Northern Ireland

Leila Webster, comedienne and singer from Belfast, has died

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Media captionLeila Webster began singing in public when she was 10 years old

Leila Webster, the well-known Belfast actress and comedienne, has died at the age of 90.

She was born in Rutland Street in south Belfast and started singing when she was 10 years old.

Her first public performance was in front of the armed forces at May Street Church.

During her career, she worked alongside world-famous stars like Bob Hope and Josef Locke.

She also worked with Northern Ireland playwright Sam Cree on his many productions and with the actor James Young.

Her talent was discovered after her father bought her a piano, while she was recovering from an illness, which had led her to develop agoraphobia.

Beginning as a singer at the old Empire Theatre in Victoria Square, her talent for comedy was quickly recognised and she was soon adding the role of comedienne to her resume.

Image caption Leila Webster at the time of her first marriage

Many years of 'topping the bill' as one of Northern Ireland's best-loved singers, actresses and cabaret artistes followed.

Throughout her career, Leila had the audiences rolling in the aisles with her one woman stand-up shows, sketches and improvisations.

She also proved her versatility in more serious roles, such as Brecht's Mother Courage, along with many powerful television performances.

The actor, Dan Gordon, knew her well.

Closed chapter

"It's terribly sad," he said.

"It's the closing of a chapter in Ulster theatre really because Leila's career never stopped.

"Even up to her 90th birthday party last year, she was still singing and performing. She was going along to women's groups and churches and she was still visiting patients in hospital and singing for them and entertaining them.

"She was an incredible woman.

"She was the last of the great showgirls, she was dancing on the stage of the Empire as a showgirl and she was five foot nothing, and all these other girls were eight foot, she still held her own."

He said although she had had an "incredible life", she had had a lot to "contend with".

"She was very ill as a child, she was agoraphobic, she had scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and she came through it all.

"She filled the Arts Theatre during the 70s and 80s. She did the television career, she did serious roles, and being a great comedienne made her a great actress."

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín also paid tribute.

"Leila was a remarkable woman, and an inspirational figure whose talent and enthusiasm will be sadly missed," she said.

"My thoughts are with her family and friends at this time."

She was married twice and had a son.

Leila was awarded an MBE for her charity work.

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