First published on Saturday 12 March 2005:

Audience enjoys Pet's parlez games

by Steve Teale

In all her years of performing, Petula Clark cannot have had many more welcoming audiences than the one which greeted her at St George's Hall last night.

A near-capacity crowd cheered her every song and at the end she was weighed down with more than a dozen bouquets. Interflora must have had a good day.

It was richly deserved. Petula, now 72, holds the record for the longest span in the charts for a woman (1954 for The Little Shoemaker to 2005 for a lesser known French song in, of all places, Belgium). In all, she's sold 70 million records and recorded in five languages, most notably English and French.

She has a French husband and, strangely, is regarded by the French as being almost French. Many of the songs she sang last night were in French.

She also had plenty of anecdotes to string these songs together, from meeting Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland to dancing with Fred Astaire in one of his biggest films. The woman who was billed as Britain's Shirley Temple had the audience eating out of her hand.

Petula took the audience on a tour of her career. She sang some of her well-known songs such as Couldn't Live Without Your Love and hits from two musicals which she has starred in, Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard.

She made them wait for her most well known song, Downtown, but it was warmly received.

She sang some songs which she had written herself and even recited a piece of poetry about life in the theatre which went down well.

But that was nothing to the applause which came for an unscripted song which she sang as an encore. It was Needles and Pins, sung in French, at the request of a man in the front row. And despite the fact that none of her eight musicians had any warning, they supported her well.

From beginning to end, her voice sounded as strong and as clear as it ever was in her hey-day.