23 May 2002

I bet not a day passes without someone asking you if you're going Downtown...
Oh, sure. In fact, when I moved into my new house in London a few years ago, I was just going off to sleep, exhausted, at lam when I was serenaded by a gang of local lads. They came and sang Downtown under my window. I think they'd bad a few too many to drink but it was very sweet.
You've been famous forever, so presumably you don't get nostalgia for anonymity.
No. I've never experienced it. I never had to make that decision, as a teenager, about what I was going to be and how I might do it.
You're renowned as a very down-to-earth diva, catching buses and walking places instead of climbing into a limousine. Why bother? I like to live my life. The nice, nice thing to be able to have it to have the luxuries be able to do all the other stuff as well.
Are you good at spending time on your own?
Yes. Very. I've been a loner ever since I was a kid, I used to live in my own imagination. I wandered the backstreets, singing and telling myself stories. I'm part Welsh, so I used to walk across the mountains singing on my own.
This is beginning to remind me of The Sound Of Music...
Well, not quite as kitsch as that. And I certainly couldn't have coped with the entire von Trapp family. It's not just that I can go for days on my own, I actually think I need it. I have a very good interior life: I read, I listen to other people's music, I write.
Do you keep a diary?
Oh, no, but I spend a lot of time writing music lyrics. and poetry, that kind of thing.
What do you like to read?
I love anything to do with history. It was really the only subject I was any good at when I was at school. I love archaeology too.
In the past three years, you've toured three continents. You must wake up not knowing where you are.
Funnily enough, that usually happens when I stop touring and go home. Sometimes I can work out that I'm at home but I'm not quite sure which

home I am in because I have several. Switzerland is my main residence. Then we've a chalet in the French Alps, not far from Geneva, a tiny apartment in London and a place in Miami.
So you wake up with a frock in Geneva and the matching shoes are in London?
There are times I look in my wardrobe and think I'm sure I had that dress - and then I give up because, in any case, it's not there.
How badly are you affected by nerves?
Well, I build a very secure cage around myself: I work very hard at making sure I've got the right musicians, that the lights are right, that the feel of the song is right. Then I go on stage and just have fun. I have felt physically sick before a performance but I've never actually thrown up. Sometimes I get quite a nasty nervous rash across my shoulders. I always forget about it and then it comes up suddenly.
What's the weirdest thing you've been given by a fan? I get an awful lot of fan mail from all over the world; from places my records have been but I haven't. I get given a lot of jars of pickled onions. I think once, a long time ago, I must have said I liked them and I keep getting them. I've got quite a collection but there's a limit to how many I can eat.
You look so young. I know you say you don't have plastic surgery so what is your beauty secret?
I've no idea. I don't even keep out of the sun. I love the sun and I'm excellent at tying on a beach doing nothing. I think I'm just lucky. I think perhaps women are inclined to do too much stuff: wear too much make-up and try too many products in a desperate attempt to do whatever. I just don't. Perhaps that's my secret.
Will you ever retire?
I have moments when I think I will but, no, I enjoy singing. I've been doing it since I was a child and I think it would leave an enormous gap in my life to stop, though, I suppose, one day I will. And if my voice starts going ... but at the moment it seems to be fine. Better than ever, in fact.

For details of Petula's UK tour call 020 7221 7799.