The unprecedented career and life of a stripper who turned into a Grand Prix motor racing driver in the period between the wars.
Helene Delangle, aka Hellé Nice was born in 1900 in a small French village, just outside of Paris out of a marriage between a black woman and a local postman. As soon as she could, she left the stifling rural environment in search of a more exciting life in Paris, where her career took off as a well known dancer. Her success and fame introduced her to the crème de la crème in France.
A ski accident ended her dancing career and this opened the door to try her luck at professional car racing. In the 1930s Paris was one of the main centres of the French car industry. There were numerous competitions and Hellé didn’t waist her time, but started setting records and appearing in rallies, races and Grands Prix. Over the next several years, as the only female in the Grand Prix, she raced against the greatest drivers of the world.
Not only did she earn her title on the race track, outside of it she kept up a long list of lovers, from a Romanian prince to Spanish Count and from Philippe de Rothschild to Ettore Bugatti.
Baron Philippe de Rotschild
At the height of her fame, a horrendous crash in Saõ Paulo, Brazil in 1936, killed 6 bystanders and left her in a coma for 3 days.
After the Second World War a fellow Bugatti driver, Louis Chiron, accused her of being a Gestapo agent during the war. Although she denied the accusations, it spelled the beginning of the end of her racing career. Ostracized by friends, lovers and family and eventually dropped by her sponsors, her name was soon wiped out of the annals of racing history.
The imposed social isolation and her precarious financial situation deteriorated to the point where she ended up living of charity. Her final years she spend alone and abandoned in a rat-infested apartment in Nice.
In 1984 she died impoverished, completely forgotten by the rich and glamorous world she once took part of.
From the rags to the riches … and back.