Irena Delmar – 100 Lat.

Happy Birthday. 8 May

I interviewed this beautiful woman a couple of years ago for an entry in the souvenir programme of the polish Jubilee Ball. As it is her birthday today I thought I would share the article with you. She was such a delight to talk to, as she gave me tea in her drawing room, the walls covered with paintings and photographs and her platinum disc, and every available surface piled wiht more photo, awards and curios. Seventh heaven for a curious person like me!

Feliks Fabian

The most glamorous female of post-war Polish London – singer, actress, impresario and organiser, Miss Delmar was not quite singlehandedly responsible for the first Polish Balls, but she certainly played an enormous part in their success. As she reminisced about the first Grand Ball in 1970, the brainchild of Colonel Szugajew, and encouraged enthusiastically by General Anders, it became clear how much she influenced its design and success. The ball was originally conceived as a fund-raiser for the National Treasury, but this fact was kept quite low key.

Londyn 31.01.2009 r. 38 Bal Polski w Londynie. W tym roku ten najbardziej prestizowy bal polskiej emigracji odbyl sie w hotelu Royal Garden w dzielnicy Kensington. n/z Pani Irena Anders z aktorka Irena Delmar Fot. Piotr Apolinarski / FORUM

The reason the Balls became such a significant part of Polish Émigré history was that they were phenomenally successful – prestige, elegance, luxury, and fun were the predominant themes. The first one – the only one which General Anders was able to attend- was held at the Lancaster Hotel near Hyde Park and catered for 660 people. There were fifty hostesses and five hosts, each responsible for at least one table of twelve guests. Miss Delmar was one of the hostesses at this ball and had to ensure the event went smoothly – as of course it did. It was important for the organisers that the tickets should not be outrageously expensive, so that people could actually afford to come. They were not allowed to be sold outright, however, but only to guests invited by the hosts. The hosts, in turn, were entirely responsible for their guests who were enjoined to provide raffle prizes, be elegantly dressed in ball gowns and dinner jackets, and to take part in the auctions and draws.

The balls were famous for the exquisite food, the excellent dance bands and the various entertainments. Miss Delmar was keen to emphasize that the entertainment was appropriately short so that people could get on with the dancing.  Just as now, there were fashions shows, singers and actors, and also competitions, for example, for the best hairstyle, the best couple dancing the waltz, or the tango, and similar things.

irena Delmar resplendent in white in the 1980’s. Photographer unknown.

After about five years the competitions got a bit more daring and the best one – and the one which caused the most controversy, if not quite a scandal – was the competition for the best garter or suspender. Many of the guests took part with great humour but the lady who got the prize was wearing something quite innovative: a garter which lit up with little battery-operated lamps around her leg. Apparently, these shone through her dress throughout the evening and caused quite a stir!

Miss Delmar talked about the ball with obvious pleasure. There were usually two kinds of auction: the first was the artistic section where well-known Polish artists such as Feliks Fabian and Basia Kaczmarowska Hamilton donated their works – Fabian’s portrait of Miss Delmar is here, and Basia Kaczmarowska Hamilton is donating again this year!

The second was an auction of other gifts which the guests had generously contributed. These extremely popular events raised very significant funds for the National Treasury, until President Kaczorowski passed the presidential insignia to Poland in 1990, when the fundraising was reassigned to suitable Polish foundations and institutions n England. After Poland entered the EU, the beneficiaries included important charities in Poland, as well as English charities which supported Poles in England. At this time too, the balls changed their exclusive character somewhat, but maintained their elegance and charm, as it became more and more important to showcase the very best of émigré life in England.

Miss Delmar emphasized her wishes that this Golden Jubilee Ball, in the wonderful London Guildhall, should be a resounding success for all who participate, whether as organisers, supporters, donors, or guests.

Photo B. Korzeniowska.

2 comments on “Irena Delmar – 100 Lat.

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