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Petula Clark Feb. 2013

Petula Clark has been a star all her life. She started singing at seven, made her radio debut at nine, appeared at the Royal Albert Hall at 11, and has sold 70 million records with hits including Downtown, I Couldn't live without your love and Don't sleep in the subway. She was the first UK female to win a Grammy, has sung with Frank Sinarta and Barbra Streisand, and in one of her 30 movies, Finian's Rainbow, she danced with Fred Astaire.        Now an astonishingly youthful 80, she looks back on her career, which is still active, with a mixture of pride at her achievements, wonderment at her unflagging worldwide appeal -- and not a little guilt and anguish.  For she's haunted by a fear that her stardom adversely affected the upbringing of her three children, Barbary. Kate and Patrick. She is hard on herself, worrying she wasn't as good a mother as she would liked to have been - or as good a wife. She and their father, dashing Frenchman Claude Wolff, went their separate ways more than 20 years ago, even though they never divorced and remain friends.         I wasn't a good mother because I was away too much. I tried to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife and a good great performer. I thought I could do it all, but it can't be done. Sorry but it just can't. I had a good stab at it, but being a parent and married is a full--time job.        The problem emerged when her three children were young and her career was booming in not only Europe, but America as well. 'If you're a star in France, you're a star in all in all those French speaking countries in the Caribbean, in Morocco, Algeria, Belgium.  I sang in all those countries, and it kept me very busy. Then America opened up with Downtown and I had to honour contracts in Europe and the States, with endless journeys. It was okay when we could take the children with us but it wasn't always possible. I was having to split myself between being a good mother and wife and a good performer. I thought I could do it, I thought I was superwoman and it's not actually possible.        Emotionally, it was a real wrench every time I had to leave, and I think the whole business of saying goodbye to each other so often stayed with the children for many years. I have always rushed back home whenever I could and turned down a lot of offers of work so I could be with them, but I still had to make a living. Whatever I may have got wrong then, I hope I've managed to put right since.       Since the children became adults, they've discussed the anxiety and guilt she felt. But to her relief hey told her how much they appreciated having been given an excellent education and travelling first class all over the world with her.  "They probably see it differently to me"   says Petula quietly.  "Children have another way at looking at life, fortunately"         When we meet, she is in chic black, her blonde curly hair styled short, and she looks every inch a star. Petula's success has brought her great wealth, with a main home in Geneva, where she lives for most of the year, a holiday chalet in the French Alps where she likes to ski, and a pied-a-terre in London's Chealsea. However, she isn't interested in possessions and avoids the star lifestyle. The stretch limo with the blackout windows and the bodyguards are fun, but I prefer going out alone with just my bus fare in my pocket and catching a number 19 bus. The scenery is the same no matter what kind of transport you use.      Petula also likes to stroll through city streets on her own, wearing no make up. I'm fairly solitary. I'm good at being on my own so I don't need to be surrounded by people. But once when I was on tour with Sunset Boulevard in the States, the cast were all American except me. Maybe I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I was in my dressing room and I thought, "this is ridiculous, I'm homesick for somewhere but I don't know where" I  went out on stage an hour before the show and sat on the staircase, the centre piece of the set. I said to myself, "This is your home -- I'm home" i know that sounds corny, but I knew I belonged there. After that I was fine.     For a time hidden beneath her bubbly, happy-go-lucky personality, she went through a period of depression. "I've always had my us and downs. There are moments when I feel elated, and others, especially when I look at the world, that I find a bit desperate. But I've always been like that. I've never taken anything for granted.         Petula's Welsh mother Doris, a gifted soprano, taught her pretty, confident daughter to sing as she grew up in  Epsom, Surrey. Petula's father Leslie had wanted to be an actor, but was discouraged by his by his parents. He became Petula's manager, kept strict control of her life, and many believe fulfilled his show business dreams through her. Petula says she treated it all as a great adventure. She recalls, "The first time I sang at the Albert Hall there was not a nerve in my body" I was reading a comic backstage when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Petula, you're on" I dog-eared the comic, went on, pulled the place down, came off and went back  to my comic as if nothing had happened. That wouldn't happen now! You'd have to shove me out there. As one matures, you know things can go wrong and so much more is expected of you.  With her girl-next-door Englishness, she became known to the Btitish public as  'Our Pet', and had a regular radio programme with a accent on wartime moral-building songs. In 1944, contracted to Britain's most powerful film studio, The Rank Organisation, she made her first movie, Medal for the General. More films followed, and, likened to another child star Shirley Temple, the teenage Petula was upset when she found Rank were reluctant to let her grow up. I tried to keep her looking as young as possible by having a band tied round her bust to flatten it. "It hurt physically and it hurt up here in my head", she recalls " A child wants to grow up and act older than their age rather than younger. Iwas employed to be charming and cute though -- so learned how to be exactly that"          IN 1957, after a string of hit records and films she went to perform in Paris and caused a stir by leaving the UK  -- and getting away from her father, who some believed brought her close to a breakdown  -- to settle in France. The attraction was a handsome PA called Claude Wolff. I was talking to the boss of my French record company when the light in his office went out. We were in the dark when a man came into replace the bulb, and when the light came on again, I took one look at him and that was it" The pair married in 1961.        Petula had always an eye for a good looking man.  In the early 1950,s she flirted with Sean Connery, then a chorus boy in the stage musical South Pacific.  I remember one particularly wild night when we ended up under a piano drinking gin and cider cocktails. She also had long relationship with pianist Joe Henderson. But Claude was altogether different. "I wasn't expecting anything like it to happen" She says "He was the man  around Paris. He knew everyone. I fell in love immediately. I couldn't speak a word of French and I didn't especially like France. It seemed a bit smelly, particularly going back to that time, France was probably more French than it is just now.  The truth is I fell in love with a Frenchman and that was it.  Claude couldn't be in England, he couldn't speak English. He had a career going with the record company, so it was decided I'd go to France and I built a  new life there.        The French took her to their hearts and by 1962 she had become France's favourite female vocalist, even ahead of the legendary  Edith Piaf.  They were warm and welcoming. They found me amusing and they actually found me sexy. They liked me the way I was, and that was a nice thing. It turned out I did all my real growing up in France.  Suddenly I started to love life and not worry about what people thought of me. I felt completely liberated.         In the 1980,s she and Claude went their separate ways.  We didn't decide to split up  --  we drifted apart. I don't think Claude liked America but my career had opened up in the States so I was working there a lot. The real reason we split up is hard to define. I suppose we became different people. Why have they not bothered to divorce?   At the beginning it was because of he children, then as time went by he was living his life, I was living mine. In some strange way, it seemed to work. We'd built a lot together and perhaps it just wasn't in our education to divorce because there was still a bond between us.            They often reunite with their children. Barbara, the eldest, is married to French interior designer Baron Robert de Cabrol, and they live in New York with their children, Sebastian and Annabel. Kate is a yoga professor and splits her time between Paris and Geneva. Patrick (Paddy) also lives in Geneva and is a golfer as well as the owner of a golf shop.                 Petula says there is a new man in her life, and Claude has meet someone else too, but she shyly declines to say anymore. There was a discreet celebration in Geneva last November for her 80th, although Barbara and her family couldn't make it from New York. Kate and Paddy were there, and a couple of friends from Geneva and Claude. We had a great dinner, but nobody sang happy birthday because they new I wouldn't want it. I don't think about age. And I certainly don't worry about it. What's the point. As long as you're doing what you do well, who cares a damn.              Petula explains to think about the present and the future, rather than dwelling on the past. When I do concerts, obviously I sing all the old songs, and they're a wonderful chapter of my life. But I couldn't go on stage and do just the oldies. There has to be something new and fresh all the time to interest me.       She now tours the world with her one-woman show and has also made a new Studio album, Lost in You, released this month and featuring new songs, some of which she has written herself, as well as her interpretation of of hits such as John Lennon's Imagine, Elvis Presley's Love me Tender, and Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, together with a new arrangement of Downtown. "Performing still gives me a buzz, particularly when it's a live show. Being on stage in front of an audience is what it's all about. On a really good night, something very magical happens. She doesn't have any problems with her singing voice as time goes by as some singers do. "I'm really lucky  -- my voice is in some ways better now"    She's also nurtured her English rose looks, which she puts down to a simple beauty regimen of soap, water and a good moisturiser. "It seems to work for me" she says. I did have a small amount of cosmetic surgery a long time ago. I had a scar above  my eye that showed up on the cinema screen, so I got it fixed. Then you get that fixed you have to get something else fixed too. It was when I did Finian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire in 1968.  Finian's Rainbow turned out to be the last movie Astaire danced in.  "He was great. I don't think snob is the word, but he hated mediocrity and vulgarity. He was such a classy guy he couldn't bear being around any thing that wasn't. He didn't like any thing tacky. His home was like a tasteful movie set. He was playing a down and out on the film and the poor wardrobe woman had a hard time making him look shabby. She'd tie a piece of string round him and it would look like it was the latest thing in  fashion. He was such a perfectionist he'd stay in the Studio at the weekend to rehearse over and over again. He was just as nervous about singing with me as I was abut dancing with him.                 Our talk returns to her own longevity as a  performer. "I just keep going. I do what i feel like doing. Life whizzes by and if I've stopped to think about it recently, it's been, "Wow, I never thought I'd be this age" But every body feels that one day, I'm sure. One does sometimes wonder whether the public really wants long lasting performers today, or they think, "That was last year, lets have something fresh this year"   Not having an entourage has helped her keep her sanity, she says, "You come off stage, and you're a huge  star and you're surrounded by people saying you're marvellous. That's euphoric and there's anyways a down moment that follows. Suddenly you're on your own, and some people can't handle that. They start taking things because they think that's going to keep them "up there" and there are always people nearby prepared to offer them anything.   I started very young and soon became aware of the dangers.  I've never looked at this business through rose coloured glasses, because I've always been famous as far as I can remember. It's hard work, though. Becoming a star is one thing, staying a star is another thing.  People are very nostalgic about me, which doesn't bother me, although I don't sit around listening to my old records or looking at my old movies. It's now that matters. Petula's new album 'lost in you' will soon be out.

 

   Petula Clark  The singing sweetheart has been a star for 75 years !  12 03 2016

For most of us of a certain age, being a subject of this is Your Life proves you're a true star. As Petula Clark was the subject of that iconic TV show not once, but three different times, it is fair to say Our Pet is an absolute Giant.   Now 83 and still working, the girl, from  Epson in Surrey has enjoyed fabulous careers in various fields, not least in music, with a clutch of hits across the world. Born   Petula Sally Owen Clark, on November  15, 1932, her songs, her songs would make her famous in two languages, a she made many recordings in French.  the Little Shoemaker, Baby Love, Downtown, I Know A Place, Colour my World and  Don't Sleep in the Subway were loved around the globe, and still are. She has sold almost 70 million records, not bad going from a lady who has often spent as much energy on her film work as she did on singing. Her father, Leslie, was a nurse at Long Grove   hospital, as was her mother, Doris. Leslie joked that he invented her name by combining the names of two ex girlfriends, Pet and Ulla. His sense of humour would soon be entertained by by the lass herself ---- young Petula was a great mimic, and her impersonations of Vera Lynn and Carmen Miranda brought roars of appeal from family and friends.  Her singing with the chapel choir brought admiration too, although it was setting eyes on Flora Robson that gave her the biggest inspiration f her childhood years. Her father had taken her to see Mary Tudor at the theatre in 1938, and Petula later admitted: "I made up my mind then and there I was going to be an actress. "I wanted to be Ingrid Bergman more than anything else in the world!"  Funnily enough, considering she would get her her wish to act, it was the singing that took centre stage in those early days -- her first performance in public was as a singer, rather than an actress. This was with an orchestra in the entrance hall to a department store, Bentall's, in Kingston upon Thames.  She was six years old and her payment was a tin of toffee and a gold wristwatch. Her big break, though, came at the much-more-mature age of nine, and entirely by happy accident. She was at the BBC with her father to send a message to an uncle who was stationed overseas, only to have her broadcast delayed by an air raid. While the bombing went on, a producer asked for someone to perform to calm their theatre audience, who were growing understandably nervous.  Up popped the precocious Petula, who said she could do Mighty Lak' A Rose, and the audience lapped it up. The girl was a natural.   She was then asked to do it all over again on air, and this would lead to more than 500 similar performances and  appearances to entertain the troops. Petula would also start touring with other child stars, the likes of Julie Andrews and other future superstars. They called her The Singing Sweetheart, and it's fair to say she sang for well known figures. George V1, Winston Churchill and Bernard Montgomery were among those who say her, and she soon got the nickname Britain's Shirley Temple.  One of the British Army's favourite mascots, with the troops having her picture on their tanks during battle, she had well and truly arrived while still a child. In 1944, doing her stuff at the Royal Albert Hall, film director Maurice Elvey loved what he saw and cast her as the orphan Irma in Medal For The General, a movie that left every audience weeping into their tissues.  This girl could excel at anything she turned her hand to!.   Films such as Strawberry Roan and London Town would follow, as would Here Come The Huggets, which would become a series of films, based on the famed radio series.  She'd already been working with  Anthony Newley, Peter Ustinov and Alex Guinness, going into the 1950.s and Petula was never  out of the spotlight. In a desperate hurry to grow up, like most kids, Petula was determined to get none--child parts, and they had to tell her: "You are still a kid , be patient." Meeting Joe Henderson had been another special moment.   In her teens she would be romantically linked to the music publishing man, and he'd introduce her to Alan A Freeman, who along with Pet's father formed Polygon Records, and it would be for them she'd record her first hit singles. It's crazy to think that neither EMI   not Decca were overly keen on giving her a long term contract  (as they did with other future stars), so dad's company gave her the deal, and she made hits. Polygon would eventually become Pye, with whom she had further hits all the way into the early 70's.  Not content with her own growing fame and fortune, Petula scouted for and helped emerging new talent, and Joe Henderson was also very adept at finding new kids and getting hits. She'd become an international star, but it was in the late 50's that Europe took to her big time. Appearing at the Paris Olympia in 1957, she was jittery, suffering from a cold. She was greeted with a loving crowd, and immediately asked to sign a contract for recordings. Tours of France and Belgium, with Sacha Distel, delighted her, and the pair would become bosom buddies until his death in 2004.  Petula also did something that the likes of David Bowie would do in years to come -- recording singles in many languages. Just as Bowie would do versions of Heroes in French and German  -- Heroes and Heldon -- so Petula did recordings singing in German, Spanish and French. Doing this type of thing would see  people like Nana  Mouskouri get massive sales -- people love you to at least try singing in their native languages -- and Petula also became a Eurostar. Not that all this stardom across the water made her forget the UK -- Sailor became the first UK no. 1 in 1961, while Romeo and My Friend The Sea also shot into the top 20.  Romeo, in fact, became her first Gold disc, shifting more than a million copies worldwide. In France, a Ya,Ya Twist, a French take on Rhythm 'n' blues hit Ya, Ya brought her a smash across Europe in 1962. Why was it so unique? They say it was the only hit single featuring the twist by a female.  That, despite it takes two, a man and a woman to do the dance. She was so big by 1964 that she got the first that This is Your Life, the others comming in 1975 and 1996. It was '64, of course, that Downtown brought her a Grammy, for best Rock & Roll recording of the Year. The following year got her another, a best Vocalist, I Know A Place. A fashion icon from New York to Paris, churning out one hit after another in Britain, while having totally different hits In Europe, staring in Goodbye Mr. Chips, appearances with Ed Sullivan and Harry Belafonte -- Petula was a girl who could do no wrong. She still, somehow, had time to spot other talent -- Richard Carpenter would credit Petula with spotting him and his sister Karen and telling record companies all about them.  In the years since her heyday, Petula Clark has continued to do her stuff, in the acting and singing worlds, has produced jazz, pop, done love song albums . Xmas Albums, duet albums and been one of our greatest ambassadors. Oh, and she has also managed to fit in getting an OBE from the queen. She almost married Henderson, but apparently the sheer amount of publicity worried him, and he is said to have claimed he didn't want to be just "Mr. Petula Clark", so they broke things off.  She married Publicist Claude Wolff in 1961, moving to France and they had two daughters and a son, Barbara, Catherine, Nathalle and Partick. She has her main home these days in Geneva, Switzerland, but also has Holiday Chalet in the French Alps, where she likes to ski and has a small place in Chelsea, too.  As you can imagine, any time Petula sets foot in this country, she is treated as she ought to be one   ----  one of the greatest icons we have ever produced.  

                 

"I've never been very ambitious. I sing and act because I enjoy it."

Petula Clark first sang on BBC radio when she was nine years old, and she's still going strong at the grand old age of 83. The Surrey star's latest album, released on September 30, is entitled From Now On, and she's performing a 15 day UK tour in October. Asked the key to her longevity, the lady says modesty: "I've no idea. Hit songs are important, but they come and go.   "I've done other things, too, like films and musical theatre, as I enjoy it. I've always been a bit of an actress anyway. "All I can say is that I give everything I have to everything I do."  Petula's string of hits date back to 1954 and includes Sailor, I couldn't Live Without You, Don't sleep in the Subway,  and the timeless classic downtown. With record sales of 70 million plus, she remains Britain's most successful female artist and her gigs around the globe usually sell out. She's the star of more than 30 films, most notably Goodby Mr. Chips opposite Peter O'toole and Finain's Rainbow with Fred Astair, and stage musicals like Blood Brothers, and Sunset Boulevard. Among her many awards was a CBE in 1998, but she insists: "I've never really been ambitious. "I sing and act because I enjoy it. Any honours and awards are nice, but that's not why I do it. "Getting on stage performing great songs live with a great band in front of an audience .... that's it. Born in Epsom on November 15, 1932, Petula says of the unusual name invented by her father Leslie: AS a child I took it for granted. "Later, I thought : "It sounds like a pretend name. "I learned to live with it. There are quite a few Petulas now!" Thanks partly to her dad, Petula's career started in the Second World War. She found radio stardom on shows like variety stand box and performed hundreds of shows for the allied troops, earning her nickname 'The forces girl' In 1943, she signed for the Rank Organisation and was in 24 films over the following ten years.