Petula Clark: the singer is showing up later this year in the London West end as the bird lady in mary Poppins, photographed in ~ The Landmark London. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
Petula Clark: the singer is showing up later this year in the London West finish as the bird lady in mary Poppins, photographed at The Landmark London. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
From kid star come superstar, the singer is still performing in ~ 86. She talks about being consoled by man Lennon, she friendship v Karen Carpenter – and also her nearby encounter with the King



Petula Clark walk not like to watch back. She does no celebrate birthdays – hates nostalgia. So spending several hours in a studio, listening come her beforehand records – as she to be recently required to do, for a compilation of songs from her seven-decade career – was “kind of torture”, she says. She affects a groan, eye rolling beneath their spidery lashes.

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Clark is amongst the bestselling brothers female artists of all time, with one of the largest chart spans of any kind of artist in history. She has been top top Desert Island Discs 3 times: in 1951 (when she was just 18); 1982; and 1995. She made her debut together a son entertainer shortly prior to her tenth date of birth in 1942; this October, the month prior to she transforms 87, she will return to the West finish as the bird lady in mary Poppins.


It remained in 1964 the she came to be famous worldwide, through Downtown, the stop hit the beat the Beatles come a Grammy and led she to it is in anointed “the first Lady of the brother Invasion”. It went to No 1 in the us – “There was no escaping it. It reduced through certain everything” – and Clark was easily sucked right into the top echelons that American display business.

She operated with Fred Astaire, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and also the Muppets. Steve McQueen, the King the Cool, told she he loved her in a restaurant. Conference celebrities was exciting, she says, yet “the really great people” stand the end – Quincy Jones was “wonderful”, and she and Harry Belafonte “adored every other”. “I think he kind of fancied me,” she adds, somewhat bashfully.

They inadvertently caused a media storm in 1968, as soon as Clark took Belafonte’s arm throughout a duet for her one-hour special for NBC; a Plymouth Motors declaring executive took exception to a white woman and a black man touching top top television. Belafonte, a significant civil legal rights campaigner, was conscious of the potential consequences, yet Clark to be “an innocent”, she says. “I stumbled into that … i have never gained political around anything.”

Clark, she husband Claude Wolff and their lawyer ordered NBC to erase the other takes so there was only the one v them touching, Belafonte spreading her in his autobiography together a gleeful co-conspirator come “nail the bastard”. However Clark insists now it was an creative decision, not a politics one. “I didn’t prefer the idea of a sponsor informing me how to do a song … It had actually nothing to do with racism.


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Petula Clark and also Harry Belafonte in a record studio in 1968. Photograph: gab Archive/Redferns“That was the finest take. That was the means that the tune was supposed to be excellent – with that feeling, the emotion. When it turned into this totality race point – it sounds silly, however I no quite recognize what it to be about.”

Her career decisions were tackled by other people; Clark claims it is “probably true” the she could have benefited indigenous being more involved. Performing in Montreal in 1969, she was heckled for to sing in English and French – she had not been advised the a separatist activity was under way. Distraught, Clark sought advice from john Lennon, who remained in Montreal for a bed-in through Yoko Ono. She recalls turning up at the door of their hotel suite, snivelling, in the middle of a downpour.

Lennon welcomed her warmly. “They to be both tho in their nighties. Ns sat there, dripping water everywhere their bed, and also told them the story. That said: ‘Oh, fuck ’em.’ i said: ‘Thank you, John.’” Lennon to be happy to play therapist, she says. “He was so funny and an extremely philosophical. We had actually a chat around the situation. Did it yes, really matter? ‘This too shall pass.’ That type of stuff. Climate he said: ‘I tell girlfriend what – you need a drink’. I m sorry was really true.”

There to be a group in the following room, among them Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and one of the Smothers brother – “but no drugs”, she adds, firmly. Someone handed her a lyric sheet, and she joined the group in singing “a simple little melody: ‘All we space saying, is provide peace a chance.’ ns don’t think any type of of united state knew we were gift recorded.”

Clark to be a pop artist, never part of the counterculture. “I was on the edge of it fairly often. There supplied to be some parties in LA wherein all you had to perform was go in and that was it, you were stoned native the minute you take it a breath.” She no interested in drugs, feeling “a specific responsibility” to her family. “I touch a little bit of the – it never ever impressed me in ~ all. And I observed too much of the damages it was doing.”


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Clark v Fred Astaire in the film Finian’s Rainbow, 1968. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/ShutterstockOne of Clark’s an excellent friends was Karen Carpenter, who she met in Los Angeles in ~ the 1969 premiere the Goodbye, grandfather Chips, in i beg your pardon Clark starred together Peter O’Toole. The Carpenters, then unsigned, were performing at the afterparty. Impressed, Clark introduced herself and also pointed them out to Herb Alpert, who went on to sign them to A&M. She did no run right into Karen often, however “we had that connection, so that every time we did check out each other, we were close”.

When Clark and also Carpenter – then the 2 “top girls” the the human being of popular music – met Elvis Presley in his dressing room after ~ a show, he angled because that a threesome, she says. “He to be raring to go. Karen was lovely, yet she was sort of innocent. I felt sort of responsible for her, so I acquired her out of there. Then ns looked round, and Elvis was at the door, and also he looked in ~ me, like: ‘I’m walking to gain you one day.’” but he never did, she speak my voice recorder directly. “Some human being think that did. I think he put out the rumour the he did. But he didn’t.”

Any regrets? “I didn’t uncover him that attractive,” she says apparently offhandedly. However when i ask what period of Elvis that was, she jumps in ~ the implication. “Oh, the was as soon as he was at his best! yet he was almost too much.”

After Carpenter died from complications result from anorexia in 1983, Clark paid tribute to her “very dear friend” and also her “strange, tragic end” at the royal Albert Hall. “It to be awful,” she says now. “I remember indigenous the very first time ns met her, I witnessed the different phases that this thing, I can sense the something was going on. She got into the Beverly Hills thing, of being skinny.”

Clark worked in the studio through Richard Carpenter after ~ his sister’s death. “I think he to be still trying to discover someone to change her – he never will. However he to be a tough taskmaster.” She whistles, rolls she eyes. “I think that was most likely the an enig to it. No a many fun, no – but very, very clever.” Clark says she only had actually a “nightmare session” with one producer: Bob Crewe. “He simply wanted to make me sound different.”

The music industry has actually come under a many scrutiny, for sexual harassment and abuse – did she ever feel vulnerable, especially as a young woman? She considers the concern carefully. Women have changed; the civilization has, too. “I’ve come throughout all that stuff, of course.” She pauses because that a long time. “I don’t want to obtain into that,” she says softly, almost to herself. Climate she recaptures her train of thought. “It’s ideal that women need to come out and say what has to be said. It’s tho a human being that’s regulated by men. I think the civilization would be very different if more women to be in power.”

Clark was very first discovered at age nine ~ above It’s all Yours, a BBC display that broadcast children’s messages for the troops. When rehearsal to be interrupted by an wait raid, Clark volunteered to sing to resolve the jittery audience. She found herself top top stage, was standing on a box to reach a big, old-fashioned microphone – the an initial she had ever before sung into, in front of the first orchestra she had ever seen. “I sang, and the orchestra joined in – as with in a movie. That was the beginning, really.”

Billed together “Britain’s Shirley Temple” and also “the to sing Sweetheart”, Clark go on to record numerous songs because that the forces and also toured the UK by train. She recalls resting in the luggage racks together Julie Andrews, three years her senior. “Now, she might really sing,” states Clark. “We’d acquire off the train, perform our tiny things, get back on and go home. It was funny – and not a lot of kids were having fun.”


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Petula Clark together a child, signing autographs for soldiers in 1940. Photograph: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty ImagesVera Lynn was “the Forces’ Sweetheart”, and Clark was your “Little Girl”, representing the children they had left behind. She was a good-luck charm because that the troops, her photo plastered top top tanks. “I was sweet and had a sweet tiny voice – the was all that was inquiry of me, really.” however her education and learning suffered; once she did do it come school, she was bullied for being famous.

Aged about 12, Clark was contracted as an gibbs by the rank Organisation, Britain’s largest film company, and also remained there through her teenage years. She want to be Ingrid Bergman, however there to be no functions for adolescents. She chest to be bound as late as period 16, to safeguard her picture as a kid star in fishing eye socks. “I think i was component of a moment in people’s wartime resides that they want to store precious,” she says. “Me becoming a mrs – castle didn’t desire to check out that.”

But Clark was cultivation up and also wanted come sing more grown-up songs. “And, of course, as quickly as i did anything choose that, we’d acquire letters coming in: ‘We don’t desire Our pet singing about LOVE’. What was I an alleged to sing? The little Shoemaker for ever?” It was a desperately unhappy time – she has said she came close come a malfunction – compounded by her fraught relationship with her father Leslie, that was also her manager and also a irritable actor. “He delighted in the so-called glamour of it, probably an ext than ns did, and also I think he might see me slipping away. It was not easy, because that either that us.”

Clark at some point terminated your relationship, which, she says firmly, was “necessary, yet not easy”. Walk she feel any type of resentment in the direction of him? She is quiet, stops and also starts. “I adored mine father. He to be my idol because that many, many years. This is difficult for me to talk about.” There to be “nothing weird going on”, she adds hurriedly; “but when we parted, it to be very, very painful”.

She was additionally dismayed to find that she to be broke, her finances having actually been tackled for her during her whole career. “That to be a surprise, placed it the way.” however she had two struggle records, v All My heart (1957) and also Alone (1958), and, along with her sister, was able to pull together sufficient for the two of lock to rental a level in London. Now in her mid-20s, Clark was independent for the an initial time in her life – she gained herself a pink sports car, and “several boyfriends”.


Then she to be called across the Channel by her document company, which to be irked the a French singer, Dalida, had had part success extending Clark’s songs. After a successful present at the Olympia theatre in Paris, she was encouraged to record in French by the promise of safety time v the document company’s “gorgeous” PR man, Claude Wolff. “They said: ‘He’ll be acquisition you around.’ Ça readjust tout.”

You knew what girlfriend wanted when you observed it, ns say. “I didn’t recognize I to be going to gain married come him!” she says. “But he was kind of dishy.”

Clark can not speak French, Wolff can not speak English, and also he had an “extremely beautiful” girlfriend (“I couldn’t stand her”). But at the finish of her three weeks in Paris, the night prior to she was due to go ago to London, Wolff came to her hotel. “He said: ‘You come through me’ – dot dot dot.”

After a long-distance love affair in between London and Paris, they chose that she would relocate to Paris, wherein her job was acquisition off. The British press was resentful, accused her of to run away from she past. Clark is adamant: she left England because she want to be with the man she loved. Yet “it to be nice to get away from gift ‘Our Pet’. The good thing around becoming a star in France was they knew nothing about my past. They thought I to be sexy. I assumed that was pretty great!”


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Clark v her husband Claude Wolff in 1966. Photograph: Gamma-Keystone via Getty ImagesHer marital relationship to Wolff to be unusually feminist for the time: “It to be a partnership.” They had actually two daughters and also a son. Clark has talked often through regret about her “mother’s guilt”, believing she tackled neither parenthood nor she career and also she can have – a issue she has actually expressed to she children. “They say: ‘What space you talking about? We had a great time.’” Wolff and nannies shouldered the burden, yet it required compromise all round, she says, personally and professionally. “They weren’t constantly easy choices – and leaving the kids was always traumatic.”

Clark and also Wolff have been married 58 years and continue come live with each other in Geneva – but now lead mainly separate lives. They have actually “drifted apart”, says Clark, gently: “He has his life and I have mine. How have the right to you talk around that? personal relationships are complicated, and it’s very complicated to describe that come the world.”

Is she happy? She sound surprised to it is in asked, stops and also starts with her answer. “Um, yeah. You know, happiness – i actually created a song called Happiness.” She pauses, and also it take away me a moment to realise the she is quoting track lyrics. “It comes and also goes, it’s choose a summer rose, and also we clear up for contentment and also the standing quo – and also suddenly it’s over there again.”

A finish recording that Petula Clark’s 1974 Valentine’s work concert at the imperial Albert Hall will be released later this year.

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This post was amended top top 31 July 2019. An earlier version included a picture of Barbara Hancock in Finian’s Rainbow, miscaptioned as Petula Clark, and also has now been replaced.