Today is the birthday of Lillie Langtry (or to give her her true name, Emilie Charlotte Le Breton), a music hall star who charmed her way into the beds of earls and princes. A Jersey girl, Lillie was introduced to London society by her Irish landowner husband, Edward Langtry. She soon became a star, famed for her beauty and intellect – although, despite the fashions of the time, she only ever worn simple black dresses and no jewellery whatsoever. Eventually she became a star of the stage, as well as becoming the first ‘celebrity’ to endorse commercial products, such as cosmetics and soap. Literary scholars also believe that she may have been the true-life inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character of Irene Adler, from the Sherlock Holmes series.
In 1877 Lillie was introduced to “Bertie”, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. He became completely infatuated with Lillie, making her his semi-official mistress. The charming Lillie was even introduced to Bertie’s mother, Queen Victoria, and struck up a friendship of sorts with his wife, Princess Alexandra. During their affair, which ran from 1877 to 1880, Bertie had the Red House (now known as the Langtry Manor Hotel) constructed in Bournemouth as a private residence for the couple and allowed Lillie free reign with the design costs. Seeing the bills however, he grumbled: “I’ve spend enough on you to build a battleship!” Lillie replied, immediately and rather tartly: “And you’ve spent enough in me to float one.”
Even after their dalliance ended, and Lillie planned to elope with the Earl of Shrewsbury, Bertie remained very fond of Lillie – often speaking very well of her acting skills and general grace.