b. January 1 1945, London, England
died 7 March 2000
Chelita was born to a wealthy white Trinidadian family – her mother, Connie, was English, and her father’s family were from Corsican origin. As a girl, Chelita was sketched by Pablo Picasso, and was educated at the Lycee in South Kensington, London, and in Paris, from where she ran away because, as her childhood friend Barry Powell recalls, “she hated the nuns”. When she was 18, her father died from burns after his yacht had blown up.
Returning to London in 1963, Chelita Salvatori was taken up by the photographer Norman Parkinson, a family friend whose introductions helped launch her into the fluid 1960s society. Parkinson also introduced her to Harpers Bazaar, beginning a career in journalism during which she worked for IPC (as features editor for Woman), and as fashion editor of Nova. She also met and married the pop manager Tony Secunda. In 1966, when the designer Ossie Clarkes collection combined blue and green, Secunda “dyed her hair blue to celebrate and became her PR”. She joined Clark and Alice Pollock’s venture, Quorum, as promoter of Clark’s designs, and would work with Sir Mark Palmer in his model agency, English Boy. Soon Chelita was on phone number terms with The Beatles and The Stones, and was responsible for hiring such models as Amanda Lear. She pre-empted glam rock with her “mad rainbow eye make-up – green and orange, her cheeks highlighted in pink, and over that, reflective diamonds and sequins”. In 1970 Chelita was engaged by Marc’s wife June as PR for Bolan’s group T. Rex. In 1972 Chelita made a cameo appearance in Bolan’s film Born to Boogie (1972), dressed as a nun. She was T.Rex’ Mickey Finn‘s lover during the heyday of T.Rex, and like him she battled serious addiction to heroin for many years.
The story is that it was Chelita Secunda, the wife of Bolan’s manager, Tony Secunda, who bought Bolan his first pair of slingbacks and sprinkled glitter round his eyes. Whatever the truth, glam-rock – or as John Lennon put it, ‘just f***ing rock’n’roll with lipstick’ – was born. Bolan’s timing was impeccable. The Beatles’s last album, Let It Be, was released in 1970. Jimi Hendrix died the same year. Rock was becoming increasingly self-conscious, burdened with a sense of its own importance.
Bolan took it back to its primal roots of snappy hooks and naggingly memorable choruses. Songs like Get It On, Hot Love, Telegram Sam were love letters to lusting adolescents. Beneath the satin tat, the feather boas and top hats, Bolan had the sultry, pouting look of a corrupt cherub, strutting for a legion of adoring pubescent fans. ‘It was like, this is where he belonged all along,’ says Visconti.
Chelita Secunda, as well as advising Bolan on matters of style, was also his coke dealer. ‘Between them, Chelita and [her husband] Tony must have accounted for one quarter of all the cocaine in London,’
In 1987 Chelita had only recently moved to Marrakesh, where she had been working single- handedly to open a hotel, an effort which may have brought on the heart attack that killed her.