Larger-than-life 60s showgirl and Uckfield town councillor dies

The funeral of Uckfield town councillor, and 60s showgirl, Marion Rowland is due to take place at Eastbourne Crematorium on Thursday.marion rowland 1

Marion, 68, was a larger than life character – “eccentric, over the top”, says granddaughter Dan – who loved talking about her life in London clubs at the time of the Kray twins gangsters, and Paul Raymond, the Soho pornographer.

She danced at the Blue Angel when the girl paid to sit at the bar and draw in the guests was Christine Keeler.

She also danced at the Astor Club, was one of the nude swimmers in Paul Raymond’s glass sided swimming pool and was in the chorus line of his sex comedy Pyjama Tops.

Marion had a tough start in life, her mother arranged for her to be privately adopted at birth, her first marriage failed and she worried as one of her children went through, but eventually recovered from, leukaemia.

marion rowland bride 2

Marion as a bride first time round.

There was glitz and glamour and the odd bit of terror too as she reinvented herself and sold unlabelled designer wear, along with equally sought-after clothing from Marks & Spencer, from a suitcase in the Middle East.

While there she rubbed shoulders with sheiks and kings enjoying freedom never experienced by their wives who bought her wares, but when she greeted an Indian acquaintance in a club the bodyguards of her companions took it as a slight and chased them out while firing guns.

That acquaintance became and has remained her best friend.

One of the happiest periods of Marion’s life has been spent in Uckfield with her second husband of 15 years Robin.

Marion Rowland robin 3

Happy days: Marion with Robin who was to be her husband for 15 years.

She took her role as an Uckfield town councillor very seriously and was annoyed that her illness was making it difficult for her to continue. There was so much more she wanted to do.

She told Cathy Watson at UckfieldNews.com: “When I joined the council it was brilliant. I have thoroughly enjoyed that.

“I am not intimidated by people and have enough knowledge and common sense to know when something is right and when something is wrong, what works and what doesn’t work.”

Marion arranged to speak to Cathy in June after being told she had cancer and that it was terminal.

She wanted to tell her story, share tales about her life and talk about how she was planning a big party on June 28 to gather her friends and family together to mark her wedding anniversary and daughter’s birthday and to generally have a good time.

Marion said: “This is also going to be my living funeral, my celebration of life.”

She enjoyed the party as planned but died last week on Wednesday, July 16.

marion rowland big hair 4

Marion Rowland in the days of big hair.

The first Marion had known of her illness was in April when she struggled with breathlessness but looking back she was pleased she hadn’t known about it ten years ago because she has achieved a huge amount in that time, including buying a home in Florida.

Marion said: “If I had known ten years ago what I know now, what a miserable life I would have had walking round as a time bomb. I have been very lucky.”

She had hoped the prognosis about her illness might be wrong and was having hospital test results checked but in the meantime was making the most of meeting up again with people she hadn’t seen for a while, including her brother who came over from Portugal. She only met him and another brother for the first time in later life.

marion rowland brothers 5

Marion Rowland with her two brothers David, left, and Alec. She met them for the first time in later life.

She was also pleased that her best friend Prim who shared the Middle East adventure came to see her.

Granddaughter Dan Tuckfield, 28, who lived with Marion and Robin in New Road, Uckfield, said she had heard many of the stories about Marion’s time as a showgirl in the 60s and there was a box full of photos from her heyday – many showed her grandmother topless.

Dan said: “I will remember her as eccentric, over-the-top, larger than life.”

Dan told one story about her grandmother going to Nicholas Van Hoogstraten’s unfinished palace in Eastbourne Road, knocking on the door to ask for a cup of sugar. She went because she was nosy, said Dan.

Mr Van Hoogstraten himself opened the door and gave her a full guided tour.  She sympathised with him over the reason for his dispute with builders which continues to this day while the palace is unfinished and decaying.

Marion leaves widower Robin, two daughters Annette and Tania, two sons Laurence and Robert and seven grandchildren.

All are welcome to attend the service at Eastbourne Crematorium at 12.45pm on Thursday and then go to the family home in New Road for a get-together afterwards.

Dan said: “If people would like to come wearing black that is fine but if they would rather wear bright colours, good for them. I am going to borrow one of Robin’s tropical shirts. I am going to be brightly coloured.”

Ridgewood Farm Marion Rowland

Marion Rowland, serious in her role as an Uckfield town councillor. She is pictured, left, with Carol Sweetland at a consultation about the 1000 homes plan for Ridgewood.

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