It's a long way from the grimy streets of Tiger Bay in Cardiff, Wales, to the courtly, cobblestoned passageways of Buckingham Palace.
But that's the road Shirley Bassey has taken. For her "contributions to the British Empire," the 63-year-old booming-voiced singer made the Queen's annual Honours List in December.
Not with any old title, mind you. Bassey is being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth herself will bestow the title at a glittering ceremony within the next few weeks.
The female equivalent of a knighthood, the honor is about as big a deal as a woman can receive in the U.K. That is all very impressive. But to a lot of folks around the world, Bassey has always been quite a dame.
As part of a visit to the Colonies this week - in what is grandly being called The Millennium Tour - Bassey will play the Taj Mahal on Friday and Saturday nights.
To a generation of moviegoers, she is known for having lent her distinctively strident voice to three James Bond films - 1964's "Goldfinger," 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever" and 1979's "Moonraker." (As it happens, Sean Connery, the original 007, was recently knighted.) Her singing has made her a star around the world. However, it wasn't an easy journey.
Born in Cardiff in 1937, Bassey had to overcome a difficult childhood to emerge from post-World War II Britain as the U.K.'s best female vocalist. Tiger Bay may not have been a slum, but it was a rough-and-tumble working-class neighborhood, with gang fights and other such trouble as daily occurrences.
Bassey knew what she wanted. She was interested in music before she entered her teens, and practiced what would become her profession by mimicking singers she heard on radio and records. But early on, she had to set aside her ambitions in order to work in a factory to help support her family.
In 1953, she landed her first professional gig: a member of the chorus of a touring production of "Memories of Al Jolson." By 1956, she had recorded "Banana Boat Song," and her success was assured.
As the '60s began, her records - including "If You Love Me," "As Long as He Needs Me" from "Oliver," and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from "The Sound of Music" - began to get air time around the world. And a 1961 engagement at the old Persian Room in Manhattan made her a regular on the U.S. cabaret and concert circuit.
As to her date with the queen, it won't be the first time that Elizabeth has paid her homage. Back in '93, Bassey was made a Commander of the British Empire in honor of her 40th anniversary in show business.
"When I was at the palace then, I was overwhelmed by all of the pomp and circumstance, and this time it will be even more special, because my family will be coming with me," says the star.