Petula Clark plugs new album on tour - at grand age of 83.

Petula Clark.
Petula Clark.
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The word ‘icon’ is overused these days, but there is one particular artist for whom the word is really an understatement – Petula Clark.

Born to a Welsh mother who taught her to sing, Petula was appearing on stage before the age of ten and had her own radio series at 11.

She was also a child movie star and began a recoding career whilst in her teens.

In the fifties, the hits began with half a dozen chart hits in that decade.

She scored her first chart-topper, Sailor, in 1961 and throughout the rest of the Sixties she was in the top league of British female singers with such memorable hits like I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love, Downtown (a US chart-topper), Don’t Sleep in the Subway and This is my Song – her second UK number one.

In 1959, Petula had moved to France and married Charles Wolff – who remains her manager to this day.

Other proof of her popularity is that she is the best selling British female recording artist in recording history with over 68 million sales, and she was the first UK female artist to win a Grammy award (in 1964 for Downtown – and not her only Grammy).

Now 83 years old, she is still very active and is releasing a new album ahead of a UK concert tour in October.

Awarded a CBE and many other awards and accolades throughout her career, from her – in her own words - “tiny apartment in Chelsea” she tells me that she keeps them all safe.

“I have a chalet in the French Alps and I keep them all in one room, but I never look at them.

“The Grammys are kind of nice and cute and it’s nice to have the awards but what matters to me is the ‘doing’.”

As regards her CBE she says modestly, “It’s a wonderful thing to have, but it would never occur to me to wear it.”

Having the dual career of singing and acting, I wondered which she preferred.

“That’s a good question,” she said. “I’ve done some ‘straight’ plays, and I mean by that – no singing – and I loved doing that. I think if I had to choose it would be singing, but I prefer not to choose.”

“When I do my concerts there’s a certain element of acting. I act out the song in my head and you must always instil the song with something of yourself.”

A fact that is not a common one is that Petula also writes songs, sometimes under her own name, and sometimes with the pseudonym Al Grant.

“It wasn’t my idea to use the name Al Grant, I think it was to do with publishing. My husband came up with the name – he’s French and he thought the name sounded American.”

Petula’s new album From Now On was released last month. She said: ““I recorded it in a small studio in London. I’d recorded my last album there and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to record there again.”

“It’s at the bottom of the producers’ garden and it looks rather cute, like a Wendy house. It’s the perfect miniature recording studio.”

And the new album?

“Well apart from three covers which include Paul McCartney’s Blackbird and Peggy Lee’s Fever, all the songs are brand new. I also did some writing on it.”

Naturally, for the forthcoming tour, Petula will be showcasing the new album.

“I think I’ll be doing about six or seven from the new album, and then the obvious songs – all the hits. As many as I can get in.”

Then she added: “I’ll also hopefully get some songs in from Sunset Boulevard, which I did on stage and the film Finian’s Rainbow. And I’ll be playing a bit of piano.”

What about favourites?

“There is a song that I enjoy singing more and more, and that’s Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. I always love it and even after all this time it keeps growing on me.”

Backing Petula on stage will be a band of five musicians.

“I’ve worked with orchestras, but nowadays a five-piece band of really great musicians will get all the big sound needed.”

Looking back on a long and varied career makes it difficult for Petula to pick out highlights.

“Oh, there’s just too many to mention, and who knows? There may be another one coming up, you never can tell.”

She added: “I’ve worked with some amazing people and great artists and that’s always exciting. I’ve also learned from some great actors like Peter O’Toole and Fred Astaire. There’s always something to learn.”

The bubbly star who makes a mockery of her birth certificate concluded: “I am actually still learning how to do it. When I go on stage I don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s exciting.”

“I like the element of surprise.”

Petula Clark will be gracing the stage of Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on October 11.

Tickets are priced at £25, £35 and £45 (may be subject to a booking fee) and are available from the box office and all the usual agencies (VIP packages are also available).