Today an interview with Dame Shirley Bassey from a Dutch book by Sylvia Tóth when Dame Shirley was rehearsing for a charity concert for the Ronald Mc.Donald Foundation.
The world’s greatest female performer rehearses. The Kurhaus in Scheveningen houses a big star today. That is for all to notice. Maid service covers carefully the tables for the gala. Curious hotel visitors are kept at a distance, security is everywhere. In the hall are only people allowed who professionally have to be there. The Metropole Orchestra 32 men/women, playing under the direction of Michael Alexander, conductor of the singer’s repertoire for the evening. If Shirley Bassey arrives half an hour late, the tension palpable. High heels with tight leggings and a loose sweater, the star makes a resilient impression. She wears glasses, is remarkably slender and much smaller than you might expect. With a cup of coffee in her hand she places herself behind the microphone and immediately starts to sing. Softly at first, but soon, her matchless volume on full blast to hear and I’m wondering how a woman can produce so much power and sound quality. She does not move. With still that cup of coffee in her hand, she sings her first songs. Then she gestures impatiently to the speakers on the left: there’s an echo. Also, she points in averse to the white-yellow flowers that adorn the edge of the stage. She appears to be allergic to the smell. The first problem can be rectified quickly, the second is more difficult. She shrugs and goes on and is unperturbed by her songs. Seemingly tireless, she works a full hour. So you feel anxious wondering whether she should spare her voice a bit. Striking is the musical rapport with her conductor. A word, a gesture is enough. If he stops, she knows why. I am completely under her spell. Many times I saw her at a concert in a style that only seem to fit her, in those glamorous gowns, arms spread. Beautiful hands like birds moving in a smooth line with her body, that with every movement, moves and shows a disciplined life style. She is known for emerging into her last song, the “encore”, wearing a long evening cape, often bringing her audience emotionally into a standing ovation. But this rehearsal, without all those cosmetics, is more impressive to me than the actual concert. The drive for perfection that she exhibits is striking, for example when she sings with the right effect in her voice: ”Impossible to live with you, but I know I could never live without you.” She sings with an almost business-like approach, but I am struck by her vocal dynamics. Just as suddenly as she stood behind it, she runs away from the microphone. Thanks the orchestra, takes her shawl and leaves the stage. When I wish her much success for the show tonight, she thanks me kindly but aloof and says, “Knock on wood. but I know she doesn’t need it. Shirley Bassey knows her craft and is prepared.
The elevator takes me back, without stopping, on the ground floor. I just said goodbye to Shirley Bassey in her hotel suite and because so many contradictory impressions have to be processed, I decide to take stroll. In the fresh breeze, I try to organize my thoughts. I met so many different Shirley Basseys tonight. The girl who seemed pleasantly surprised by a nicely wrapped gift which I put down for her: “Is that for me? Can I open it now? ” The experienced star, who in the beginning of our conversation answered in a kind of automatic way but later gave me a glimpse into her life and her way of working. The ‘Golden Girl’ talked about her Goldfinger period, being the only singer who sang 3 James Bond title songs. But she also showed being a true comrade because of her strikingly good, friendly relationship with Michael Alexander, her musical director. It gave me the impression that they are real buddies, and I grant it her, for she had her portion of loneliness.
Michael came into her room and she introduced me with the words: “Sylvia is writing a book about successful people. He responded quickly: “Oh, Sylvia, I’m in 339 if you need me.” Just in time he closed the door, because she almost angrily threw a pen at his head.
I looked at the running machine in the middle of the room. Even for this short stay, she kept to her training programs.
“I need to feel the fast pace of my heartbeat.” It explains her perfect condition. It brings tears to her eyes when the subject of her children comes up and the way she speaks boldly about her fears, moves me. The first half hour, she lets me sit with her on the couch. But then she said: “It’s hot in here, why don’t you take your coat off?” When we parted, she surprised me with two spontaneous kisses. Later I found myself gently singing the Beatles song: Something in the way she said ….
To listen to this exclusive and exceptional mini concert click the player below. From the Dutch radio program ‘Music all in’.