manchester music
pop & urban

Thursday, 10th March 2005
Petula goes Downtown to The Lowry   

PETULA Clark started her career singing for UK troops during the Second World War when she was only eight years old. Now, nearly 60 years on, with sales of over 70 million records, a Grammy for ‘Downtown’ and 30 films behind her, she is preparing for a string of live dates - including a night at The Lowry.

You got your first break when you were very young. How did that come about?
During the Blitz in London, the BBC had a show for children to send messages to their fathers, uncles or brothers who were serving abroad. I went along to give my support to my uncle. The show was at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, which was an ideal venue as it was underground. During the rehearsal, there was a huge air raid and we had to stop the show. A lot of the kids were really nervous, and the producer asked if somebody would like to come up and say a piece of poetry or sing a song, just to calm things down. No one else seemed to want to, so I stood up. I’ve actually been told that a lot of what we were reciting was actually code!

You were known as ‘ the British Shirley Temple’ and sang at the victory celebrations in Trafalgar Square. Did you understand the significance of it all?
Probably not. I’ve discussed this with Julie Andrews. During the war, she and I were travelling around in troop trains, sleeping in luggage racks, getting off in the dark, and for us it was like a rather exciting adventure. I don’t think we realised how potentially dangerous it all was.

It’s quite a transformation from Force’s sweetheart to a Grammy-winning artist.
It was a very long journey from that to singing ‘Downtown’. I started making records, fell in love with a French man [PR guru, Claude Wolff], went to France and became their favourite singer, which was an accident - I just went over there to be with my bloke. I met Tony Hatch (‘Downtown’ writer) and he played me the tune on his piano, and I said, “Write lyrics as good as the tune and I’ll do it”. And he did, so I did.

You’ve recently won awards for your roles in Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard and you continue to tour. What do you think is the key to such a long and varied career?
I have no idea. Really, there’s never been a master plan - there’s no svengali behind me saying, “Now you’ve got to do this”. It’s all been a bit higgledy-piggledy. I’m like everyone else - just stumbling my way through life.

TO read the rest of this interview buy this week's City Life (issue 576). Out now priced £1.50.

Petula Clark plays The Lowry tonight (March 10). £21.50. Call 0870 111 2000.