May 19, 2002

My hols: Petula Clark
Singer Petula Clark forgets all her troubles in Mykonos and Marrakesh
A child star during the second world war, Petula Clark, 69, went on to enjoy a successful musical career both in the UK and America. Best known for her No 1 single Downtown, she has starred in films and in shows on Broadway and in the West End. Her latest album, The Ultimate Collection, is out now, and her national tour includes a show at the London Palladium next Sunday. She is married with three grown-up children

OUR LAST holiday was to Bermuda. It was a second attempt to get my husband, Claude, to like the place ó but it didnít entirely succeed. Iíd been there years ago on a wonderful sun-drenched holiday with my sister, and liked it so much I decided to take the whole family. Unfortunately, when I did, we arrived at the tail end of a hurricane, it rained constantly and Claude was furious about the whole thing.

This time, the weather was with us, but Claude still found the island a bit too manicured and twee for his tastes.

Much more successful was the holiday we had in Mykonos last summer. We stayed in a small, family-run hotel right on the beach ó the perfect antidote to the luxurious but utterly impersonal places I stay in when Iím touring. Everything about it was perfect ó the food, the crystal-clear water, and the people, who were hospitable without being intrusive. They were also very tolerant of their phone ringing in the middle of the night when agents were trying to track me down.

As a child in wartime, I travelled a lot to perform for the troops, but rarely saw a thing. Most of our journeys were at night on troop trains, where Iíd sleep in the luggage rack before being taken by truck to various military camps. Because of the blackout, every place we went to was indistinguishable from the next.

The first city I remember seeing lit up was Dublin, just after the war. From the ferry we suddenly saw this amazing array of lights shining across the water. To me, that was the most enchanting thing, and Dublin was a city that felt alive and full of excitement. I still get that feeling of anticipation when I go back now, 50 years later.

Travelling to make movies has been a mixed experience. In the 1940s, we shot a film called The Huggetts Abroad in a studio in Islington, while a location crew took doubles of us around the world for exterior shots! We were stuck in a warehouse filled with sand, getting bitten by real sand fleas and freezing to death.

I did, though, get to spend a few blissful weeks filming around San Francisco for Finianís Rainbow, a musical I made with Francis Ford Coppola. That was an extraordinary experience. Warner Brothers sent big, monogrammed trucks with huge lights and cameras, but Coppola was a total maverick ó he wanted to put the camera on his shoulder and head out into the desert. So he made a rendezvous with the crew and never turned up. Instead, he took me and Fred Astaire in the opposite direction and we had the most wonderful time trawling around the countryside making the opening sequence of the film, in which Finian and his daughter arrive in the States.

I fell completely in love with the area and remain so to this day. The landscape is very soft and unspoilt, with beautiful hills and acres of vineyards, a bit like Provence, with good food to boot.

Another of my favourite places is Morocco, because itís very French and so sensual. The music, the smells, the colours ó itís just this feast of sensations that leaves you feeling somehow enriched.

We first went in the 1970s, when the children were young, and everybody fell sick. We spent a week looking for doctors and pharmacists, so I got to know Marrakesh like the back of my hand from zooming round these narrow streets and tiny alleyways. I loved it, and it became a place weíve kept on visiting.

The only place Iíd never go back to is Sanía in the Yemen. I went there to perform in the 1970s and when we stepped off the plane I thought there had been an earthquake ó but thatís just the way it was. They were building everywhere, and the entire place was pitted with vast holes, piles of rubble and dumper trucks.

Everything about the country seemed utterly different from what Iíd experienced before, from the architecture, or lack of it, to the way people looked and dressed. I expected a Marrakesh-type souk, but it was a very dark, foreboding place and felt very unwelcoming. Iím sure itís changed a lot, but my first impressions were so bad I donít want to bother finding out.

These days, itís quite rare that we and the children can all be in the same place at the same time, but we do still manage some family holidays together. Last year, we spent a lovely Christmas in Aix en Provence. The light at that time of year is incredible ó we did all our Christmas shopping in the markets and drove out to eat at restaurants and vineyards in the surrounding countryside.

The only low points were the arguments we had about when to unwrap the presents. The French open theirs on Christmas Eve, but Iím very strict about waiting till the day itself. Youíd think that now the children are grown-up weíd have left squabbles like that behind. But Christmas wouldnít be Christmas without someone stamping their feet and demanding to have their presents now.

Because Iíve travelled so much throughout my life, I feel as if Iíve never really settled anywhere. We have houses in Switzerland, America and Britain, and for a long time we lived in France, but Iím still looking for a place that I can really call home. Someday soon Iíll have to settle somewhere, but Iíve fallen in love with so many parts of the world that Iím not sure where it will be.

The only certainty is that it will have to be hot ó given time, I could quite easily become a beach bum and spend the rest of my days lying in the sun doing absolutely nothing.

Petula Clark talked to Lizzie Enfield