Obituary: Hilda Hooper was ‘one of the most delightful people’

Hilda Hooper in the King & I Photo credit: Kenneth More Theatre

Hilda Hooper in the King & I Photo credit: Kenneth More Theatre - Credit: Archant

When Hilda Hooper sang the title role in The Bohemian Girl aged 12 at school she would not have known her incredible gift would give her four decade long career at the Kenneth More Theatre.

A local newspaper report of that performance read: “Little Hilda Hooper, playing the daughter of an Austrian Count sang ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’.

“She will if her voice develops in proportion to her height and age.”

Hilda, of De Vere Gardens, Ilford, managed to win several end-of-term assessments and class competitions soon after which meant she was able to continue her studies with a tutor in Sydenham, south-east London.

The singer, described as a “trouper” by former director Vivyan Ellacot, performed a plethora of leading opera and concert roles after beginning her professional career in the 1940s.

She enjoyed roles playing everything from grand opera, music hall and Sondheim when performing at the Kenneth More Theatre, in Kenneth More Road, Ilford during a career which stretched back to the 1940s.

Mr Ellacott said: “She was one of the most delightful people with whom you could ever share a stage. They really don’t make them like that any more.

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“[She was] a trouper, with a wicked sense of humour, a great joie de vivre and a legendary career.”

Mathew Maple, 42, of Valentines Road, Ilford, was Hilda’s great grand nephew and developed a friendship with her towards the end of her life.

“I tended to invite myself round for tea or on some other false pretence,” he said.

“I gradually got to know a woman who was far from being the distant, serious person I had previously thought of her to be.

“Instead she was full of life, mischievous and deeply competitive, I came to know her as a warm funny person.”

Hilda married Jim Armstrong, who was 13 years her senior, after meeting him at coastline resort when he heard her singing as a 19-year-old.

Mr Maple said Jim “idolised” Hilda during their marriage.

He added: “In her last few years I visited her regularly and despite her deterioration, she never failed to remain joyful.

“She was an inspiration in demonstrating how life is enriched through a determination to achieve goals with humour.”

Steven Day, the KMT’s general manager, called Hilda’s contribution to the theatre “truly outstanding”, and added that she would be “sorely missed but never forgotten by young and old alike.”