Stage fright of a legend
SUN 07 MAR 2004
By Diana Simmonds

Petula Clark first visited Australia for the 1973 opening of the Sydney Opera House. She's returned many times since then and loves it, she says.

When she arrives next week for her latest world-beating venture -- The Ultimate Tour -- one of her daughters and her sister who's always dreamed of coming to Australia will be with her.

Clark has been a star for longer than seems credible. She was Britain's Shirley Temple at an age when most kids are worrying about which kindie to enrol in and has been a successful performer, worldwide, ever since.

She's played virtually every famous venue, including as she fondly recalls, London's Royal Albert Hall.

"I've sung there many many times,'' she says, on the phone from her Chelsea flat. ``The first time was when I was about 10 and, of course, was fearless. Apparently I walked on did my bit, then walked off and went back to my comic. Last time was very different: they virtually had to push me on stage I was so terrified."

That's the intriguing thing about a woman whose career statistics would exhaust most normal people.

Try this tiny selection of highlights: first Grammy (1964) for Downtown, more appearances as Norma in Sunset Boulevard than any other actress, CBE (1998), chart toppers somewhere, sometime with 159 recordings; TV and movie star since the 1950s, Las Vegas star since the 1970s. And just to put it in perspective: since her first 78rpm disc (Where Did My Snowman Go) in 1952, to her latest chart-topping CD (The Ultimate Collection) she has sold an estimated 68 million records throughout the world. And she still gets nervous! "It's a very personal thing, that moment before you go on stage," she says. "It's a real gut-wrenching fear and it's unpredictable."

She last experienced true terror when she returned to Paris's fabled Olympia (where she and Piaf are part of the fabric) for the first time in many years.

"I was terrified. Truly terrified. I had been working on the show for months and I really didn't know if it would work. I had dreadful, dreadful stage fright. But when you're a performer there is always the audience too, you're not actually alone. An audience will lift you out of your fear and it happened that night."

Meanwhile, she's taking a short breather in London.

Over the phone she is warm and friendly: no uppity diva about to grace the colonies for a fat fee and a bit of sunshine. "I love it,'' she says of her work. ``It's a great privilege to be able to do what you love -- and make a living out of it, to put it bluntly. But I'd do it anyway, if I could."

And now, she's bringing her astonishing work and life -- packaged and polished into a show that has already been acclaimed in Europe and New York -- to Australia.

Pet Clark is a true living legend and not to be missed.

Petula Clark -- the Ultimate Tour, Lyric, Star City Sydney March 13; Civic Theatre Newcastle March 17; Canberra Theatre March 19; Wollongong Entertainment Centre March 20.