“I think I’ve done more than 800 parties now,” said Rebecca Russell, owner and principal Cinderella of Princess Parties of Virginia, as she guided her voluminous blue skirts along a Chantilly cul-de-sac. “It’s just getting busier and busier.”
It is an enchanting time to be a professional party princess. On the tails of a massive marketing blitz of all things tiara-ed, the ancient childhood appeal of the fairy-tale heroine has exploded into a modern princess-industrial complex. Amid thousands of princess products and millions of begowned little girls, it turns out there is a decent living to be made by chipper-voiced entrepreneurs ready to displace the old party clown.
“It’s just grown like crazy,” said Heidi Martin, who recently started a party princess company in Stafford and now books a stable of 25 Cinderellas, Belles and Pocahontases for gatherings all around the region.
Even in career-obsessed Washington, where legions of professional women command six-figure salaries and care more about office shoes than glass slippers, parents find themselves helpless in the face of the fierce princess passions of their 3-to-6-year-old girls.
“I have parents from D.C. all the time who call and say, ‘We don’t know where this came from, Disney is getting to her somehow,’ ” said Russell. “They say, ‘We don’t even play with princesses but all she wants to do is put on a dress and dance around the house, and now she really, really wants Cinderella at her birthday party.’ ”
There were no reservations at the Chantilly home of Vedika and Vinay Pande, where Cinderella was walking up the front steps.
“No, no, no,” she scolded, in an un-princessy voice, as some rose thorns snagged her gown. But by the time she pushed the doorbell, she was composed, aglow and ready to burst into song.
“A dream is a wish your heart makes,” she crooned out as the door opened, accompanied by a wireless speaker held in her gloved hand. She swept past a wide-eyed crowd of children, ages 5 to 9, who stared, squealed and clutched their cheeks in excitement.
For the next two hours, Cinderella held court in a living room cleared of furniture. She led nine agog girls — and four only slightly more reserved boys — in song, using the iPad she keeps in her leopard-skin roll-aboard bag. They danced in a circle, she painted their faces and helped them make magic wands. She dubbed them all official princesses and knights.
“The fairy dust will only last a couple of months,” she said sweetly, casting a little confetti glitter on birthday-girl Viola’s hands. A few parental heads snap around. “I’m just kidding. But the magic will last forever.”
This is Russell’s weekend life. She lives in costume and in character, coordinating four other performers by cellphone (her message begins with her theme song) and e-mail (all signed “Enchantingly yours”). She pumps gas in her gown and has endured a couple of fender-benders where the other driver gets out only to confront Cinderella.