Helene Cordet, cabaret star; born July 3, 1917, died April 30, 1996
LONDON has never been the city for nightclub queens. Regine tried it and failed, and Muriel Belcher of the Colony Room was more the owner of the legendary low-life bar. Helene Cordet was in a class of her own.
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During the days of black-and-white television she was a major star as hostess of Cafe Continentale, but it was as part-owner and resident hostess of the Park Lane nightclub, The Saddle Room, London's first discotheque, that during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s she lit up the capital's night life. The Saddle Room, decorated with hunting and horsey motifs, was where it was at.
But it was her reputation as a former girlfriend of the Duke of Edinburgh which made her a continuing source of interest to the press. She became friends with Prince Philip when she was six and he was three, after his parents, Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Greece, had been forced into exile. Her grandfather, a wealthy Greek cotton magnate, had also been sent into exile as a monarchist and the family set up home in Marseilles, where the exiled royals were made welcome.
The gossips said Prince Philip was the father of her first son, Max, an allegation she always denied and one Max took the singular step of denying formally in 1989.
Her father having died, Prince Philip gave her away at her first marriage in 1938 to William Kirby. That ended in divorce and the family moved to Britain where she married for the second time, a French airman, Marcel Boisot, who was flying Free French squadrons from RAF bases in Scotland. For a time they lived near Edinburgh.
When Paris was liberated she followed him home, leaving her son, who had been born out of wedlock, and a daughter by Boisot with her mother in London. Her son took Boisot's name. After Boisot was posted to Egypt that marriage also ended in divorce.
She had a hard time in post-war Paris making ends meet, and worked as a cosmetic saleswoman and as a mannequin, before turning to her singing talent. She impressed Elma Browne, who was the doyenne of London nightlife during the war, and that led to a two-week engagement at the Pigalle Club in Piccadilly, followed by more appearances in London.
She was ``discovered'' by the BBC producer, Henry Caldwell, and offered the job of hosting Cafe Continentale. In the late 1950s she met Major Peter Davies, a dashing Guards officer, with whom she set up The Saddle Room in 1961. They never married.
Their club survived until the early 1980s, when plans to open similar establishments in Europe took her to Switzerland, where she spent the rest of her life, insisting to the end that she and the Duke of Edinburgh had never been anything more than good friends.
She is survived by her second husband and her son and daughter.