Model, actor, mother, wife, singer, songwriter, lecturer, speaker, artist and most recently author of the new book Lights! Camera! Action!, Francine Bell is a woman with many roles. However, when asked to define who she is, Francine simply summarises herself as a “child of God, princess and daughter of the King.” Growing up on welfare in Brooklyn, New York, it’s hard to imagine Francine would live in Paris for six years, becoming a household name in all the francophone countries, or that she would end up living in Australia, become a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and write a book to provide people with strategies to overcome modern society’s problems through practical information and insight gleaned from her vast personal experience.
“I grew up in a big and little family,” says Francine about her childhood.
“One of 14 brothers and sisters that was a combination of halves and whole and steps.” Francine was raised by her grandmother after her mother died when she was seven. Her father, being in the merchant marines and the navy, “was pretty much gone for most of my formative years,” she says. “Even though he was in and out of my life like a mystical magical character, I never doubted his love for me.”
Francine’s grandmother, who died when she was 19, raised her and her siblings as Christians, encouraging them to be in church where Francine was first introduced to singing. “I’ve always had a real desire for God in my life,” she recalls, “reading the Bible even though I didn’t understand what I was reading or where I should read.” Francine started singing at the age of five in church. “The inspiration for my gospel music now stems from those days of singing in church,” she says.
This love for singing led her to audition for the High School of Music and Art, part of New York’s School of Performing Arts, where she was accepted as a voice major. “It was a wonderful, mind-expanding experience,” she says.
“I grew up with Motown and Mahalia Jackson and was now singing Italian, German and French arias at school.” Shortly after leaving school, Francine won the national hunt for Playboy bunnies, becoming one of 125 women out of the 3500 who auditioned to work at the New York Playboy club. It was a position she was initially reluctant to take on because of the reputation of Playboy bunnies, but “I was selected for the VIP service which was so expensive the unpleasant characters could not afford to be there, and those who could often brought their wives,” says Francine.
She was later given the opportunity to do a Playboy centrefold, which she promptly declined. “I was happy to walk around in a suit with bunny ears, but that was all people were seeing,” she says. “Some legs, and that’s it.”
It was not the first time her pictureperfect looks were noticed. Francine was already a veteran model by that time, first discovered when she was 14, representing her school on the Teen Fashion Board, an initiative by what is now the Macy’s departmental stores, for all junior high schools in Brooklyn.
A few years later, the sudden death of a boyfriend would change Francine’s life forever. “It rocked my world because he wasn’t old and it made me question whether I was doing what I wanted in my life,” Francine remembers.
“Just as quickly as his life had ended, so could mine. It was a real turning point in my life because that was when I decided I should give a career in singing a try.” It was a gamble she decided to take, quitting a job on Madison Avenue that provided her with a steady income. In exchange, she would have to wait on tables while waiting to go for auditions.
“My pride decided I couldn’t face doing that in America,” she says. “If I was going to fall on my face, I decided I might as well do it in another culture and learn something new.”
one-way ticket to to France
Within three months of her boyfriend’s death, with $52 and a one-way ticket, Francine was on the plane to Paris. “I had no job and did not speak French.
The only thing I had was the faith that if I fell on my face, God would pick me up,” says Francine.
But God did not have to pick her up.
Soon after arriving in Paris, Francine was discovered by Jacques Martin, host of Th