Gemma Portelli (1932 - 2008) was one of Malta’s most popular actresses of the 20th century.
At a tender age, she was already being cast in radioplays broadcast on Rediffusion. This was the beginning of a long illustrious career for Ġemma.
Her sister, Connie and her brother, Lino were her companions on radio during these early days. Soon, Gemma was instrumental in setting up a foursome whose ambition was to put on all-round performances on radio and the theatre. The quartet was made up of Gemma, her sister Connie and two young lads, Paul Portelli and Richie Azzopardi who eventually became their respective husbands. In 1957, Gemma sought greener pastures and became involved with the legendary Radju Muskettieri performing next to the immortal Charles Clews and Johnny Catania. For long years, Radju Muskettieri brought joy, laughter and happiness into the homes of the Maltese people. Gemma’s fate was sealed.
During the sixties Gemma and her husband Paul started performing as a duo calling themselves The Bluebirds. The Bluebirds toured Malta and Gozo with their popular repertoire of songs and comic sketches that used to split their audiences’ sides with laughter. The duo Gemma and Paul soon became household names and loved by all and sundry.
Perhaps Gemma’s biggest success was her brilliant interpretation of Ġoma in Lino Grech’s social teleseries F’Baħar Wieħed. Another highlight of her brilliant career was the television series Fuq Tlieta Toqgħod il-Borma featuring Gemma Portelli at her best as an all-rounder.
Gemma loved Australia: she visited downunder four times, and accompanied by her husband, Paul, toured around the country playing to full houses and filling the hearts of the Maltese-Australian community with joy and happiness – and an overdose of nostalgia. As if not to lose contact with her beloved migrant audiences she was a regular contributor in the The Maltese Herald, a Sydney-based weekly paper.
Gemma kept on working, both on stage and on radio and television, until the end of her life. During most of the scenes in her last appearance on television in Ħorrox Borrox, Ġemma had to perform sitting most of the time due to her frail physical state.
Awards & recognitions
For her life-long career as an entertainer who succeeded to take an entire nation by storm with her inimitable talent, Gemma Portelli was honoured with Ġieħ ir-Repubblika.
Gemma and Paul had a son, Martin who lives in the USA, and a daughter, Kora.
She died on 21 February 2008 at the age of 75