'I just wish I'd been a better mother'
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 Sinatra 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, Barbara, Kate and Patrick.
She is hard on herself, worrying she wasn't as good a mother as she would have 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've never divorced and remain friends.
'I wasn't a good mother because I was away so much. I tried hard to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife and a 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 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 OK 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 cheap pandora charms and bracelets 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 sad business of saying goodbye to each other so often stayed with the children for many years. I 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 what jewelry store sells pandora a living. Whatever I may have got wrong then, I hope I've managed to put right since.'
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 Chelsea
Since her children became adults, they've discussed the anxiety and guilt she felt. But to her relief they 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 of looking at life, fortunately.'
When we meet, she is chic in 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 Chelsea.
However, she insists 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's the same whatever form of transport you're using,' she remarks.
She 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 a 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 the stage pandora locations an hour before the show and sat on the staircase, the centrepiece 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 ups 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 parents. He became Petula's manager, kept strict control of her life, and many felt he fulfilled his showbusiness 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 though 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 British public as 'Our Pet', and had a regular radio programme with the accent on wartime, morale 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 was reluctant to let her grow up. It tried to keep her looking as young as possible by having a band tied around 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. I was employed to be charming and cute though so I learnt how to be exactly that!'
In 1957, after a string pandora online shop of hit records and films, she went to perform in Paris and then caused a stir by leaving the UK and getting away from her father, who some believed had brought her close to a breakdown to settle in France.
The attraction was a handsome PR 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 and a man came in to 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 had an eye for a good looking man. In the early 1950s 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 a long relationship with pianist Joe Henderson. But Claude was altogether different.
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