Carlotta’s colourful life has been a whirl of feathers and sequins for over five decades and, as Australia’s most famous sex swap showgirl gets set to ring in her 75th birthday, it’s now a double celebration after recently overcoming a cancer scare.
Renowned for her witty one-liners and politically incorrect, outrageous sense of humour on screen, Carlotta was born Richard Byron before undergoing gender-reassignment surgery in 1972.
Using the stage name Carlotta, she’d become a bejewelled and bedazzling sensation in the ’60s performing at Sydney’s world-famous Les Girls cabaret revue.
‘It was bloody hard work dragging up in all of those fabulous frocks and dancing around in mountainous high heels, but they were great times,’ she recalls fondly.
‘Fifty-six years on, I’m still here and still throwing on the feathers and entertaining packed houses,’ she purrs over a celebratory glass of champagne at her Gold Coast home.
Known as Carol Spencer by close friends, Carlotta’s life was the inspiration for Terence Stamp’s Bernadette character in the hit 1994 Aussie movie The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.
‘I love Terence Stamp, but I was never that ugly – even in the worst drag,’ she laughs.
Carlotta’s life was further immortalised in the 2014 ABC telemovie, with Jessica Marais stepping into the fishnets and nabbing two Logie nominations for her portrayal.
‘I think Jessica did a great job, she reminded me very much of me,’ Carlotta says, adding the pair have remained friends. ‘We see each other occasionally, but we’re both so busy.’
Carlotta says she made the bold and, back then, very controversial decision to undergo the sex change – not because she wanted to become a woman – but because she simply wanted to be herself.
‘I was a born showgirl. I did it because I loved my work, I loved getting dressed up and entertaining – but I didn’t want to continue doing so as a man putting on women’s clothes.’
In the late ’80s Carlotta gave up her busy showbiz career after meeting ‘a wonderful man’ whom she married in a civil ceremony.
‘I ran a delicatessen and we were a picture of domestic bliss,’ she explains.
But, it didn’t last.
‘I suspected he’d fallen in love with his fantasy,’ Carlotta says. ‘I knew deep down he wanted kids leave him so as to give him that chance. He is now a dad, and I’m thrilled for him.’
After that, Carlotta went back to work and was asked to appear regularly on Beauty And The Beast, alongside Jeanne Little, Ita Buttrose, Johanna Griggs and Charlotte Dawson.
‘Charlotte’s death was such a shock,’ she says. ‘I knew she was troubled, but she hid it well.’
Carlotta laughs when recalling past famous lovers, including late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and Peter Allen.
‘I think John was so out of it on drugs, he thought he was in bed with Jerry Lewis! And Peter was very passionate... back then he certainly had a thing for women. He was so talented and absolutely lovely.’
One ex beau Carlotta will never name is a former Logie winning TV personality.
‘Darling, he was the best lover ever,’ she reveals.
‘Germaine Greer set us up, thinking the whole thing was a huge joke – but it backfired when we hit it off. We had a beautiful romance. I suppose people would be shocked, but I’m taking his name to the grave with me,’ she laughs.
With her 75th birthday coming up on September 2, does Carlotta plan to hang up her heels anytime soon?
‘I think working keeps you young,’ she says. ‘My stage shows are booked out, I’m still asked to appear on TV and, between gigs, I love cooking, gardening and throwing dinner parties. There’s plenty of life in the old girl yet,’ she smiles.’
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