a christian perspective on the world today

Francine Bell

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 Thé Dansant, a Sunday-night television show known throughout all the francophone countries. Invited to do one show, she ended up staying for two seasons and recorded a successful self-titled album.

That show propelled her singing career to dizzying heights. Singing in historic clubs, Olympia and countries like Monte Carlo, Switzerland and Belgium during her six years in Paris, she rubbed shoulders with George Benson and Nina Simone and even had a date with Prince Albert of Monaco.

Despite all the wealth and luxury surrounding her, Francine recalls meeting “a lot of tragically unhappy people who were ready to commit suicide because they had no true meaning in their lives, a true meaning that could only be found in a relationship with God.”

Francine had her own struggles to deal with during this time, most of which are detailed in her book Lights! Camera! Action!  After six years in Paris, she had packed her bags and left for Australia, after meeting an Australian while working in Istanbul. The relationship didn’t last, but weariness of moving and the warm welcome by the people she met made her decide to stay in Australia.

Francine’s career had once again taken off thanks to an appearance on Midday with Ray Martin, which she ended up staying on for just over three years. She also became a regular on Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton and performed with Olivia Newton-John and Australian Idol musical director John Foreman. Her life, however, was far from complete.

“People often see an entertainer and imagine life is hunky dory,” says Francine. “But we’re human beings with human emotions. After you had given your all on stage, you go home depleted and wanting somebody to give back to you. But as a single woman at that time, there was nobody there for me.”

a new life with Christ

It was about this time that she accompanied a friend to a meeting held at a Seventh-day Adventist church. “The speaker expounded the Bible in a way I never heard anybody do before,” she says. “While I was raised in a church full of Bible-believing, Christ-centred people, I didn’t have the understanding about the Bible that the Adventists had.”

Francine decided to become a Seventh-day Adventist, a decision that “almost killed my career”. Her resolve to follow the fourth commandment in the Bible—to keep the seventh-day holy—meant she would not work on the Sabbath (a period beginning from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). She quickly stopped getting jobs, since most required her to sing on Friday evenings.

“God really humbled me during that time,” she says. “With my income drying up, I had to learn things like typing and worked in customer relations. But I ended up holding tighter to God, like a child does to a parent’s leg when they’re frightened. It deepened my relationship with God.”

Her career has since picked up and Francine now lectures in Contemporary Performance and Presentation at the University of Newcastle Conservatorium of Music. She has also gone on singing tours around Australia, Europe and Asia, modeled and acted in commercials, movies like Matrix Revolutions and Superman Returns, as well as an episode of All Saints. She is also happily married to Tony Mills, to whom she was introduced by an Adventist pastor.

The main focus of Francine’s life now is Heartext by Francine Bell, an online business that produces inspirational gifts and “spreads the gospel in a colourful and non-threatening way.” She also hopes to conduct performance workshops in churches and strengthen people’s identities as sons and daughters of God.

“Many people experience a fear that keeps them in a cage and their light doesn’t shine through,” she says. “I want to tell them to come out of their cage and fly because where the spirit of Christ is there is freedom. I want to instil hope in people and not let their fears keep them from their goal.”

Share this story

Before you go!

Get more Signs goodness every month! For less than the price of a hot beverage, you’ll get 8 amazing articles every month, as well as our popular columns What in the World, Ask Pr Jesse, a Crossword and Sudoku puzzle—and more!