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Saturday, October 2, 1999 Published at 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK


Tragic Zavaroni ruined by illness

Zavaroni went from a council house in Scotland to LA glamour

Lena Zavaroni's 22-year battle with anorexia took the child star from performances for the Queen and a US president to a court charge of stealing a 50p packet of jelly.

She made her mark in the 1970s as a nine-year-old girl with a huge voice who became famous after winning the talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1974 for a record five weeks in a row.

That unprecedented success led her to perform in front of the Queen at a Royal Variety performance.

[ image: Lena Zavaroni battled anorexia for many years]
Lena Zavaroni battled anorexia for many years
Her most famous song was Ma, He's Making eyes at Me.

She grew up in a council house on the Isle of Bute, off the Scottish west coast, and went on to appear alongside Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli at a charity concert in Los Angeles.

Zavaroni also sang for President Gerald Ford at the White House.

She went to the Italia Conte stage school in London where her friends included fellow child star Bonnie Langford.

Talking about the impact of her overnight success she recently said: "Everything changed so quickly. I had never seen lifts or escalators or even traffic lights.

"I went from a council house on an isolated island to a posh hotel in Piccadilly, with shopping trips to Harrods."

Her talent came from her father Victor who was a club singer, but her parents split after she hit the big time.

[ image: Bonnie Langford and Lena Zavaroni became friends]
Bonnie Langford and Lena Zavaroni became friends
The singing sensation, who was just 4ft 10ins tall, battled with the slimming disease anorexia nervosa from the age of 13.

At one point her weight plunged to just four stone.

Recently she explained the root of her illness. "When they tried to fit me into these costumes, they would talk about my weight.

"I kept wondering how they expected me to fit into these dresses. I was a plump little girl and I was also developing into a woman.

"I wanted to be just right for them but I had to go to all these breakfasts, dinners and lunches."

She added: "I only became fanatical about not eating when the pressure got too much. I just wanted to have a nice shape."

Broken marriage

Her career slipped and she retired from showbusiness when she married her one and only boyfriend, businessman Peter Wiltshire in 1989.

She had been introduced to him by her father and was engaged within four months.

The couple settled in north London, but the marriage lasted only 18 months.

[ image: Zavaroni won Oppotunity Knocks five weeks in a row]
Zavaroni won Oppotunity Knocks five weeks in a row
Zavaroni later claimed she had never loved her husband but hoped the experience would make her "grow up".

In 1989 her mother Hilda died of a tranquilliser overdose. Later, a fire destroyed all her showbiz mementoes.

When Zavaroni's marriage broke up, she moved to Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, to be near her father and his second wife Christine.

Once destined to earn millions, she lived in a council flat on state benefits of £48.20.

Earlier this year she was accused of stealing a 50p packet of jelly. The charge was later withdrawn but it illustrated a miserable decline.

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