Originally named Matilda Alice Powles (1864 – 1952), she was the most famous and well paid music hall male impersonator of her day. She was a star in both Britain and the United States for over thirty years. Her father was a comedy actor and sometimes theatre manager, and Tilley first appeared on stage at the age of three and a half. At the age of six she did her first role in male clothing under the name Pocket Sims Reeves, a parody of then-famous opera singer Sims Reeves. She would come to prefer doing male roles exclusively, saying that “I felt that I could express myself better if I were dressed as a boy”.