Pan’s People’s Dee Dee Wilde insists women in her day stood up to misogyny

There is something vaguely familiar about the dance teacher putting her pupils energetically through their paces. Though 77, she looks at least two decades younger and, even dressed modestly in black trousers with black dance pumps and a red T-shirt, she exudes star quality.

Which is fitting because the woman leading the class is none other than Dee Dee Wilde, a founder member of Pan’s People, the all-female dance troupe who helped make Top Of The Pops a must-watch from 1967 until the mid-Seventies.

The “It” girls of their generation, they appeared on the popular TV show when ­artists were unable to perform live. Together they offered a glamorous, tongue-in-cheek sexiness with a friendly, fresh-faced, girl-next-door appeal. All of which, it soon becomes clear talking to Dee Dee today, was underpinned by a steely resolve.

“We got plenty of male attention – we were a group of pretty young girls. Men would make what would today be construed as offensive comments and we were ­constantly getting our bottoms pinched,” she explains.

“I’m not condoning that but, if we didn’t want them to do it or if we didn’t like what they were saying to us, we’d tell them where to go and make it very plain. We’d think, ‘What a sad little man’.” In her day, Dee Dee insists women in showbiz stood up to misogyny.

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“We were strong – stronger, I feel, than young women seem today,” she continues.

“There are times when I think today’s young women are demeaning themselves and making themselves appear weak by being so offended by men and complaining about everything all the time.

“It makes women look like victims. I have never felt anything but a confident, emancipated woman and am very, very happy in men’s company. I am – and have always felt myself to be – any man’s equal.”

Dee Dee does acknowledge, however, that Pan’s People were objects of lust on Thursday nights when TOTP was broadcast across the nation. “Of course we were, and there was nothing wrong with that,” she laughs. “We were sexy but in quite an innocent way. We had different looks and personalities but came together as a whole.”

Although the line-up changed over the years, at the height of their fame Pan’s People contained a core of Felicity “Flick” Colby, Babs Lord, Ruth Pearson, Louise Clarke, Cherry Gillespie and, of course, Dee Dee.

With Felicity as choreographer and troupe leader, Dee Dee describes the others: “There was me – bubbly ‘Miss Personality’ – always dressed in red; Bardot-like blonde bombshell Babs in blue; exotic and sultry Ruthie in ­yellow – a colour she hated, by the way; sexy Louise in green and sweet Cherry in purple.

“We always wore the same colours so that we could be easily identified by the viewers – and the men and boys watching at home could quickly pick out the girl they particularly fancied.” A dancer from the age of three, Dee Dee – born Patricia Alida – was the daughter of a Royal Navy commander and his Italian wife. She spent her first years with her family in Africa. At the age of 10, she was sent to England to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer.

The next seven years were spent at Elmhurst Ballet School. But Dee Dee’s preference was for modern dance rather than ballet.

She joined the dance troupe The Beat Girls in 1964 before creating Pan’s People with Babs and Flick two years later.

“It was late 1966,” Dee Dee recalls. “Babs, Flick and I weren’t happy with The Beat Girls and decided to form a new group. The three of us sat in the Soho flat of the lady who made our costumes, trying to come up
with a name.

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“After a few bottles of wine, we rejected Dionysus’ Darlings in favour of Pan’s People, Pan being the Roman god of dance.”

The group’s first appearance on TOTP in 1967 proved so popular, they became regulars on the show – dancing to tracks when the artists themselves were unable to appear.

Over the next five years, the line-up changed a few times. Then, in 1972, Flick became choreographer and stopped dancing. “Cherry joined and we had the quintet that became iconic,” Dee Dee remembers. “It was the glam-rock era and we wore some incredible outfits.”

Recording live, there were occasional ­mishaps. On one occasion, the baubles hanging from their costumes ended up flying all over the studio.

Another time, while dancing to Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Get Down, they shared the stage with several dogs, one of which decided to wander off in the middle of filming.

“Top Of The Pops was great fun but ­actually very hard work,” Dee Dee remembers. “Flick was a perfectionist and had a very set idea of what she wanted. We would sometimes have a moan about that. She must have been under so much pressure, though.

“We wouldn’t know how the charts were looking until the day before we recorded the show. This meant that, on occasion, we’d have to scrap the dance we’d been rehearsing for three days and start all over again, knowing that it had to all come together in 24 hours. This is why sometimes we would make little mistakes. We’d only had a few hours to rehearse.

“We had a wonderful time, though – ­we were the most famous group of girls ­ in the country – and I have the most amazing memories.”

Inevitably, they got to hang out with the pop stars of that period.“We Pan’s girls met just about everyone,” Dee Dee recalls. “Bryan Ferry asked me out but I thought he was a bit arrogant.

Jimi Hendrix kissed my hand. Rod Stewart was very sweet. He used to come round to my mum’s house in a big limo and the neighbours’ curtains would twitch frantically as Rod leapt out with his famous big hair, wearing a catsuit.”

When Dee Dee had to spend a short time in hospital, she remembers Rod visiting with grapes and holding her hand. She also appeared with Ringo Starr as he sang Yellow Submarine on Top Of The Pops.

Dee Dee finally left Pan’s People in 1975, later marrying and having two children, son Alex and daughter Poppy, now both in their forties. In the early 1980s, she co-founded a London dance studio called Dance Attic.

By 2002, now divorced, she moved to Wiltshire with musician Henry Marsh, a member of the 1970s band Sailor. Since then, she has regularly taught dance and exercise classes close to home.

Now 77 years old and grandmother to three young boys, she still possesses her trim figure and seemingly boundless energy.

“Dancing is my life – I will never stop,” she says with total passion. “I don’t think I could actually carry on without it. It’s part and ­parcel of my whole psyche, my whole being.

“I love taking my classes and my ladies love it, too – although I suspect, like me, they prefer the dance section at the end to the exercise bit at the beginning.

“I do feel much more uplifted after doing a class and generally more positive about life. In my book, it’s never too late to start dancing, never too late to start anything, actually. ‘Life begins at 70’ is my mantra.”

Dee Dee encourages us all to keep moving as much ­as possible, explaining: “It’s all about keeping going when you get to my age, and of course, dancing is one of the most wonderful ways of expressing oneself and keeping fit ­at the same time.”

For Dee Dee and her ladies, the social aspect of the classes is of utmost importance, too, and a real life line for those who live alone. “We call ourselves The Wilde Bunch,” she laughs.

“Apart from dancing, we meet up for coffees, days and evenings out, even holidays.”

A few months ago, she ran a workshop day at Dance Attic, which is run by Alex and Poppy. “We did ballet, some moves from famous musicals and some Pan’s People routines. It was a great success, made extra special when Strictly Come Dancing stars Pasha Kovalev and Graziano Di Prima, who had been rehearsing in the studio next door, came by to say hello.

Dee Dee also just loves to write. Her first book – You May Now Kiss The Dog!: And Other Verbal Slip-ups, was published in 2020 and she is currently working on her autobiography.

“I have led an amazing life,” she smiles. “There have been books written about Pan’s before but this will just be my story. But don’t expect any stories about big fallings out between us. Quite simply, there never were. We always stayed in touch and had hilarious reunions every so often.”

Sadly, Babs, Cherry and Dee Dee are the only members left from the most famous Pan’s People line-up.

“We lost Flick in 2011, Louise in 2012 and Ruth in 2017,” Dee Dee says with regret. “I’m still in touch with Babs, who’s married to the actor Robert Powell and lives in North London while I’m here in Wiltshire. Cherry lives in France.

“I occasionally catch footage of us on social media and it immediately brings it all back. I can’t believe how lucky we were.”

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