Petula Clark: 'I have an iron and a bottle of port in my dressing room'

The singer, 83, on overcoming shyness, taking risks, going to dark places and living with fame

Singing can help you overcome shyness. I was about six the first time I did it in public. I stood in the pulpit in front of a congregation in a chapel in Wales. The room had very dark wood; I remember the smell. I sensed that I was able to open myself up with my voice. That hasn’t changed.

It’s in my contract that I have to have an ironing board, an iron and a bottle of port in my dressing room. I like to iron my own clothes before I go on stage – I find it therapeutic. Plus, if anybody’s going to burn them, it’s going to be me.

Fame isn’t something I notice. By the time I was eight, I was a star on the radio. People knew my name. The best part of this business is the music and the communion with the audience – the rest you have to put up with.

I like a certain amount of risk. It’s easy for me to go out and sing “Downtown” – as soon as the audience hears the opening music, they know where they are. But with new songs I have to present them and hopefully make the audience love them as much as I do. I don’t listen to the old records unless I have to.

Being a parent isn’t easy. I’ve had three children and they were all different from the minute they were born – and they still are. I read all the stuff about how to do it, but I think we’re all flying by the seat of our pants.

We’ve got to love each other. We’ve come a long way in race relations, but not far enough. In the middle of the civil rights movement I was on American TV singing an anti-war song with Harry Belafonte – I took hold of his arm because we’d become friends and it was a natural thing to do, but it caused a massive hoo-ha.

I think I must be a loner. I enjoy being on my own. There’s so much madness and noise and too many people, it’s kind of nice to be in your own surroundings and let the world go by.

I can go to the dark place. To cheer myself up I’ll make a phone call to a friend, maybe listen to some music or go to the piano and play. At four o’clock in the morning the neighbours aren’t too keen, though.

Performing is energising. I read that when performers are going for it on stage they use an enormous amount of energy. I seem to have that kind of energy. There are a lot of things I don’t have energy for, like going to the gym or waking up early.

I’ve never been ambitious, so I can’t pinpoint what else I want to do. Frankly, I don’t feel that I’ve achieved much. Things sort of come to me. And if they don’t, that’s fine.

Petula Clark’s new album, From Now On, is released on 16 September (


Candice Pires

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Michael Chabon: ‘I have a socialist approach to my regrets’
The writer, 54, shares his thoughts on grey hair, hard-working marriages, missed funerals and his fantasies about the demise of Donald Trump

Hayley Campbell

15, Jul, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Ethan Hawke: ‘The most romantic thing I’ve done is have sex’
The actor, 47, on being an optimist, avoiding marriage advice and why other people make him anxious

Natalie Evans-Harding

16, Dec, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
John Lydon: ‘Without punk I would have probably become a drug dealer’
The former Sex Pistols and PIL front man, 61, on Brexit, losing his memory and picking his nose

Tim Jonze

25, Mar, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
Dick Van Dyke: 'Someone should have told me to work on my Cockney accent'
The actor, 90, on being married to someone half his age, growing up during the Great Depression and hoping to live to be 100

Candice Pires

17, Dec, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
Nathan Lane: ‘I have played a lot of morally questionable people
The actor, 61, on standing up to Trump, losing friends to Aids and falling apart at his wedding

Ursula Kenny

11, Mar, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
The day I sneaked into The Who’s dressing room
Age 14, John Altman and a pal worked out a way of getting into a Who gig in Margate without tickets

John Altman

31, Jul, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
Ade Adepitan: ‘Sporting success healed my relationship with my dad’
The TV presenter, 44, talks about triumph on the basketball court, and surviving both polio and prejudice

Mark Bailey

11, Nov, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
Irvine Welsh: ‘The white male rage of Begbie is in the culture today’
The Trainspotting author, 58, on the destruction of masculinity, loving Iggy Pop and the terror of hangovers

Tim Jonze

19, Aug, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Isabelle Huppert: ‘I may try yoga one day, but I prefer to sleep’
The French actor, 64, talks about her love of solitude, being too lazy to exercise and trying to be optimistic about human nature

Emma Cook

24, Jun, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Neil Gaiman: ‘There’s no point dressing as a cowboy if it’s just you’
The author, 56, talks about writers’ humility, bygone bestsellers, memory loss, heroes and being exactly famous enough

Hayley Campbell

05, Aug, 2017 @1:00 PM