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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 20:16 GMT 21:16 UK
Living the life of Lady Godiva
Sarah Portlock
BBC News, Coventry

Pru Poretta in the 1982 pageant
Pru Poretta ready for the original pageant in 1982
Twenty-five years ago Pru Poretta was elected to recreate the role of Lady Godiva and ride on a horse through Coventry city centre.

Today, she is still in the role and has raised thousands of pounds for charities, receiving an honorary MA from the city's university for her work.

"It is something I never imagined I would be doing," she said.

In 1982, the organisers of the then Coventry Carnival decided they needed to do something to give it a boost.

The city was suffering a recession with the closure of several large factories.

Most noticeably, the British Leyland factory which made MGs had recently closed, putting 700 people out of work.

The redundancies had a knock-on effect on the carnival as it had been the factories which entered the floats.

The answer was, the organisers decided, to give the city a lift by organising a Godiva Pageant and to find a suitable Lady Godiva to draw in the crowds.

Historical archives

It was Pru's mum, born and brought up in the city and proud of its history, who encouraged her to enter.

"It wasn't a traditional beauty contest with evening gowns and swimsuits," Pru said.

"We were interviewed by a host of people including city councillors and event organisers and whittled down."

Pru Poretta
There was a thunderstorm on the day of the pageant
Pru took the event seriously, delving into library archives to find out as much as she could about Godiva - legend has it she rode through the city naked in a bid to get husband Leofric to reduce the city's heavy taxes.

"She wasn't thought of as a serious character, she had become something of a caricature," Pru said.

"I wanted to take it seriously and I think the judges could see I had done the work and learnt a lot about her.

"But, it wasn't just about the role, we were also judged on horse-riding which I had never done."

The final three contestants had to ride, side-saddle, on a show-jumping horse before Pru was eventually selected as Godiva.

It was then the hard work really started, she said.

Flesh-coloured bikini

With no prize money Pru had to try and create a costume, for both herself and the horse which reflected Godiva's 11th century period.

Most difficult was the long-flowing hair which was eventually created by students at a college in nearby Nuneaton.

"In the end I met a woman who had been my sewing teacher at school," Pru said.

"She wanted to help and we researched the costumes. I got some ribbons to decorate the horse and we made it some robes.

Pru Poretta
Pru still enjoys her Lady Godiva role
"I wore a flesh-coloured bikini, which was mainly hidden by my hair, so I would feel more comfortable.

"The pageant was due to start at 2pm and just before I noticed the sky got grey and heavy.

"I had just got on the horse when I felt the first spots of rain."

A heavy thunderstorm broke out, turning the pageant ground into a quagmire, and only finished as Pru's three-hour, six-mile trail round the city came to an end.

Story-telling

Pru thought her stint as Godiva would just be for that one day but she was wrong.

"I began to get requests to open shops or summer fetes and teachers would ask me to come into the schools to give talks about Godiva," she said.

"I wanted to do more so I made some children's costumes so they could dress up as Godiva and Leofric.

"I went on to make puppets and started to do story-telling which I now do all over the world."

Coventry's Godiva statue
A statue of Lady Godiva in Broadgate, Coventry
She has helped countless charitable organisations and takes part in many story-telling events and after-dinner speeches.

Coventry University honoured her for her commitment to the city, citing the many organisations and charities which have benefited from her fund-raising efforts.

Ten years ago Pru began work as a tour guide thrilling the crowds who are shown around the city by Lady Godiva.

She said: "I think I would always have got involved with this sort of work even if the Godiva role had not come along.

"I am just hopeful I have given something to the spirit of Godiva."


SEE ALSO
Godiva statue stays in Broadgate
21 Mar 07 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Godiva statue move poll finishes
16 Mar 07 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Modern Godiva rides through city
17 Jul 06 |  Oxfordshire

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