Makeup artist with colourful history hangs up her brushes

Little do the MPs know it, but the delicate hand powdering their noses and brushing their eyebrows before CBC political panels also primped the likes of Richard Burton, Prince Charles and David Niven.

Joan Hodgins a fixture and a fixer for nearly two decades at CBC's parliamentary bureau

Little do the MPs know it, but the delicate hand powdering their noses and brushing their eyebrows before CBC political panels also primped the likes of Richard Burton, Prince Charles and David Niven.

British-born makeup artist Joan Hodgins, 84, has spent nearly two decades working for political shows at the network in Ottawa. Hers has been the calm seat before the hot one for hundreds of politicians, diplomats and talking heads.

She has just retired after doing CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge's makeup for the Canada Day show.

Before Hodgins came to Canada, she had the kind of career that could be fodder for an HBO or BBC miniseries. She was from a village near Oxford, but moved to Cardiff, Wales, as a young mother in 1961. She learned makeup through a brief stint at an Avon-type company, and later got a gig working for TWW, a station serving all of Wales and western England.

Programs on the telly then were still in black and white.

Makeup artist Joan Hodgins began her career in England, where she touched up the likes of Richard Burtonn, David Niven and a young Prince Charles. (CBC)

"You had to think in shades of grey and know what foundation or lip colour registered from white to black."

The station was a beehive of activity, with all forms of variety and performing arts programs, including operas and period plays. She learned old-school tricks of the trade, like the proper application of a fake moustache, sideburns and beard — layered on strip by strip rather than in one piece.

She poofed up wigs, and glued the gauze netting underneath them to the faces of the actors.

"Then colour came out and everyone went crazy. The designers made some awful sets ... red and orange!"

Stars, a Prince and politicians

Later, TWW's licence was taken over by Harlech Television or HTV. Actors such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Stanley Baker were shareholders. David Niven and Ian Holm also came through the studios on different projects.

Hodgins recalls the day Burton and Taylor arrived for a special show in 1968. Taylor was wearing the 33.19-carat Krupp diamond he had given her. The couple were living up to their tempestuous reputation.

"Everyone smoked in those days, and Richard Burton just took the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it on the floor and said, 'Elizabeth, step on that."'

Hodgins, back then the head of makeup in a crisp white uniform, got to apply makeup to Burton.

"Usually the most famous people don't have as much ego as the ones on the way up," Hodgins said.

"I made up some American star, whose name I can't remember, who behaved like a prima donna. And then David Niven walked in and he was wonderful. He was the star then."

She was once called out to a shoot for a program featuring the young Prince Charles as he met with local farmers. The excitement over the red royal helicopter hovering over the area tied up traffic for kilometres.

"In the end, I parked my car and ran across the fields with my makeup kit to get to the farm."

Hodgins once had a hand in a political speech during the 1970 British election. Labour Leader Harold Wilson was in her chair, when she offhandedly recited a Lewis Carroll poem: "You are old, father William," the young man said, "And your hair has become very white; And yet you incessantly stand on your head. Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

Wilson wound up using it in a speech against rival Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal, and later wrote Hodgins on House of Commons stationery to thank her for the idea.

Career continued in Canada

Hodgins met her second husband, Canadian Bob Hodgins, at HTV, and the couple decided to move to Canada in 1976. She wound up working freelance makeup jobs in Edmonton, and later opened a studio in Saskatoon. She did makeup for the local cable station, and occasionally travelled to Regina to work on a CBC show called Country West.

She recalls making up young singer k.d. lang in the 1980s.

"Her people told me she had been made up and she didn't like it. I went to see her and told her I wouldn't make her look different. I'd just do what I had to do for the cameras," said Hodgins. "She came to thank me after. She said she felt comfortable."

In 1989, Hodgins and her husband moved to Ottawa and she freelanced here and there for local television shows. She landed a job a few years later with a new political program, Politics, hosted by veteran journalist Don Newman.

Makeup artist Joan Hodgins talks with Power & Politics host Evan Solomon as she does his makeup before a taping of the show June 28, 2012. Hogdins has retired after 50 years in television makeup. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When Newman left in 2009, Hodgins stayed on to do makeup for new political host Evan Solomon and his show Power & Politics. She also does makeup for Mansbridge when he comes through Ottawa to shoot specials and interviews.

"She's so comforting to whoever it is, a journalist or a political guest. She knows what's going on, she knows the story, she can talk about anything," says Mansbridge.

"She gets people at ease before they go in for their moment, and then she has that ability and that characteristic where you just feel comfortable when you walk out of that room."

Over the years, she's made up prime ministers, cabinet ministers, diplomats, a wide range of public figures, and journalists — including this reporter.

Fit and impossibly elegant, her hair cut into a perfect grey-blond bob, Hodgins often takes people aback when her age is revealed.

Says Mansbridge: "Anchormen and anchorwomen and big-time reporters, we think we're all well-coiffed and dressed, and Joan is so far ahead of us in both those categories — it's embarrassing."

Hodgins says the career has been exciting.

"I have met so many different people being a television makeup artist," said Hodgins.

"I like changing people for the camera. I liked making a young man look old and an old woman look young, and vice versa."