Belfast Telegraph

Stars pay tribute to legend Leila Webster, the doyenne of showbiz in Northern Ireland

BY CLAIRE GRAHAM

A true legend of showbusiness, who brought pleasure to all she met.

That's how much-loved singer, actress and comedienne Leila Webster was described yesterday after passing away at the age of 90.

The performer, who spent 80 years in the limelight, died yesterday morning at Movilla Nursing Home in Belfast.

Her health had deteriorated after she suffered a stroke before Christmas and her funeral will be held at Mary Magdelene Church of Ireland, Donegall Pass, on Monday.

Born in Rutland Street in south Belfast, Leila was famed for characters such as Emily Beattie, who captured colloquial charms such as "your walls are bogging".

Dennison Mahood, Leila's manager and best friend, said she was a true lady.

"She is a legend in herself bringing so much pleasure to those who she met," he said.

"It was her 90th birthday last October, she had a super birthday party, entertaining and singing and telling a few jokes. She was still teaching drama and singing from home until the summer.

"She has left a huge void, she was such a legend and loved lady in the industry, not just in Belfast but across Northern Ireland." Actor and close friend Dan Gordon also paid tribute.

"She led the way for comedy, real homegrown talent, and she was a wonderful woman," he said.

"As a child she had a horrific time from scarlet fever to agrophobia – but what saved her was a piano. It gave her the confidence.

"When her husband Tom died a few years ago she never really recovered.

"Of course, she had close friends around her and a strong support network of family.

"What she will be most remembered for was her ability to improvise. She was doing Mrs Brown's Boys in Sam Cree plays essentially, but she would never say a rude word.

"But that never stopped her from playing the owner of a brothel or even as an older lady at the other end of a chat line. She knew how to separate real life and the roles.

"She could fill the Arts Theatre with crowds of 500 in the 1970s and 1980s when everywhere else was desolate and no one wanted to come to Belfast."

Mr Gordon said he will value the ethos she kept until the end.

"She always said you must keep on going as long as you love what you are doing," he said.

"She was immaculately turned out at all times, walking her two dogs in kitten heels down and around Donegall Pass, where she lived her whole life.

Comedian Jimmy Cricket was also saddened by the news.

"Leila really is the backdrop of Northern Ireland showbiz, not only for her performances, but her observations of Northern Irish character and humour of the province.

"The warmth of character she had off-stage is also an important and big thing. When I was lucky enough to be with her that genuine light shone through."

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