Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 17:05 UK
Dame Shirley's secrets of success
Dame Shirley Bassey

Dame Shirley Bassey reveals some of the secrets that have kept her at the pinnacle of showbusiness for over 50 years in a rare interview for the BBC.

Music journalist Paul Sexton's encounter with the singer is the basis of a four-part series for BBC Radio 2.

The Cardiff singer reminisces about rubbing shoulders with everyone from President John F Kennedy to Elvis Presley and comedians Morecambe & Wise.

Bassey! begins on Friday 9 October at 1900 BST on BBC Radio 2.

In the opening programme, Dame Shirley talks candidly about growing up in a mixed-race family in impoverished wartime and post-war Tiger Bay in the heart of Cardiff's docklands.

She recalls how her mother said that as a child Shirley would often sing instead of crying and how her siblings didn't appreciate her constant vocalising around the house.

Dame Shirley also revealed that it wasn't even her first career choice.

"I never wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a model, because I only ever had hand-me-downs," she said, remembering how she would wear her elder sisters' clothes.

From humble early public performances in working men's clubs, Dame Shirley discusses the determination that would take her into the charts for the first time in early 1957, just a few weeks out of her teens.

Shirley Bassey at Glastonbury
An appearance at Glastonbury Festival in 2007 boosted Dame Shirley's youth appeal

That drive was to bring her nine top ten singles and many hit albums within a few years, as she established a reputation as one of Britain's greatest live entertainers.

The documentary includes memories from those who've worked with the singer from early times to present days, such as Jimmy Tarbuck, Des O'Connor, Chris Rea, songwriter Don Black, and Shirley Eaton, the actress painted gold for the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Sexton said the fact that he'd previously interviewed Dame Shirley helped him secure the interview that she'd refused to grant others.

"She was very open to any area of conversation and was just tremendous fun," he adds.

"She clearly does still feel that she's the girl from Tiger Bay for all her international worldwide status," he added.

"She doesn't like the word diva but I'm sure she's capable of having her moments, as Jimmy Tarbuck said in my interview with him ... but for the most part she is just fun to be around and has a wicked sense of humour and a really infectious laugh.

Many of the artists who've written new material for Bassey also contribute, including Gary Barlow, Neil Tennant and Richard Hawley, along with David Arnold, producer of the singer's latest album The Performance.

Dame Shirley was recently named as one of the highlights of the 2009 BBC Electric Proms, performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra to mark her 50 years of showbusiness success.

The show at the Roundhouse, north London, on 23 October will be her only live concert of 2009.

Sexton believes the album and showcase concert could mark a significant stage in Dame Shirley's career if not its closing chapter.

"The way she's looking at this album .. she's certainly not saying this is definitely it, but she's so delighted at how it's turned out that she feels it would be quite hard to top ... that may even apply to the Electric Proms," he says.

"The one thing we're not going to see is a Shirley Bassey tour - I think those days are definitely behind her.

"I would be surprised and disappointed if that was it from a live point of view - I think there may well be other future set-piece one-off big events from her."

Bassey! begins on Friday 9 October at 1900 BST on BBC Radio 2 - more about the series




SEE ALSO
Electric Proms for classy Bassey
22 Oct 09 |  Music
In pictures: Dame Shirley Bassey
07 Oct 09 |  Music
Interviewing Dame Shirley Bassey
07 Oct 09 |  Music
Manics pen track for Dame Shirley
07 Sep 09 |  Entertainment
Bad weather grounds Dame Shirley
25 Jun 07 |  England
Bassey confirmed for Glastonbury
27 Mar 07 |  Entertainment

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