TRIBUTES have been paid after the death of Usk’s oldest resident Winnifred James, a “wonderful character” who used to run the legendary Helmaen nightclub that hosted some of the nation’s biggest stars.

Winnie, who celebrated her 104th birthday in November, mixed with showbiz greats like Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Norman Wisdom, Tommy Cooper and Des O’Connor when they performed at the country club she and husband Ron ran across the River Usk in the 60s and 70s.

She even met the new King Charles, when he visited the club as the Prince of Wales in 1976.

It was a heady rise for Bargoed-born Winnie, who began work as a teenager in the mid-1930s at the town’s Hanbury Cinema, which is now owned by one of her great-nephews.

Announcing her death, Jo Hume of independent funeral directors Ian Watts & Son said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of a dear friend and Usk’s oldest resident Winifred ‘Winnie’ Irene James.

“She was the wife of the late Ron and mother of the late Tony James.

“Winnie passed away peacefully at her home on the Monmouth Road surrounded by people she loved on December 23.

“Winnie was well known locally from when her and her husband owned the Helmaen Club.”

Jo added: “Winnie was a wonderful character, full of fun and so smart.

“Her friends recall her driving a Rolls Royce and laughingly calling herself ‘Lady James.’

“She met many great stars over the years including Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Des O’Connor and many more when at the Helmaen Club.”

At the time of her 100th birthday, great-nephew Dan Jones revealed: “She is a real character and an amazing lady with a great sense of humour. She has great stories to tell of the old days. There’s never a dull moment when you visit and she always insists on everyone having tea and food.”

Last November on her 104th birthday, she received a congratulatory visit from Usk town mayor Cllr Meirion Howells.

The Helmaen club later became The Stardust run by George Savva and later simply Savva’s, also hosting the likes of Lenny Henry, Danny La Rue, Frankie Vaughan and Sir Cliff Richard.

Today it is an exclusive gated community of luxury homes, having been redeveloped 19 years ago.

Call Ian Watts & Son on 01291 420972 for details about Winnie’s funeral, which is yet to be rearranged.