Lorenza Bianchi, who has died aged 88, was a freethinker and bohemian who rubbed shoulders with the jazz musicians and beat poets of the post-war London cultural explosion. She was also a brilliant cook, dressmaker, interior decorator, dancer and my devoted mother, who supported us both through a variety of beautician and housekeeping jobs in Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Kensington.
Born in Bergamo, Italy, to Cesira (nee Oliosi), a haberdasher, and Giovanni Bianchi, a gambler and sometime resistance fighter, Lorenza got herself expelled from her local state school, she said, for spreading truths about pregnancy. She was then sent to a convent school, which she hated, and left at the age of 14. Four years later she went to England and, bound by the conditions of her entry, worked as a domestic for several years.
For a period she worked for the parents of the actor Fenella Fielding. In 1953 Fenella helped her get a place at the Academy of Beauty Culture in Knightsbridge, run by Vivien Leigh’s mother, Gertrude Hartley. Lorenza then worked variously as a beautician at Fortnum and Mason, Claridges, and Richard Henry in Knightsbridge. During these years she also did some classes towards a business studies diploma at the City Lit adult education college in Holborn.
She did a stint as a waiter at Bunjies Coffee House and the Folk Cellar in Soho. During this time she met Simon Watson-Taylor, a surrealist, anarchist and translator. It was through Watson-Taylor, and his flatmate, George Melly, that she became part of the London jazz and beat scene of the time, and also a muse of the photographer Ida Kar.
In the early 60s, Lorenza met and fell in love with my father, though almost as soon as she became pregnant with me, he married someone else. Lorenza told me that as she was on her way home in a taxi, having learned of her pregnancy at St George’s hospital, then in Hyde Park Corner, she glanced out of the window to see him and his wife emerge as newlyweds on to the steps of the Brompton Oratory.
As a single mother without any real support, Lorenza took on many jobs. She managed a knick-knacks shop on the Fulham Road (1979-81), and a second-hand clothes shop in Shepherd Market in Mayfair around the same time. During the 80s she catered for Richard Henry’s new salon, Ginger Group, in Knightsbridge, and in the 90s worked as a housekeeper and gardener for the Maharaja of Baroda in Chelsea. Her last employment was as a manicurist at Annie Russell’s hair salon, Kensington, until the end of the 90s.
Lorenza lived out her days in her home in Mortlake, south-west London, studying history of art at Richmond adult community college and listening to a soundtrack of Puccini and Billie Holiday. A lover of art and jazz, she was vibrant, sexy, sharp, funny, uncompromising, outspoken and unafraid. In the last 13 years of her life she was rendered housebound due to a combination of arthritis, lung and heart disease, and became a vocal supporter of Dignity in Dying. Unfortunately, her cognitive and physical decline meant she was not able to use the services of Dignitas as she had desired.
She is survived by me.