October 8, 2007 / 11:28 AM / 12 years ago

A day in the life of a Paris drag artist

PARIS, Oct 8 - Marie-Pierre doesn’t do mornings.

After a night cavorting on the stage of a Paris drag club impersonating the singer Cher, he loves to wind down by having a drink with friends. Then suddenly it is five a.m.

“I really can’t stand mornings — they’re for the birds. Mornings don’t interest me,” he told Reuters at Chez Michou, the tiny Montmartre club where he has dressed up in stunning outfits for 20 years.

“I don’t get up before midday — even on holiday,” he said, relaxing after a Saturday night full house performing alongside Marilyn Monroe, Tina Turner and Maria Callas.

The crowd is in ebullient form. France has just beaten the New Zealand All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup. “We are the champions,” drag artists quip in mid-routine.

Chez Michou has been a Paris institution for more than half a century. Its walls are crammed with photos of celebrities who came along for a night on the town — Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and French President Jacques Chirac.

“We are all very close here — it’s just like a family,” said Marie-Pierre, whose real name is Christian Cousseau.

“I like to call myself a transformist. To get a character right takes three months of work,” he said.

The 44-year-old Marie-Pierre certainly captures the essence of Cher, dressed in a stunning cutaway outfit that leaves little to the imagination.

“I must say I was terrified when I first started in the business. I had to think about so many things — the make-up, the gestures, everything,” he said. “But this job really is a passion.”

By the time Marie-Pierre rises, the morning has gone. He potters about his apartment, lovingly tends his plants, feeds the fish in his tank and does a spot of housework. Then it’s off to work at six.

All the stars at Chez Michou double up as waiters serving dinner at tightly packed tables before taking to the stage in all their finery.

It makes for great rapport with the customers, many of them middle-aged Parisians revelling in a naughty night out. They proudly pose with the artists afterwards, even borrowing their wigs for a saucy shot.

Sitting in state at the tiny entrance to the club awaits the bouffant-haired Michou, immaculately attired in his king-size blue shades and matching jacket.

On the wall behind the 77-year-old owner hangs a picture of him in his heyday impersonating Brigitte Bardot.

“Not bad eh? But please don’t look at my feet in the photo,” he implored.

Sipping champagne and reflecting on the club’s longevity, he said: “I never dreamt it would be such a success for so long. Its secret is that the show is not vulgar.

“I have the luck to live in this glorious village that is Montmartre There is as much spectacle on stage as off it. This club really is my baby. I created it — and when I go, it will go to.”

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