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?