From break­down... to bur­lesque dancer

Grow­ing up in a strict re­li­gious sect, PRISCILLA SILCOCK led a dou­ble life that ended up with a stay in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. Here she tells of her es­cape…

Daily Express - - EXPRESS YOURSELF - In­ter­view by EL­IZ­A­BETH ARCHER

PRISCILLA SILCOCK, 41, lives in north Lon­don with her hus­band Andy, 49, a mu­sic pro­ducer

AS I stepped on to the stage in a cloud of blue se­quins and feath­ers, I beamed with de­light. When I was per­form­ing, I left my prob­lems be­hind and be­came a glam­orous show­girl un­der my stage name, Sap­phira. I could dance, sing and shimmy to my heart’s con­tent.

Ever since I was a child in Aus­tralia, I’ve al­ways loved mu­sic and danc­ing. But when I was grow­ing up, I felt like a square peg in a round hole.

I was raised in a strict Chris­tian sect called the Brethren and lived in Mel­bourne with my par­ents.

In some ways, grow­ing up in the Brethren was like grow­ing up in any Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion.

We read the Bible and prayed, and went to church on Sun­day.

But the Brethren were much stricter than most other churches – es­pe­cially for women, who didn’t speak in church or do any of the Bible teach­ing.

On a Sun­day, we had to cover our heads as a sign of re­spect.

Sex was never spo­ken about, and any­thing which was sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive was seen as shame­ful.

If any­one be­haved in a sin­ful way, they were ex­com­mu­ni­cated and were not al­lowed to see other mem­bers of the church again.

As a child, the Brethren church was all I knew. How­ever, when I was 11, I started go­ing to a non-re­li­gious sec­ondary school.

I made lots of friends but I be­gan to re­alise they lived in a very dif­fer­ent way to me.

They were al­lowed to watch things I wasn’t al­lowed to on tele­vi­sion, and eat lots of sug­ary treats.

I be­gan to feel like some­thing wasn’t right.

And as I be­came a teenager, my feel­ings of un­ease be­gan to grow.

As far as my par­ents and ev­ery­one in the church was con­cerned, I was still fol­low­ing the Brethren way of life.

HOW­EVER, when my par­ents weren’t around, I was do­ing things I knew they wouldn’t ap­prove of. I started lis­ten­ing to songs with sug­ges­tive lyrics and danc­ing around my bed­room.

I knew my par­ents wouldn’t like what I was lis­ten­ing to and felt in­cred­i­bly guilty.

I also started to de­velop teenage crushes on boys at school and at 17, I met my first boyfriend and started stay­ing over at his house.

At the same time, I stopped go­ing to church on Sun­day. The con­flict­ing emo­tions I felt were hard to man­age.

On the one hand, I loved my par­ents and wanted to do what­ever would make them happy. But on the other, I didn’t want to pre­tend to be some­one I wasn’t.

My par­ents tried to per­suade me to come back to church but I wouldn’t lis­ten.

They be­gan pray­ing for me, ask­ing God to help me to be­come a Chris­tian again.

They be­lieved that if I car­ried on liv­ing a “sin­ful” life, I would be con­demned to Hell when I died.

Then some­one at church found out that I was sleep­ing over at my boyfriend’s house and told one of the church el­ders.

They called me and told me I was go­ing to be ex­com­mu­ni­cated from the church be­cause I was hav­ing sex out­side mar­riage. And shortly af­ter I re­ceived a let­ter from them say­ing they could no longer as­so­ci­ate with me be­cause of my sin­ful be­hav­iour.

My par­ents were dev­as­tated and felt that I’d brought shame on the fam­ily. Al­though they tried to talk to me about it, I wouldn’t lis­ten.

I felt ter­ri­ble for up­set­ting them but I knew I couldn’t carry on liv­ing a lie.

At 18, I left school and got my first job but be­gan to feel un­well.

For weeks at a time I would feel like I was burst­ing with hap­pi­ness and had lots of en­ergy.

But then I’d sink into a de­pres­sion and cry in my room ev­ery evening, though I didn’t know why I was sad. In my early 20s my happy, en­er­getic phases be­gan to get more and more ex­treme.

My friends and fam­ily no­ticed that some­times I’d start speak­ing quickly and stop mak­ing sense.

I also started to have delu­sions that I was go­ing to be “dis­cov­ered” as a singer and be­come fa­mous.

I thought my friends and fam­ily were in on the se­cret and that they were or­gan­is­ing a party to tell me I was go­ing to be given a record­ing con­tract like Kylie Minogue.

My mum be­came con­cerned and took me to see a psy­chi­a­trist. At the end of the ap­point­ment, the doc­tor told her to take me to “the place we talked about on the phone”. I was so delu­sional, I thought the doc­tor knew about the record­ing con­tract too and that she was tak­ing me to the party. In fact, she was tak­ing me to a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal.

The first few days at the hos­pi­tal were very dis­tress­ing. I couldn’t un­der­stand why I was there.

I was given med­i­ca­tion which stopped my delu­sions and the doc­tors ex­plained that I’d had a bipo­lar break­down.

The rea­son my mood went through such dra­matic highs and lows was be­cause I had bipo­lar dis­or­der. As it had gone unchecked, it had been get­ting worse and worse.

I had gone into a manic state and started imag­in­ing things. I was con­fused and sad­dened.

Af­ter two weeks I was dis­charged from hos­pi­tal and be­gan to re­build my life. I had to learn how to man­age my con­di­tion so it didn’t get to cri­sis point again. And over the next year, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of med­i­ca­tion and ther­apy, I got my men­tal health back on track.

I re­alised that part of the rea­son I’d had the break­down was be­cause I’d been pre­tend­ing to be some­one I wasn’t for so long and liv­ing a dou­ble life.

IDE­CIDED I needed a fresh start and made plans to move to Eng­land. As a girl I’d dreamt of liv­ing in Lon­don. So a year later I de­cided to go there and make my dreams come true. I started a day job in mar­ket­ing and also worked in bars and clubs as a jazz singer.

It was then I dis­cov­ered bur­lesque. I’d al­ways loved the glitz and glam­our of jazz mu­sic but bur­lesque took it to a new level with se­quins, feath­ers and sug­ges­tive dance rou­tines.

I fell in love with it and be­gan per­form­ing as a bur­lesque dancer. When I stepped on stage, I felt won­der­ful.

Bur­lesque danc­ing be­came an out­let for ev­ery­thing that I’d bot­tled up over the years and when I was off stage, my moods be­came much more sta­ble.

Even­tu­ally I founded my own bur­lesque school called Sap­phira’s Show­girls, and even met Richard Bran­son. In 2014, I mar­ried my soul­mate Andy, and we now live to­gether in north Lon­don.

I still keep in touch with my par­ents, and al­though it’s not the life they would have cho­sen for me, they’re happy that I’m happy.

Of course I still have bad days, which I am able to man­age. But now, 15 years af­ter I moved to Lon­don, I’m fi­nally liv­ing a life which is true to who I am.

To or­der a copy of Bur­lesque Or Bust (11.99, Trig­ger) call the Ex­press Book­shop on 01872 562 110 or visit ex­press­book­shop.co.uk

SPOT­LIGHT: Priscilla has loved mu­sic and danc­ing since she was a child, in­set

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