Penny Sweets is a mum-of-one who works with figures day and night - but maybe not quite in the way you expect. Jayne Dawson meets her.
Penny Sweets, 31, works as both an accountant and a burlesque dancer. She also runs events company Leeds Burlesque. She lives in East End Park with her partner Steve and her daughter Sophia Grace.
“My first job was in a toy shop but my first proper job was as a purchase ledger clerk.
“The best advice I ever received was from my mum and it was to build bridges not walls. My brother has it tattooed on his leg. It is about being positive and not putting obstacles in my own way. I applied that to burlesque. I decided I wanted to do lessons because I had done ballet and tap as a child, plus I have always liked vintage, so burlesque seemed to combine them both. Now I run the company and perform all over the country.
“My guilty pleasure is chocolate covered strawberries and raspberry Pavlova ice cream. I eat both fairly freely because in burlesque no one is berated for their size or shape, it is about being comfortable in your own skin. Everybody supports everybody else. I had a baby seven months ago and I am just beginning to perform again. I am a size 12-14 and that is absolutely fine.
“I am not a naturally confident person, it is a performance. You adopt a name - my real name is Leanne - and put on a costume, and it is like a mask. My burlesque persona is comedy, I love to make people laugh. I think people are often afraid to approach burlesque nights but they are real variety shows. I am proud to be a performer and promoter.
“My pet hate is internet trolls, whose sole purpose is to upset other people. It is sad that there are people so miserable that they have to try to make other people feel that way too.
“The people I would most like to meet are Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury.They were both legends in their own lifetime. I was brought up on rock music and my other half is in a rock band so it is very much part of my life. Gypsy Rose Lee was the original burlesque dancer.
“My favourite weekend would be spent with me and my partner Steve both performing but also having time to be at home with our baby, Sophia Grace. It’s rare to be able to spend quality time together, usually one of us is working. We have been together for two years and we are planning to get married next year.
“My advice to my teenage self would be to relax because it is all going to be okay. I lived in Norfolk then and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I knew I needed adventure but I didn’t know how to go about it, but in the end I moved north and everything turned out okay.
“My views on digital are changing. Facebook was good for a long time, but I’m not so sure now. It is certainly more difficult to get people to be an audience for your business. Two or three years ago I would have said it was amazing, it had a real waterfall effect when you put something on there, but everything has changed, so many people are trying to promote themselves on it.
“My philosophy of life is a very positive one. I believe in karma and I believe that if you are a good person then good things will happen.
“I couldn’t live without Steve and our baby. I first saw him when he was on stage and I went to his gig with a friend. My first words to him were: ‘Hi, that was awesome.’ As well as being in a band, he has a business making latex props and masks. He made me a Miss Piggy mask and she lives under our bed.
M”y most embarrassing moment was the opposite to most people. It was my burlesque debut on stage and I couldn’t get my clothes off. It was my bra that was the problem. I wanted everything to be very classic and glamorous but I was pulling faces because I was in trouble and people started to laugh. I found I liked that so I built it into my act.
“My clean joke is: How many dancers does it take to change a light bulb?
“It would probably surprise people to know that I am a civil servant. Certainly the people who see me doing burlesque.
“My childhood was storybook. Because I grew up in a village it was bikes, hay bales, and swans in the river. But as a teenager that got boring.
“My first kiss was with a boy called Luke at a bus stop in the village. We never did it again.
“My first record was bought for me by my parents and it was Agadoo by Black Lace, but I liked Led Zeppelin and Queen.
“I love the nightscene in Leeds. I like Sandinista and I like The Maven on Call Lane. There are also some really nice bars around Merrion Street, there is a really good acoustic scene around there.”