Petula Clark, singer and actress HARDtalk

Petula Clark, singer and actress

Stephen Sackur speaks to Petula Clark, a much-loved child performer during the Second World War who has worked with many iconic names. He finds out what makes her tick.

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Welcome to HARDtalk. I'm Stephen Sackur.


Getting to the top in showbusiness is hard, but staying there is much,


much harder; few stars can match the sustained success in music,


film and theatre that Clark has enjoyed.


Petula Clark went on to have a host of hits in the UK, France,


the US and pretty much everywhere else.


She has worked with legendary names from Fred Astaire


to Serge Gainsbourg, and continues to sing and tour.


So what makes her tick? Petula Clark, welcomed the HARDtalk.


Thank you, Stephen. I have to begin by talking


about the voice because you do have one of those wonderfully


distinctive, clear singing voices and wonder


when you reflect on your long career if you feel the voice is the same


now as it ever was? Pretty much.


Today I am a bit husky, I have a good old English cold.


My voice is perhaps a little bit stronger than it used to be


and probably a bit more base in it. Do you think voices mature


with age and experience? Of course, they do.


Eventually they start to... You are not there yet.


Have you in your life any memory of a time when you were not


a singing performer? Even when I was very, very young,


well, I used to sing all the time. I was one of those musical kids


and I lived inside my home head. -- own. There was was music going


on in telling stories. Very imaginative.


That was in Wales and it fitted in very well in Wales


because everybody is very musical in Wales.


Has it always brought you joy? Yes, absolutely.


The first time I sang in public was in Chapel,


in front of the congregation and I was about six.


And I was hooked from then on. Your story is extraordinary


because by the age of about nine you are actually singing to a very


wide public through the radio. A fairly young medium then


but you were a star as a child it suggested you are quite precocious.


Precocious? Ready to put yourself out


there in front of an audience. I was not a showbiz kid


and I'm not now. My father was very strict and he was


taking care of me and managing me, I suppose, in a way and this


was a different time. There was a great deal


of discipline so, though, was not the showbiz kid, I was not


spoiled by I liked to sing. I was shy and like a lot


of performance they are shy until they get on stage.


I would love for you to watch with the elite of clip of you...


Oh, dear. This was captured by the news.


You singing voice was so lovely and pure, the British forces


fighting in the Second World War really enjoyed it and you became


a star very young. The news marked your stardom.


Yes, Petula Clark is like many little girls and enjoys the same


things as friends but more than anything she likes singing


and the public loves Petula Clark, especially the soldiers


whom she reminds of their kids at home.


# Everybody knows Donald # Looking at his mammy,


with eyes so shiny blue... I have to ask you, what does it feel


watching that now? It is sort of charming,


in a way, it is almost like watching someone else, though.


I do sort of remember those moments in front of a BBC microphone.


Standing on the box because you're so tiny.


I had to stand in a box. It was quite sweet that


a true little voice. Very true.


I want to tease out the relationship with your father.


He was quite strict. Today, in showbiz and indeed


in top sports as well, there is this concept of the very


pushy parent who really has grand ambitions for their child


and will not let them rest until those ambitions are met.


Was he a bit like that? I suppose he was a bit


but I absolutely adored him. He could do no wrong and,


it is true, he always wanted to be an act to himself.


He was very handsome. Was never allowed to go


into showbiz and so I think, through me, he was living


out his fantasies. I suppose he was a bit pushy


but I was a child and somebody had to push we forward.


The complication is that your father and he became your manager


and by your early 20s, when you were starring in movies


and you were a major recording star in Britain,


it must have been quite difficult to see where the barriers were,


the lines between dad and manager. Yes, you are absolutely right,


it did become difficult as I was growing older and wanted


to make my own mistakes. It became difficult for us both


because we would go home after working I would go home


and I was not sure if I was having dinner with my dad or my manager.


We were not always agreeing on everything and he eventually...


We had to split and it was hard for both of us.


There was a gap when we did not see each other very much and I know


that was hard for him and for me too but I think it had to be done.


After that we were fine. We had to do that separation.


One of the big decisions in your life was actually to go


and live in France because you had become a big star in Britain


but you'd then... You met and eventually married


a Frenchman and you went to live in France and you have said


that going to France, to Paris and discovering Edith Piaf


and a whole bunch of great artists in Paris really change your life.


I was wondering in what ways? My life was totally


changed by going to France. I did not want to go and live


in France, it was an accident but that is another story.


I found myself living in Paris which at that time


was very foreign indeed. I did not speak any French


and then I was meeting all these amazing artists.


The first time I saw Edith Piaf, it was amazing, I never saw


anything like that. When I saw her she was already quite


a sick lady and she just made onto centrestage and I thought,


this is not going to be very good. This is uncomfortable for me


and then she started to sing and that is when I learnt don't


about singing with your heart and soul and everything else.


You know, she sang about love, death, hate, met us,


-- sex, everything, you know and I have never seen anything


like that before. So it was really


a learning experience. I learned from her personally


and professionally. It made you much more self-aware


and ready to express your true self? Yes and I was also married


and had two children. The great thing for me, there


was always that image because I had been a star in England,


it was difficult for me to get past that.


Whereas in France, they knew nothing about that and they just like me


as I was. And that was amazing for me.


Pretty wonderful. I mean, in a sense, what you seem


to be saying you were much more than able to express sexuality,


that depth of your soul. Yes, absolutely.


You worked with Petula Clark, guys that were deeply


sorrowful and sexy. The heavies!


LAUGHTER. By that time you then launched yourself into America,


you were a much more confident performer and artist.


Yes but then again America was very different to France


and I was learning again in America because in America the Americans


know about pop music, it is their music, after all,


it is where it came from. You cannot cheat.


The audiences are very knowledgeable and found myself having to learn


to sing better over there. Really?


Oh, yes. So you deliberately


changed the way he change? In France it was for about


the lyrics and a more personal kind of charm whereas in America


it is about really, really singing well.


And you obviously by then could sing in French as well as English


and you have this French experience behind you but you were actually


in the mid-60s in the US part of that Brit invasion.


The Beatles were making it big. Other bands were cracking America


and you came along and you had a massive number one


hit quite quickly? Yes, Downtown by then we went


on to have many after that but downtown was the


beginning of that. Thank you for queueing up.


Perhaps your best known song of all, Downtown, which you performed just


after it was was aa single. This is you in an American TVs


to view in 1965 stopper if you know some legal places to go...


# Downtown. Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city


Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty


How can you lose? The lights are much brighter


there You can forget all your troubles,


forget all your cares So go downtown, things'll


be great when you're Downtown, no finer place for sure


Downtown everything's waiting for you Downtown.


It is such a pleasure to watch. That song I can beat you you could


go to any city in the world and start humming that song and


people would join in. It is a brilliant pop song.


It is, it's a great song and of course I still sing it


on stage and as soon as they hear introduction on the piano, we are.


-- we are off. Tony Hatch, who wrote it and gave it to you,


did you just think as soon as you heard it, this


is an extraordinary song? I loved it from the first


minute I heard it. The first time I heard it he played


it on the piano for me in my apartment in Paris


and we did not know it was in a sound like that.


Of course, when we went into the studio a couple of weeks


later, and heard that orchestra, it was so thrilling.


Tony's orchestrations were wonderful as well.


It was not just a song, it was me, the whole thing around.


The other thing that strikes me and I dare say might strike


a lot of people watching, there was something wonderfully


demure and innocent about the way you sang the song.


There were no tricks and goodness, we are so used out the female stars


sort of, how can I put it... Taking their clothes off?


That is part of it. The way people present pop music


is so very different. Yes.


When you look at that now, did you feel, goodness,


that was rather prim and proper or do you think that's wonderful


because it allows you to focus on the song and voice?


The Stones, the Beatles, all of them and it was all a bit


kind of rock 'n' roll. I was sort of reassuring


for the parents as well. This is a nice lady


singing pop songs so, yes, I was sort of like the big


Sister, if you like. You had been in Paris and seen


what passion and sexiness can do to a song and yet, you still have


that Big Sister thing going on. Was it because it work


for you or was it your temperament? That is just the way it came out.


There was no agenda with me. If a song requires some kind of sexual


something, then I will give it that. Don't sleep in the subway is a far


more sexy song. I don't know what I am trying to say here, but each


song, when I sing a song, there is a kind of movie going on in my mind.


It is different each time. Another one which intrigues me and is very


much to do with the era we are talking about, mid to late 1960s,


there was a lot going on across the world, in the United States there


was the civil rights movement, there were social unrest in many cities.


There was an extraordinary moment for you in a television studio with


the black songwriter and singer Harry Belafonte. You were friends of


his, you perform together on a TV show and as I understand that you


touched him, in a sympathetic, nice way and you were singing together.


And some of the advertisers on that particular TV show said we want that


cut, we don't want that particular... Yes, the sponsor


didn't want that, I don't want my start touching the black man. I


didn't know that we, Harry and I, we couldn't hear that. We were in the


studio and this was happening in the sponsor's box, up near the


director's box, and then everything went crazy, you know. So I had no


idea what had happened, but my husband, who was executive producer,


and my lawyer, were there, and took me downstairs to a place where this


guy was watching the tapes, he was eating a sandwich, and my lawyer


said we want you to erase these takes, and this is the one we want


to go out. And the guy said, I can't do that. And you wanted to keep the


one where you and Harry Belafonte touched. That was the one we wanted


to go out, because that was the real one. Because that was the spirit of


the soul of it. Exactly, and the poor guy had to press the button and


erase the takes. So you got your way. Absolutely. In a sense that


leads me to wonder if you feel as an art of the duty sometimes to be


political or to make a statement if you feel something in the culture


around it is going wrong, or is out of kilter,. Where are you, in terms


of being political? Well, I don't get into politics and protest songs


and all the rest of it. But that song you did with Harry Belafonte,


it was a sort of anti-war song. Lie yes, it was an anti-war song and I


had co-written it, and we both felt strongly about the subject. Of


course, I didn't realise where I was going with this, you know. It was


right in the middle of the civil rights movement, and I found myself


in the middle of it, and it made headlines, and all the rest of it.


But I had my pianist, my music director in the States, was black


and was with me for 12 years. Our choreographer was black. I just


didn't get it. Just makes me wonder, given that you sort of by accident


ended up being involved in that sort of state and at that time... What I


wasn't going to be pushed around. Know, so here is the thing. I know


that you are going to go back to the United States later in the year and


sing, and we have seen so many different performers, artists, movie


stars and others, feel that they have the sort of use whatever


platform they have got to speak out, some of them very clearly angry and


upset about some of Donald Trump's odysseys. Errol Street, et cetera.


Would you do that? -- Meryl Streep. Probably. Yes. If I felt that


strongly, and if I felt that it would be some use. But I'm not sure


that it is of any use, that is the thing that bothers me about it. It


can sometimes look as if you are trying to make yourself look good.


And I don't want that. Let me ask you about a different aspect of your


long career, and that is, it is almost constant performing, touring,


different countries, different cities. And in the middle of all of


that you have managed to raise a family. You've got kids, and our


grandchildren as well. Mm-hm. Out of has been to fulfil yourself both as


an artist and performer and as a mother -- how tough has it been?


Well, it hasn't been easy, I have to admit. And at the time when the


children were young, I was right up there at the peak of my career. And


as you say, I was all over the place. And the children came with us


a lot, and in fact it was quite a good education for them, because


they saw a loss of the world. And I have had this guilt thing hanging


over me for years of not being the perfect mother, you know. But


they... You know, we talk about it, I talk about it with my kids, and


they say, come on, you know, it was fine, we are great. And they are


great, they are great kids, they are great human beings. At the guilt was


very real, was it? It is very difficult to do it all. I thought I


was going to be Superwoman and have a career and the family, be a great


wife, great mother. It ain't easy. But as you say, you have got great


kids and you did have a great career. If you look back, would you


have done anything differently? Care well, it was a copper mines. It was


a copper miners from my family point of view and my career point of view


-- compromise. I was never totally into my career or totally and my


family, it is always a bit like this. Now that you look at the music


industry today, and you are still in it, both recording and touring, is


it an industry where you would have thought, if your children or


grandchildren had wanted to go into it, as they grow up, do you think it


is a healthy business to be an? Healthy? Well, I never discourage


them or encourage them to go into it, and they saw from a very early


age what it was, what it is. You know, it is not... We hear a lot


about the glamour, we don't hear about the hard work, the axed, the


pressure. -- tanks. They sought it, and I guess they decided it wasn't


for them. I guess what they said at the beginning is true. It is hard to


make it in the music business, but it is even harder to stay at the top


of the music business, year after year after year. You have done it.


It is a bit like trying to go up the down escalator. To stay in one place


you have to keep walking. Yes. But you know, I have never really felt


that, because I have always just done it for the pleasure. I have


never had anyone behind me saying you've got to do it this way, you've


got to change, because this is the way it is now. It has always been


very organic. I failed, of course, from time to time, that I know. How


do you mean failed? Well, you know, I haven't always got it right. You


want to know how? I am intrigued. You know, I don't listen to my own


records, but recently I had to because they are putting out a


compilation. I was in agony, because I really don't like that. And then I


found myself being quite fascinated by it, it I could hear myself going


through different phases, trying different things, and really messing


it up, I think. But you know, I was trying. You know, I was watching


your face as we were watching the clip earlier of Downtown, and you


had a smile on your face. And I think it was bringing something back


to you, and it is not like you don't watch clips like that time and time


again, because people always want to talk about particular songs in


moments like Downtown, in the 60s. But do you ever get bored of


reliving that, and singing that? Because people wanted on everytime


you perform. No, I never get bored of singing all those great Tony


Hatch songs. I love them. I recently did to hear in the UK, and it was a


mixture of the great Tony Hatch songs, things from the shows, things


from the movies that I have been in, and the new songs. And I enjoy


singing the old ones as much as the new ones, and the audience actually


enjoyed the new ones as much as the old ones, which is really


gratifying. And you are determined to keep touring. I mean, it sounds


as though there is no way you are going to stop. Well, all the time I


asked do it, and people come to hear me, sure. And I mean, I loved doing


the UK tour. I had a great band, I was back in England, the weather was


gorgeous in October, everything looked beautiful, and I was singing


for two hours every night. What is better than that? Well, the next two


in the UK, I would love to be there. Be there, I would like that -- next


tour. For now we have to end. Thank you very much for being on HARDtalk.


Thank you. Thank you. It has been a bit of a mixed


weekend, weatherwise. Temperatures have been slowly


dipping down by a few degrees. This is how we ended


the day in Studland, You can see the sunset over


Poole Harbour there,


Stephen Sackur speaks to Petula Clark, a much-loved child performer during the Second World War. Getting to the top in showbusiness is hard, but staying there is much, much harder; few stars can match the sustained success in music, film and theatre that Clark has enjoyed. She went on to have a host of hits in the UK, France, the US and pretty much everywhere else. She has worked with legendary names from Fred Astaire to Serge Gainsbourg, and continues to sing and tour. So what makes her tick?