Hilary's got the stomach for the tough retail world

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Baring her belly, at her age and in broad daylight. Bizarre, wouldn't you agree?

But Hilary Thacker has been making an exhibition of herself, of her belly specifically, for most of her life and it's a cause for celebration. As she passed her milestone 50th birthday this week she spoke to John Gibson.

Hilary Thacker runs Hilary's Bazaar, a corner shop at ground and basement level in the Canongate, the most colourful, you might say exotic, premises on the Royal Mile.

She arrived in her current locale two years ago, direct from seven years with her similarly-named shop on George IV Bridge.

She provides a retail outlet on the Mile in what had been a shop specialising in top quality Turkish rugs.

In the basement of the shop she runs classical Egyptian belly dancing classes, with her students made up of a mixture of Scots alongside Poles and Slovenians.

She was born to British parents in Indiana in the United States and carries a dual passport.

She is a product of academia.

"I was born in Bloomington, Indiana, of English parents. My father was studying there for a PhD and my mother was teaching.

"I was to be the black sheep in the 'middle' of four brothers," she says.

"They were exceptionally bright boys and the family returned from the States via teaching engagements in Dublin.

"The academia bit wasn't for me and I had a couple of gap years, seeing places in South America and Israel.

"I started belly dancing in London, at 23, for the sheer fun and pleasure of it, never thinking I'd take it up professionally.

"Back in the UK I trained in Scotland in alternative medicine for three years. I danced in a Turkish-owned restaurant in Leith's Queen Charlotte Street - opposite the police station, so nothing risque - for eight years until it closed.

"I ran belly dancing classes there for women of all ages and from all walks of life and I'm still taking classes here, downstairs. The shop's getting by but it's not easy.

"The recession has made it tough. How do I cope? I have varying moods. Highs and lows.

"Yes, the recession does get me depressed, anxious, frightened even.

"I rely largely on sympathy and encouragement from my husband Jonathan, a psychotherapist/business consultant."

After turning 50 on Tuesday of this week Hilary is showing she has the stomach for the job. She spent last weekend in Marrakesh shopping for fresh stock for the shop.

Hilary's Bazaar looks like a here-for-the-long-haul feature of the Canongate. She is determined not to let the recession draw a veil over it.