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Patti Boulaye, OBE (born Patricia Ngozi Ebigwei, 3 May 1954) is a British-Nigerian singer, actress and artist who rose to prominence after winning New Faces in 1978, and was among the leading black British entertainers in the 1970s and 1980s. In her native Nigeria, she is best remembered for starring in Lux commercials and Bisi, Daughter of the River, as well as her own series The Patti Boulaye Show.
Boulaye was born after her mother went into labour in a taxi that was passing through two towns in Mid-Western Nigeria, and was raised in a strict Catholic household with nine children, including airline pilot Tony Ebigwei who was killed in the Nigerian Airways plane crash of 1978. As a teenager, Boulaye survived the Biafran war, and attributes this to her strong faith.
At sixteen, she left Nigeria for the United Kingdom where she decided to become a nun, but during a sightseeing trip in London, Boulaye stood in a queue for what she assumed was Madame Tussauds, but turned out to be an audition for the original London production of Hair, and soon won a part which launched her career in musicals. Her father, who did not approve of showbusiness disowned his daughter, but later forgave her.
After Hair, she featured in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, but landed her first starring role as Yum Yum in The Black Mikado under her birth name Patricia Ebigwei. Critic Tony Lane wrote: "Patricia Ebigwei's version of 'The Sun whose rays...' is, in the words of the Gramophone reviewer of this recording, the performance against which all others must now be judged. It is one of those remarkable interpretations that makes all others pale and unsatisfactory by comparison. No G and S lover is unmoved by this sensational piece of music making. Her version is a slow, erotic, languid ballad of vanity and sexual self-satisfaction that makes the conventional renditions seem prissy and just plain silly."
Other stage productions she has starred in include the title role in Carmen Jones, at London's Old Vic Theatre in a production directed by Simon Callow and Jesus Christ Superstar. In 2003, Boulaye launched her West End musical Sun Dance, which took twelve years to put together. Hailed as a celebration of "the colours and music of Africa in a display of ceremonial dances, rituals and initiation ceremonies, all played out to the beat of African drums". It was written and produced by Boulaye herself, and opened at the Hackney Empire Boulaye featured in an excerpt from the show forming part of the interval act at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest staged at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
In 1978, now with several years of experience under her belt, Boulaye appeared on New Faces where she was the only contestant in the series to be awarded maximum points by the judges, and would later win the All Winners Final Gala Show. She has also appeared in The Fosters, Dempsey and Makepeace, and Brothers and Sisters. In 1984, she had her own series, The Patti Boulaye Show on Channel 4. The Christmas special, which featured Cliff Richard was a ratings success, and an album was released in conjunction with the screening of the series.
Boulaye had a starring role in African movie Bisi, Daughter of the River, which is said to be the biggest grossing African movie ever made, running in the cinemas in Nigeria for three years. She starred in The Music Machine – billed as the British Saturday Night Fever – in 1979, and also appeared as a cabaret singer in the 1980 Helen Mirren movie Hussy.
Her victory on New Faces led to the release of the album You Stepped into My Life. Prior to this, she had spent a year touring and releasing several singles with British-based American girlgroup The Flirtations, although she was never officially a member.
Boulaye is the founder and president of the charity “Support for Africa”, which has built five clinics in rural Africa and a school with HRH Prince Harry's Charity, "Sentebale", in Lesotho.
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The eighties saw an increase in fitness awareness, and Boulaye was among the celebrities whose voices featured on the Shape Up and Dance keep-fit albums. In Africa, she was the face of Lux for twenty-nine years, The Patti Boulaye Show was shown on several NTA stations, and in 1999 she was invited to sing for Olusegun Obasanjo during his inauguration. In 2002, Boulaye was appointed to the Entertainment Steering Committee for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and led 5000 gospel singers down The Mall in the celebrations singing songs including "Celebrate Good News", especially written by Boulaye for the occasion.
Boulaye's autobiography, The Faith of a Child, was published in March 2017.
In 1999, Boulaye, then a supporter of the Conservative Party, attracted criticism when the Daily Express quoted her as saying "The boys accused of killing Stephen Lawrence, I can assure you, were either National Front or Labour ... I would say 80% of Labour people are [racist] as opposed to 20% of Conservatives." A government spokesman dismissed her remarks as "offensive and stupid". Boulaye, who at the time was competing to become the Conservative candidate for the new London Assembly, described the claims as false, and the Conservatives backed her claim that that she had been misquoted. However, a verbatim transcript of the taped interview confirmed the accuracy of her reported quotes.
Later that year, Boulaye successfully sued The Guardian for libel after the paper wrongly quoted her as saying "This is a time to support apartheid because it's unfashionable"; she later stated she had been set up by a reporter who claimed to have misheard her when she referred to "a party" (The Conservatives) as opposed to "apartheid". The Guardian was later forced to pay £15,000 in damages. She also defended fellow Conservative Jeffrey Archer after he made derogatory comments about black Britons. During a radio interview, he stated, "[Three decades ago], your head did not turn if a black woman passed because they were badly dressed, probably overweight and probably had a lousy job." Boulaye defended Archer, stating, "I am talking as a black woman who knows Jeffrey Archer very well ... and he is not a racist. I think he would make a very good mayor."
A devout Roman Catholic, Boulaye has two children with husband Stephen Komlosy – graphic designer Sebastian and singer-songwriter Aret; Boulaye was seen supporting Aret during her performance on The Voice in 2013.
- Patti Boulaye (1976)
- You Stepped into My Life (1978)
- The Music Machine (1979)
- Magic (1981)
- Patti (1983)
- In His Kingdom (2004)
- Patti Boulaye Bio[dead link]
- Iggulden, Amy (8 April 2005). "'My brother had died in 1978. Now here he was, walking towards me'". the Daily Telegraph.
- Allmusic biography
- Moreton, Cole (22 September 2007). "Patti Boulaye: 'God took away my career - with a lot of help from the Tories'". the Independent.
- Lane, Terry. "The Black Mikado (1975)", A Gilbert and Sullivan Discography, 25 November 2001, accessed 23 November 2009
- Williams, Hazelann (1 March 2014). "Patti Boulaye: African ambassador". the Voice.
- Sundance Review[dead link]
- "biography". pattiboulaye.com. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
- "Leigh Zimmerman, Dominick Allen, Patti Boulaye, Anne Reid, Amanda McBroom and George Hall Among Line-up at London's Crazy Coqs". Playbill.[dead link]
- Cummings, Tony (April 2004). "Patti Boulaye: The African star of musicals goes gospel". Cross Rhythms (80).
- "Letter from Charity President". Support for Africa. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
- "Tory singer denies Lawrence slur". BBC News. 12 March 1999.
- Waugh, Paul (13 March 1999). "London Assembly: Racism claims `offensive and stupid'". the Independent.
- "PARTY' PATTI LIBEL VICTORY". The Daily Mirror. 26 June 1999.
- "The Big Picture". The Scotsman.[dead link]
- "Black Tory defends Archer". BBC News. 10 August 1999. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
- "'You look better than you sound': Patti Boulaye's sultry daughter Aret Kapetanovic hits the wrong note on The Voice". Daily Mail. 28 April 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2017.