Lionel Ritchie today surprised many by finally revealing the meaning of his hit song “3 times a lady” which topped the UK charts in 1978. The song is one of the most speculated about in history, with all sorts of theories about the cryptic lyrics – everything from an attack on then US President Jimmy Carter to the exposure of faked moon landings. However the ballad, says Mr Ritchie, is about the struggles of a trans-sexual friend.
“Charles Billingsworth had always felt more comfortable as Charlotte, but to us was always just Charlie,” said Ritchie. “However back in the 60s there wasn't as much acceptance of her condition as there is now.”
Ms Billingsworth underwent her first sex-change procedure in 1965. However she found it difficult to continue her job as a bricklayer during the construction boom of 60s Las Vegas, whilst also auditioning as a showgirl.
“Charlie had no other trade, apart from some very lowly paid work as a pole-dancer,” said the former member of The Commodores. “But her income dropped dramatically when a law compelling dancers to remain six feet from customers was abolished. She underwent re-constructive surgery, back to male. This was only partially successful as Charlie needed to sit down to pee, and looked less masculine than the female shot-putters that were taking part in the Munich Olympics,” explained Ritchie.
Charlie retrained as a ship's welder to pay her passage to Thailand and raise enough money to have what she thought would be her final gender re-assignment operation.
“She felt so much more accepted out there, with so many lady-boys,” said the singer-songwriter. “She was now twice a lady.”
However, despite acceptance as a trans-sexual by Thai society she was not able to return to either career as an exotic dancer, or as a welder.
“The steel game is a man's world, and although the surgery wasn't bad, Charlie never weighed less than 250 pounds. You know that fan dance? She couldn't afford that many ostrich feathers.”
Forced to have another cheap medical procedure, Charlie thought she would have to spend the rest of her life as a woman trapped in something resembling a man's body.
“There is a limit to how much the body can take and now she looked like she'd been in a truck crash with a cargo of ugly sticks.” explained Ritchie.
Charlie decided to write her life story which later became the hit movie “Flashdance” about a steel-working dancer. The income from the screenplay enabled her to get the life that she really wanted.
“To be honest, Charlie was never happy about the production of the movie, but in a way that mirrored her life,” explained Ritchie. “Both took years to finish and were hacked about from every angle!”
The proceeds from the film enabled her to get the finest surgery available and Charlie Billingsworth was able to finally, on the third attempt, become a lady.
“It is as simple as that, once, twice, three times a lady.” said Mr Ritchie. “Although you could never drop a bucket of water on her like in the movie, her tits would come off."
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