Fascinating who? Dillie Keane talks to Peter Stanford about her musical admiration of the Pope.
DOES Pope John Paul remind you of anybody? For Dillie Keane it is her dad. Like hundreds of others, I'm sure. Only Dillie wrote a song about it which delights audiences up and down the country. I'm mad about the Pontiff
He makes my heart beat quicker I doubt it I could quantify My feelings for that vicar
Well her canon law may not be perfect, but then Pope John Paul as a playwright himself will surely appreciate the dictates of rhyming couplets. And the compliment is certainly sincerely meant and sung. "He is a very charismatic character", Dillie told me. And unlike his recent predecessors. "You certainly couldn't call Pius XII charismatic".
Fascinating Aida, three talented women of whom Dillie is but one, have yet to delight Rome with their music and humour, but who knows — an audience at the Vatican? With a name whose obscure origins in a Mexican violin-playing ecdysaist causes endless debate and some little trouble for telephonists — "Billie Greens with a fascinating idea for you, sir" — this group is, however, much in demand in this country from London's West End to the Edinburgh Festival and with listeners to Radio Four's Stop the Week. Their vocal harmonies and witty songs affect a mask of comedy to portray acutely people's foibles and weaknesses.
It isn't all gloom and doom, but that human frailty and capacity to fail to live up to theoretical goals is a fact that Dillie Keane feels the Catholic Church is too apt to overlook. A product of the convent of the Sacred Heart at Woldingham, Dillie is a cradle Catholic who finds some of the Church's harsher judgements on contemporary reality difficult to accept. For instance its recent condemnation of in vitro fertilisation for childless married couples who long to start a family.
Performers often look very different off stage. Out of the glare of the spotlight, Dillie Keane's humour is no less accurate and sharp, but she abandons the clown's garb, and her manner becomes more conventionally thoughtful.
Her schooldays were not happy ones she reflects. The "society" aspects of the convent had little to do with the faith she now
nurtures, and if anything threatened to crush it. However, the convent has to be thanked for providing her with the inspiration to pen one of Fascinating Aida's better known numbers, the Sloane Ranger Song;
We play up, play up and play the game and will do it till we drop We never join in to win, but we always come out on top We can state with clarity that we don't like social parity For if everyone where equal we couldn't work for charity.
In fact her years at the convent ended with expulsion at the tender age of 18 for going out with a boy. Dillie claims that she was made a scapegoat to warn off others tempted to follow in her treacherous footsteps.
However, whatever her experience at the convent Catholicism remains a part of her life out of choice. And her differences of opinion don't change that. "If you filled St Paul's with wood panelling, it would still be Saint Pauls" she pointed out. But too often that panelling can obscure the Church's role and make it seem out of touch with people's lives.
Dillie Keane is no radical. Fascinating Aida are often described as feminists — an assertion that always leaves them rushing for the exit — but I wondered if Dillie, as a member of the Alternative Andrews Sisters as one critic has described them, took a strong position on the treatment of women in the Church. Avowing no special insight save her sex, she nevertheless did not give a wholehearted welcome to women priests. But then she admitted that such an attitude owed more to her upbringing than any concrete objections. And it is an issue that needs to be tackled, she agreed.
But not one that they planned to write a song about. For the time being Tom Lehrer and Vatican ragtimers can rest on their laurels for aside from the odd dig at Victoria Gillick, Fascinating Aida will stick to eulogising the Pope in their stage show.
Fascinating Aida will be back in the West End at the Donmar Warehouse in the autumn. In the meantime Fascinating Who? The Anatomy of a Group on the Crest of a Ripple is published by Elm Tree Books, price £6.95.