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 (petulafromnowon.com)

Contributor

Candice Pires

The GuardianTramp

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