Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Cherie Hulland

Cherie Hulland

Chrysalis to butterfly

HOT columnist Sean O’Shea interviews Hastings musician, Morris dancer and artist Cherie Hulland who demonstrates how it is possible – from inauspicious beginnings – to make one’s own body, passions and existence into a work of art. He talks to Cherie about her difficult childhood, her love of clothes design, dancing and books, and her enjoyment of the Hastings Jack in the Green festival.

Sean O’ Shea (SOS):
You’re not a native Hastonian so could you say a bit about where you came from and some of your memories of your early years?

Cherie Hulland (CH): I was born in Kent and lived there for much of my life. I always wanted to dance and as a young child I would pretend to do ballet. My mother always criticised my efforts and told me I was inelegant, lanky and boney. I also loved to sing but I was told I sang through my nose and sounded terrible. My sisters and I had piano lessons but this too was fraught with failure for me. My mother said my playing was dreadful and even the neighbours complained of the “awful noise” when I practised. By contrast my sisters were praised for their musical ability. My mother’s constant refrain was, “You are the bane of my life. Why can’t you be like your sisters?” I tried hard to be like them to please my mother but you can’t change your spirit.

SOS: How did you manage to break free from these constraints and what were some of the circumstances or people that helped you to blossom?

CH: I realise now that I married my first husband to get away from my family.

My self-esteem was so low that I thought I was lucky to find anyone who actually liked me. I didn’t think that I would ever have another opportunity to leave home and I didn’t even have the confidence to set out on my own. I walked out of one cage into another as my first husband lowered my self-esteem even further.

A chance remark from an acquaintance completely changed my thinking. She mentioned a friend who had a volatile temper. I said that my husband couldn’t control his temper. She replied, “Can’t or won’t? Does he control it in public?” I replied that he was always careful to behave well in public. “Then he can control his temper when he wants to,” she returned.

Getting divorced was one turning point in my life, meeting Andy was another [see interview with Hastings’ artist and musician Andy Dennis]. In 2003 at the Jack in the Green Festival, Andy came to play for our Morris side. When the procession stopped briefly in All Saints Street near the Stag pub, Andy was literally standing in the gutter at the side of the road. I stepped out of line and gave him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. We have been together ever since. I knew from the beginning he would never try to control me or put me down. On the contrary he constantly boosts my confidence and encourages me to express myself. I have never been freer. It is commitment and trust in one another that engenders freedom.

Mad Jack’s Morris

SOS: How did you get involved with Morris dancing and Jack in the Green?

CH: I always loved to dance but because my early efforts were derided this passion remained undeveloped until 2003 when a friend asked me to join Daisy Roots Morris with her. I now dance with Mad Jack’s and with Loose Women. Mad Jack’s Morris co-host the Jack in the Green Festival which has been celebrated continuously in Hastings since 1983 although I believe it dates back to the 16th century. This May Day weekend event is organised by a group of people who work very hard to create a wonderful spectacle that unites every one of all ages and cultures. I love it and hope it continues for many more years to come.

Cherie Morris Dancing

Cherie Morris Dancing

Cherie at a local session

Cherie at a local session








SOS: You’re also passionate about music and particularly enjoy playing the mandolin. Could you say a bit about your musical influences and how you came to choose the mandolin?

CH: I have always loved music and even as a very young child there was a tune or song constantly playing in my head. There still is. I have experienced an eclectic mix of musical influences from classical and opera to pop, rock and folk. Folk is my favourite genre so Andy and I have the perfect match in musical tastes. Andy plays the mandolin. He suggested it might suit me and that it would be good to play together. He was right and we now enjoy playing a wide variety of mostly folk music from different cultures including English, French, Irish and Eastern European.

A work of art

SOS: The streets, hostelries and countryside around Hastings are places in which you enjoy surprising people with splashes of colour, big smiles, hugs and spontaneous dancing. When by the sea it is reported that you have a tendency to run naked into the waves or, if in the woods, you may paint yourself green and merge with the trees like a sprite of nature. What drives you?

CH: I love colour and clothes design and see each outfit as a work of art. I love the way shapes and colours work together to form a picture that expresses my thoughts and feelings, and the way the clothes feel on my body, the way they move as I move and how certain clothes change the way I move. I move quite differently in a short swirling skirt than I do in a long slinky dress. I love to see people smile at my bright colours and quirky dress sense or make remarks such as, “You’ve brightened my day.” Yesterday a woman stopped me in the street while she described my outfit in detail to her blind companion.

Having had virtually no loving physical contact as a child I know how vitally important it is, and how a hug or even a touch can say so much more than words. I want to pass that on to others and show my family and friends just how much I value and appreciate them. If I can brighten someone’s day by a smile or a touch, whether I know them or not, I feel that I’ve done something worthwhile.

As for spontaneous dancing when the spirit moves me, I just can’t resist! I am a free spirit and often act on impulse. Andy says that it is one of the things he loves about me, that I am unpredictable and sometimes outrageous. For me these are just ways of expressing myself, being at one with nature and enjoying life to the full.


Cherie's wardrobe

Cherie's wardrobe

One of Cherie's wonderful outfits

One of Cherie's wonderful outfits









SOS: You have allowed me the privilege of a brief tour of your wardrobe, an allocated room housing hundreds of items of clothing in every colour of the rainbow. How do you chose what to wear each day and is leaving the house a lengthy process?

CH: For me each day has a different colour. Some days are green, others red or pink and orange. My clothes are my colour palette, sometimes all one colour; other times a mix or blends of colours. Leaving the house is not a lengthy process. What to wear is usually a spontaneous feeling rather than a conscious decision although I do have to consider the weather.

My clothes come from many different sources both new and second hand. Some have been given to me by friends and family, and others I have made myself. I particularly value some clothes my daughter made me which are real works of art and when I’m not wearing them they hang on the wall for all to admire.

SOS: You are a keen reader. What kind of books do you read?

CH: As a child reading was a real escape route and I adored reading right from my very first Janet and John. I like books that make me stop and think and enable me to see the world from different perspectives or other people’s points of view. My reading ranges from fiction to biography to science and psychology. I love words, the sound and feel of them as well as their sense and meaning. I enjoy the classics as well as contemporary works and also enjoy poetry.

SOS: If you were to write a book of your own what might it be about?

CH: I would want to encourage people to enjoy life, to let go of their inhibitions and preconceptions and realise that however adverse their beginnings it is possible to overcome difficult circumstances. I would want to show the importance of being true to oneself, at the same time always being aware that everything we do affects other people and that we should try to be sensitive to one another’s feelings.

SOS: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by Hastings Online Times.

Sean O’Shea, Friday 1 March 2013

Photos by Andy Dennis


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Posted 11:26 Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 In: SOS

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