She might be Britain’s first stand-up storyteller.
A raconteur with a strong stage presence, she peppers her sets with new stories and comedy.
Her repertoire is rooted in the magnificent heritage of traditional story – folktales, myths, legends.
For 21st century audiences she pioneers Story Cabaret.
Genuine verbal jazz.
Fairytales for grownups.
In 2020 Chloë should have celebrated 20 years of tales. It took a world pandemic and a second series of chemotherapy to stop her.
It was all going so well. At 2018 and ’19 Cheltenham Literature Festivals, Chloë packed out her events with story cabaret sets Tales of Lust & Chocolate and Space Aliens Ate My Story. She’d appeared with rock, jazz and folk bands. Adapted classic stories for freestyle spoken word, created new tales from elves to UFOs.
At her fourth Stroud Theatre Festival it was sweary puppet Koshka who stole the show with her vodka-soaked accent. Even at STF 2020, on that record breaking wet weekend, squeezed between lockdowns, Chloë experimented with personal stories in Natural Verbosity. In her anorak, fresh out of chemo, on a park bandstand because everything had to happen outdoors.
Chloë met co founder Karen-Eve Bayne at storytelling evening class in 1997. They both arrived wearing the same style of velvet patchwork coat – and knew they were kindred spirits. In 1999, after personal losses, both women needed something new and joyous in their lives. They launched Midnight Storytellers that November.
The duo immediately broke new ground for storytelling, with performances at a wine bar and most memorably in the Oak Hall at Westonbirt Arboretum (Gloucestershire).
“Before our first gig we rehearsed for weeks to sound completely spontaneous. We were so nervous.”
The splendidly costumed character of Agent Green the Dragon Whisperer, draconics expert from DCHQ Dragon Conservation Headquarters, enables Chloë to provide storytelling for children and schools in a way that she, too, can enjoy.
Her hatchling puppet Bitey Bob has scolded the pit dragons at Caerphilly Castle.
Other costumed characters Nightshade, the Paladin and the Mistletoe Storyteller add enchantment to heritage sites, festivals and family events.
Chloë’s childhood was spent in Cambridge and Berkshire. Her father was the entomologist Professor A D Lees FRS.
As a solo child, adopted by socially shy parents, in the 1970s she depended on books. Luckily, her father’s colleague Professor John Treherne swept his family and the Lees off on joint holidays to the scientists’ research hut on Scolt Head, north Norfolk. It was there that Chloë heard the stories of Smaug, Chrysophylax and the Borrowers – read with all the voices by John Treherne while the fire crackled, paraffin lamps hissed and summer storms howled around the hut. Eight-year-old Chloë was spellbound by dragons: and the power of the spoken word.
University gave her two years working in Normandy and Paris, and for years she was bilingual. Most of her drama course was taught at Central School of Speech & Drama.
“It’s only stagecraft and the love of language that have ever earned me a living. I talked my way into jobs, first with a small publisher then as a copywriter in public relations.”
Two days after her 1988 honeymoon she was made redundant. Freelance copywriting and editing continued until the early 2000s but she abandoned marriage in 1993. She remained on peaceful terms with her ex husband up to his death from lung cancer in 1998.
By then, Chloë’s life had changed. “In 1990 I auditioned against 200 other people to become an international presenter – there were only six jobs going and I landed one of them. For nine years I travelled the UK and overseas, presenting solo all day training seminars. Everything from How to Write, Design & Edit Newsletters to How to Deal with Difficult People. It was all good information, I wore a red trouser suit with fancy buttons and red leather ankle boots – I had a ball.”
Chloë moved to the Cotswolds in 1995 and for more than 21 years has rented cottages on farms. The rural landscape, clean air and starry nights kept her going through years of isolation and depression.
A 2017 move to a top floor flat in Cheltenham was supposed to find café society. Instead, drunks and druggies screamed and vomited outside the front door every night. Shop alarms and kitchen fans reverberated at all hours. Amplified buskers crooned the same repertoire every weekend. Seagulls used the skylight as their toilet. Town air was like diesel soup. At least the flat was within walking distance of the hospital…
Chloë was rushed in for emergency surgery, May 2018. After two series of chemotherapy, moving back to the Cotswolds in December 2019, and extra surgery in November 2020, she’s rebuilding Midnight Storytellers.
The deferred 20 Years of Tales celebrations started in February 2021 with online performances for The Folk of Gloucester and Story Forge Sheffield, plus Zoom sessions co hosting Moving Stories Café (Gloucester).
Her mission continues: to boldly take performance storytelling where it’s never gone before.