October 26, 2016

Shirley Bassey: No one taught me how to sing

Every head turns as she glides through the Ritz Hotel in London, surely the most befitting location in which to meet the grandest of grande dames, along with Sir Tom Jones the last of the great British belters who gave us songs so iconic the lyrics should be inscribed on a national songsheet and set in stone.

And almost 60 years in to a career that includes three Bond theme tunes, more than 12 UK top-10 singles and the record for the longest span of top 40 UK hits by a woman (now standing at 58 years) Dame Shirley is still on song.

In fact it has taken this long to release her first festive single with classical music trio Blake, a rendition of The Christmas Song, Chesnuts Roasting On An Open Fire, with Dame Shirley’s royalties going to the Noah’s Ark charity in Wales.

It is a rare interview with the notoriously private dame as she conducts a master class in flirtation with the Blake boys, the opulence of the crystal chandeliers reflecting the twinkle in her eyes.

The Welsh warbler is feisty, funny and deliciously naughty with a natural vibrancy and charisma that effortlessly outshines even these glittering surroundings.

Now in her late 70s, the tigress from Tiger Bay remains stunning.

“I wanted to be an air hostess or a model or even a nurse – until I saw blood,” Dame Shirley continues.

“I didn’t know I could grow up to be a singer.”

And yet she always sang, she says.

“When I was really little, I’d sing instead of crying when I woke up in the dark at 3 o’clock. I don’t like the dark. I’ve never had a singing lesson. How can you teach singing? I can’t read music. My voice is there,” she says, pointing to her heart.

And it is that power and passion that can come only from the heart that is key to Dame Shirley’s appeal.

Performing Goldfinger at the Oscars in 2013, the standing ovation that followed lasted so long the show’s producers had to cut to the commercials.

With so many famous fans why was it that Blake managed to secure her services for this Christmas collaboration?

“They picked me up in a club,” she says, the laughter in her eyes and the wicked shrug of a shoulder revealing how naturally funny and seductive she is.

Ollie Baines of the group takes over the back story.

“It goes back to the start of Blake. Dame Shirley has book ended our careers. When we started singing we performed at her 70th birthday party and sang Moon River. We met up again at an interview she was doing in Cardiff for her favourite charity, Noah’s Ark, to fund the first children’s hospital in Wales. That’s when she decided to join us on that track.”

Dame Shirley joins in: “I’ve never done a Christmas album and then when I bumped into Blake in Cardiff they said they were making this album and I said I wished I’d recorded one. So they asked me to do a song with them. Blake chose me and I’m honoured,” she adds, the gratitude and humility refreshingly genuine as well as revealing, her perception of her professional persona clearly at odds with the private reality.

Rather than living a show-business life, she chooses to hide away in Monaco where her favourite hobby is cooking, although she isn’t a fan of dinner parties.

“I’m terrible,” she declares.

“I can’t entertain. I get too nervous. I’d rather take you out to dinner.”

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