Jools Topp is one half of beloved singing sisters The Topp Twins, alongside Lynda Topp.
Growing up on a Waikato dairy farm, the two were entertaining animals, family and friends from early on (at age five, they sang at a cousin's birthday party). After a stint in the Territorials they began busking, attracting a keen following with regular Friday night performances in Auckland. "That was our training ground, how to woo a crowd", Jools later recalled. Crowds grew so big that one performance saw them taken to court for obstruction; they later won the case.
In the heady political days of the 1980s, the Topp Twins were visible at a range of protests, including nuclear-free marches and the homosexual law reform bill. Upfront about being lesbian, they began touring New Zealand with their unique act of country and western inspired songs and comedy, winning an audience that ranged widely. As Jools says: "There's something quite beautiful about having a green-haired punk rocker sitting next to a 90-year old grandmother and they are all laughing at the same thing".
In 1987 a Topp Twins Special showcasing the duo's stage material won three television awards, including Best Entertainment Programme and Best Entertainer. Since then The Topp Twins have made frequent TV appearances, usually working with their longtime producer Arani Cuthbert. In 1996 they debuted in the first of three seasons of primetime series The Topp Twins. The show saw the twins mixing comedy and documentary material, with fictional characters like Camp Leader (played by Jools), and the two Kens taking part in real-life situations. Said Jools: "People feel self-conscious when they've got a big camera pointing at them, so we needed to create those characters to make people feel at ease to really communicate with them".
In 2000 Camp Leader and Camp Mother hosted quiz show Mr and Mrs, in which couples answered questions about how well they knew each other. As Camp Leader, Jools escorted contestants onstage, announced results, and fed the audience a run of risque jokes during breaks in filming.
Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls was released in local cinemas in 2009. The film was directed by Leanne Pooley, who was keen to answer the question of how two "highly politicised" gay women found their way into the hearts of mainstream New Zealand. Part concert film, part biopic, and part historical record, Untouchable Girls won positive reviews (the Herald called it "a Topp effort, all round"), and a raft of international awards at both queer and straight film festivals. Locally, the film's $1.85 million gross also edged it into the top ten list of Kiwi releases on NZ soil. Theatrical releases followed in Australia and the United States.
In 2006 Jools was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. The sisters chose to speak out about the disease that kills hundreds of women every year in New Zealand, integrating their personal story of treatment and recovery into their stage show, and developing a fundraising event for Breast Cancer Awareness.
In 2014 the Topp Twins returned to television screens on Topp Country. This time they played themselves as they take a culinary journey around New Zealand. The show was one of the highest rated local programmes of 2014; NZ Herald reviewer Colin Hogg praised it as "truly wonderful television". A second season in 2015 scored the twins a New Zealand Television Award for Best Entertainment Presenter — three decades after they first took out the same category, for a Topp Twins special.
In 2018 the Twins were each named Dames Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to entertainment.
A skilled horsewoman, Jools established her own business specialising in shoeing horses, before opening a bed and breakfast down south.
Updated on 5 June 2018
Topp Twins website. Accessed 5 June 2018
Diva Productions website. Accessed 5 June 2018
Russell Baillie, 'Untouchable Girls' (Review) - The NZ Herald, 8 April 2009
Frances Grant, 'They're Topps' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 30 June 2000
Colin Hogg, 'Colin Hogg: Topps shine as rambling foodies' (Review of Topp Country) - The NZ Herald, 13 May 2014
Hannah McKee, 'The Topp Twins take a break from telly' (Interview). Stuff website. Loaded 15 October 2015. Accessed 4 November 2015
The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls press kit