has started to struggle with memory loss. We go on day trips to visit her friends for delicious lunches in Felixtowe and Woodbridge as well as large Turkish feasts at 'Ararat' on Norwich Road in Ipswich. I admire how my mum embraces the different cultures that are moving into her area. She teaches English to a lady from Bangladesh and they are such good friends now.

What would you like to tell our readers about most?

Ladies in League Against Cancer (LILAC NORFOLK) are a local charity that have raised half a million pounds for The Big C Norfolk, bursaries and funding for medical students and nurses at UEA, so providing outstanding care for families affected by cancer. I am now involved with fundraising and, for a small donation, I can come to your women's group, book club, college, WI, lunch club or golf club and give an amusing (well I think so) talk about my dance career. I bring my book to sell and sometimes sing a few songs and recite some of my poems. Really good value I would say. You can contact me on my jane hoggar Facebook page.

To follow Gina Long @geewizzgee1

To be considered for being featured in Gina's Q & A Email: gina@hallfarmfornham.com

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