Dame Shirley Bassey needs no introduction; she is truly one of the Greats of the Entertainment Business whose unwavering appeal spans more than four decades, as many generations and has permeated to the corners of the globe. Dame Shirley belongs quite rightly to a tiny handful of International Artists whose popularity refuses to diminish. Born on 8 January 1937 in Cardiff's docklands known as Tiger Bay, Shirley Veronica Bassey was the youngest of seven children. Her father was a Nigerian seaman and her mother a Yorkshire woman, although they separated when Dame Shirley was just two years old. Her earliest employment was working in the packing department of a local factory, but Dame Shirley supplemented her meagre weekly wage by accepting singing engagements in some of the local men's clubs.
Dame Shirley's break came when the prominent British bandleader Jack Hylton spotted her. She was immediately engaged to appear with Al Read in the 1955 Christmas Show at London's Adelphi Theatre and in his revue 'Such is Life', which ran for a year. Dame Shirley was on her way to stardom, confirmation came in 1957 with her first smash hit the calypso-flavoured Banana Boat Song. This was soon followed by As I Love You and Kiss Me Honey Honey Kiss Me both songs entering the Top 10 at the same time. By 1959 Dame Shirley's unique style and phrasing had begun to emerge. During this period Dame Shirley recorded As Long As He Needs Me, the show-stopping song form Lionel Bart's hit musical Oliver! The single climbed to number two in the charts and had a 30-week stay in the Top 50. She also began her association with Norman Newell, a man who was to play an increasingly important role in her singing career by penning the English lyrics to such Italian ballads as This Is My Life, Never, Never, Never, Natali and Born To Lose, as well as producing the majority of Dame Shirley's Sixties recordings.
She became a regular commuter across the Atlantic where her concert and cabaret appearances were guaranteed sell-outs, and in 1964 her recording of the James Bond theme song Goldfinger became a world-wide hit, selling more than a million copies in the US alone. This was the first of the James Bond movie tracks that Dame Shirley sang, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker followed, helping to establish her as a household name on every continent. In the mid sixties Dame Shirley was at the top of her profession, and she has remained there ever since. Her records were selling in huge quantities around the world while her international concert and cabaret appearances were always guaranteed sell outs. Following in the footsteps of her idol Judy Garland, Dame Shirley's regular headlining appearances at the famous concert venue Carnegie Hall in New York became legendary. Las Vegas, Australia, Europe and the Far East were also demanding Dame Shirley's singing talents, and soon her British fans had to be content with seeing her in the country for just a few weeks every year, due to overseas touring commitments. Dame Shirley's increasing popularity was unstoppable and as if proof were needed she started the 70's with the release of the album Something which became the biggest selling album of her recording career thus far, reaching number five in the charts and enjoying a six month chart run. Both Something album and single were international best sellers and pushed the Bassey recording career into gear.
Dame Shirley's unerring knack of selecting the best material around was very much evident throughout the Seventies, which were particularly fertile years. This era saw her recording top-class material by many leading contemporary songwriters including Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Harry Nilsson, Janis Ian and George Benson, and such noted lyricists as Tim Rice, Don Black, Herbert Kretzmer, and of course Norman Newell Dame Shirley's list of musical achievements is formidable: more than 20 silver discs for sales in Britain, Holland and France, and some fifty-plus gold discs for international record sales making her one of Britain's most successful singing stars. Over a period of some twenty years her records charted for well over 300 weeks. She was named Best Female Singer in TV Times' 1973 awards, and in 1977 she had the tremendous accolade of being named the Best Female Solo Singer in the Last 50 Years of Recorded Music in the Britannia Awards, which was presented by the British recording industry. The American Guild of Variety Artists also named Dame Shirley the Best Female Entertainer for 1976.
Dame Shirley's career has gone from strength to strength and she is still in huge demand by audiences all over the world. A constant traveller Dame Shirley has lived in Switzerland, L.A, Spain and Monte Carlo but has always returned to the U.K. where she maintains a home. Few would dispute however that Dame Shirley is most at home on stage wherever that may be. Dame Shirley is first and foremost a live entertainer; her shows allow her to communicate directly with the audience both vocally and visually. She is a consummate performer whose appearance on stage is guaranteed to leave no one in any doubt of her legendary status. Every show is unique, each nuance of phrasing and expression is unrepeatable making her performance electrifying. The power of Dame Shirley's instantly recognisable voice combined with the passionate delivery of every lyric is only matched by the sheer magnetism of her presence, extravagance of gowns and the professionalism and dedication of more than 40 years refining her art.
Today Dame Shirley Bassey is as busy as ever continuing to thrill audiences and listeners alike. On disc her recent recordings include 'Shirley Bassey Sings the Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber' 1993, 'Shirley Bassey Sings the Movies' 1995, "The Show Must Go On" 1996 and 'The Birthday Concert' 1997 which was nominated for a Grammy. In the year 2000, EMI released a critically acclaimed album of Dame Shirley's classic hits, remixed by the world's finest dance DJ's, called 'Diamonds Are Forever - The Remix Album' and the definitive Greatest Hits CD called 'This is My Life', earning Dame Shirley another gold disc to add to her collection. Within the last few years Dame Shirley has continued her hugely demanding touring schedule, which means that she spends a considerable amount of time circling the globe. At the beginning of 1997 Dame Shirley visited Australia. This hugely successful, sell out tour took in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide to both enormous critical and public acclaim, so much so that she returned in the spring of 2000. Needless to say the tour was a run away success and culminated in two sold out performances at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on the eve of Mardi Gra. Following the enormous success of the TV show 'An Audience With Shirley Bassey', which attracted more than 10 millions viewers in the UK alone, Dame Shirley returned to the television studios to record a T.V. special for her 60th Birthday. She also Dame performed two outdoor extravaganza shows in July 1997. Set in the grounds of the magnificent stately homes of Castle Howard and Althorp Park in the UK these were birthday parties not to be forgotten. Fortunately the shows were recorded for a live album so that fans across the world can continue to celebrate with Dame Shirley.
At the end of 1997 Dame Shirley returned from a sell out tour of America and Canada where the BBC recorded a behind the scenes documentary, which was televised and is available on video entitled "Divas are Forever". Far from resting after touring Dame Shirley had barely landed before she was back in the studio recording a new single and video with the Propellerheads - "History Repeating". This reached number 19 in the British charts and has been hugely successful throughout Europe reaching the top 5 in Spain, Italy and Germany. The single became part of the sound track of that summers' smash hit film comedy "Something About Mary" starring Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillion and went on to be used to launch the new Jaguar model. The Autumn of 1998 was no less hectic with an invitation from the First Lady of Egypt to perform a charity gala at the foot of the Pyramids, an honour last bestowed on Frank Sinatra over 25 years ago. This was a show that will never be repeated and one never to be forgotten, as the blazing sun sunk slowly behind the Sphinx Dame Shirley was undoubtedly Queen of the Nile for an evening. Dame Shirley went straight from Egypt to America to tour California and Florida, another run away success. Then immediately back to England and into a TV studio to record a New Year's Eve Special "Viva Diva". In 1999 Dame Shirley proudly returned to her hometown in order to help celebrate the opening of the new Welsh Parliament. Dame Shirley again returned to Cardiff for the Rugby World Cup, adorned in a Welsh flag, she and Bryn Terfel performed the Rugby World Cup Anthem "World in Union" at the both the opening and closing ceremonies in the newly opened Cardiff Millennium Stadium. In December 2000 Dame Shirley was delighted to unveil her waxwork at Madam Tussauds, a second model is also on display in Las Vegas.
Dame Shirley is no less in demand in the United States, which she continues to tour regularly commanding full houses and critical acclaim where ever she goes. At the beginning of 2000, Dame Shirley returned to Las Vegas after many decades and immediately became the toast of the town. She followed this by dates in Florida, Connecticut, Atlantic City and Boston. The pinnacle of the tour was undoubtedly New York where her biannual appearance defies belief. The highlight of recent years has undoubtedly been Dame Shirley British Tours. In 1996 over 100,000 people attended with a record breaking nine sold out performances in London at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1998 120,000 people saw Dame Shirley live and she smashed her own record in London for the longest run by a solo artist at the Royal Festival Hall with ten sold out shows. The Millennium Tour proved equally successful and included shows in Ireland and a show at the prestigious Hampton Court Festival as well as another ten nights at the Royal Festival Hall. In 2001, Dame Shirley undertook numerous concerts, for amongst others, Dame Elizabeth Taylor's Charity, Amfar; The Duke of Edinburgh's 80th Birthday Celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall; and in the summer - a 7 date tour of some of England's most beautiful Stately Homes. On June 3rd 2002 Dame Shirley was honoured to be asked to perform as part of the Queen's Jubilee Celebrations in the grounds of Buckingham Palace - a very special concert, along side many other high profile artists.
In December 2002, Dame Shirley was proud to participate in BAFTA's 'Tribute to James Bond' for the BBC to coincide with the movies 40th Anniversary. An event bringing together many of the faces and people behind the movies the world loves so much.
Dame Shirley performed a sell out UK tour in June 2003 celebrating an astounding 50 years in show business. Recently, Dame Shirley has been delighted and honoured to be the proud recipient of several distinguished awards including Unesco's Artist for Peace Award and in April of this year, the French government honoured her with a Legion D'Honneur in recognition of her successful career and October 2003 Dame Shirley received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Music Awards in London.
Obviously with such a punishing schedule Dame Shirley maintains an equally tough fitness regime, combining a strict diet with almost daily workouts. The loves of her life though are undoubtedly her family and especially her four grandsons whom she adores and visits as often as possible. When travelling prevents this, the postman is kept very busy delivering cards from all over the world.