Hotel Life: Collette Channing at L'Horizon Hotel & Spa
Collette Channing's medley of musical classics has been a regular feature of the hotel for 22 years. But behind the baby Grand is a seasoned cabaret and variety performer who has worked with all the top names. Read on to discover more about one of Hotel L'Horizon's best-loved characters.
Born in Dublin (she won't tell me when 'A lady never talks about her age…') to a family of classical musicians, Collette got her first taste of stage performance at the age of 4, and hasn't looked back since. Trained as a pianist, she surprised her family by taking up the piano accordion and organ and heading for the variety halls - a career choice that would take her around the world and see her sharing a stage with all the great names of musical theatre, from Shirley Bassey and Frankie Howerd to Ivor Emmanuel and David Whitfield.
'It's a big life. I've worked all over the world from Saudi Arabia and Australia to New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, Panama. I played all the theatres and cabarets in England, I even played the Blackpool organ!'
Her life could have taken a different turn though.'I did go to college for bookkeeping classes but it wasn't me. I belong on stage!'
Collette arrived in Jersey in 1960 with her husband, and together they'd play cabaret and theatre venues across the world, and the island's entertainment venues in the summer. 'It was a nightmare sometimes, all that travelling and living out of trunks and airports. It's so much easier here, you just sit back and play and everyone loves what I do. The staff treat me like a queen. A word from a guest here at the hotel is worth more than the applause in one of the great variety theatres'.
She calls what she does 'automatic playing'. 'I memorise everything. I don't like to have music on the piano because it cuts me off from people. Everything's memorised so I can be playing and have quite an involved conversation with someone at the same time. I take requests and can play whatever people want. That gives me the most satisfaction.'
Her favourite tunes? 'I love romantic stuff, Nat King Cole, 'Unforgettable' and that sort of thing. I like to hit it sometimes and go into 'Tico Tico' and Latin American is my favourite.' And to listen to at home? Collette has a confession. 'Well… I do like Barry White…'
Collette's as remarkable for her fashion style - she was wearing a canary yellow Chanel-style suit on the day we met - as for her foot-tapping music. 'I've been in the theatre all my life, and when you walk on the stage, the first thing people notice is how you look, then they listen to what you're doing. My appearance, clothes, hair, make-up, it's always been important to me for my job. I used to take big American trunks on tour with me, and now it's all in my car. You should see it - my car's full of shoes!'
What would she have become if she hadn't been an entertainer? 'I would liked to have done something to help people, without them knowing. Slip a couple of pounds into the purse of a girl with a couple of kids in the supermarket, that sort of thing. The chance to have done something kind for someone without them knowing it was me.'
As she tells me a story of a soprano who'd lost her voice when her husband died, but found the strength to sing again at Collette's piano as she played one of her favourite songs, I wonder if Collette may have helped far more people than she imagines.
'We do have guests return to the hotel that I recognise, who return alone after their partner dies. I try to play the songs that remind them of their partner, and it helps release their sorrow. Someone once said to me, look in people's eyes while you're playing, and you'll see there's always someone out there who really needs you to give them that lift'.
Collette Channing: part of the
unique atmosphere at Hotel L'Horizon
Collette plays at the hotel every day except Tuesday and Wednesday between 6.30 and 8.30pm and on Sundays during lunch 12-2.30pm.
Image of Collette Channing - Matt Porteous Photography