Nobody Does It like Shirley
From "The Gig" (about 1973/74)
Portorotondo. Sardinia - The morning sun was hot on my back as I drove from the hotel at this very posh Mediterranean resort to meet Shirley Bassey. As the road wound through the hills, I kept catching glimpses of the bay a most incredible blue, dotted with all sorts of marine conveyances. Included were two huge yachts, one belonging to a Greek shipping magnate, another (even larger than the first) belonging to an American real estate tycoon whose name has become synonymous with his many towns of tract homes.
As I got to Shirley's home I noticed at once that it was tasteful but not huge, well-kept but not ostentatious. The feeling was continued inside where it was sparsely furnished, the walls painted white with simple geometric, abstract paintings on them, a well stocked bar, and many books and magazines strewn about. In fact, when I first arrived, it seemed that everyone in the house was reading; everything from murder mysteries to Italian newspapers to British gothics to soul oriented magazines - a very widely read household indeed. I was immediately struck by the wonderful view of the sea which came up to only about 100 yards away. It was absolutely panoramic and beautiful.
Amid the hellos and the packing for a little trip on Ms. Bassey's boat, there was little time to make more than small talk, let alone to an interview. Once on the boat however, (the boat's name is Topolino - which means little mouse) Shirley and I somehow got a chance to talk and I turned on my tape. I asked her if she accepted the premise that she was an international star, how her audiences differed in all the countries she appears in. She answered quite frankly, as she answered all of the questions I asked, "Well they come to see a show and I give them more, but basically they respond about the same, be it in America or England Or Italy or Australia. You know I've just completed my first Japanese tour and something happened there that had never occured to me - they do not have the custom of giving standing ovations, and after one of my songs, they gave me a five minute ovation, all the while sitting down. I tried everything to make them stop - I moved to the mike, I bowed to the orchestra, I curtsied to the audience, but they saw it as being polite and so they kept it up even more."
"I belong to the show-must-go-on school. I've been in this business too long for it to be any other way with me, and it takes a lot out of me. So in order to fulfill this great responsibility, I try to strike a balance, I try to not always be on, thereby keeping myself together psychologically and physically."
Is that why you like your privacy so much? You are reported to,
"Yes, I give so much on stage, when I'm out there it's just me and them, and give them my all. When I'm out there I have no husband, no kids, no headaches, no personal problems; when I'm offstage, I feel that I deserve to be let alone. Of course, it's nice to be recognised, but it's not nice to be disturbed. Just yesterday for instance, this dreadful mother kept offering me her three-year-old child to kiss. The child was terrified. I was terrified but the mother insisted and so I kissed the poor, frightened thing. My gawd, you would think that I was some kind of madonna or something.
Besides, the more private I am, the more my public gets. It doesn't want to see me as wife or mother or friend. It wants 'Nobody Does It Like Me' and 'Hey Big Spender'. It wants all the sex and the gowns and the glitter. The public wants me bigger than life and by shielding my private life I reamin that way for them."
Does being, as you say, "bigger than life" cause problems for you?
"Yes, in a way, because when aspects of my private life do come out, they are also painted as bigger than life, so that little spats become great arguments and arguments become brawls - rumours become facts. I hate sensational journalism. I think it was John Lennon who said 'Just gimme some truth'. That's all I want."