Born Elaine Jill Bickerstaff in 1948, she is best known professionally under her stage name, Elaine Paige. Her performing career saw her become one of the twentieth century’s leading actresses, having starred in 13 West End musicals, as well as Broadway productions and national tours.
Growing up in Hertfordshire, Paige was immersed into the world of musical theatre from a young age. She attended the Aida Foster Theatre School, alongside alumni like Barbra Windsor and Marti Webb. After training, her West End debut was imminent, and she was cast in the ensemble of Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre where she stayed from 1968-1970.
It was a few years before Paige returned to the London stage, but her next production saw her first leading role, taking over the role of Sandy in Grease at the New London Theatre (now The Gillian Lynne Theatre), opposite Paul Nicholas. Now catapulted into the spotlight, she’d hop to theatres across the country like Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Leicester’s Haymarket Theatre, but 1978 saw Paige become a bonafide star.
In 1978, Paige was cast as the titular character in the world premiere of Evita at the Prince Edward Theatre. Her performance as Eva Peron was highly praised, with Michael Billington from The Guardian writing: “Elaine Paige, who has a powerful voice, offers us not a multi-dimensional Evita but a series of lightning impressions.” She won her only Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Musical as Eva Peron, and stayed in the role until 1980.
Moving from one Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to another, Paige returned to the New London Theatre in 1981. This time, she originated the role of Grizabella in Cats, taking on the character after Judi Dench was forced to pull out. The 1980s was jam-packed for Paige, starring in Abbacadabra at the Lyric Hammersmith, as well as two Olivier Award-nominated performances as Florence in Chess and Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes.
In 1993, she took on yet another eponymous role, this time playing Edith Piaf in Piaf. But, the 1990s for Paige was arguably characterised by Sunset Boulevard. She starred as Norma Desmond in the West End premiere at the Adelphi Theatre — during the run, she earned an OBE in 1995. Sunset Boulevard also marked Paige’s Broadway debut, quickly followed by London productions of The Misanthrope and The King and I.