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Stolen Child

They lived in a then rough part of Cardiff, Tiger Bay, and were so poor they had to sleep three in a bed. Terrible tom-boy. Always climbing trees. And then, in my late teens, I learnt to become more feminine as a way of controlling men. I could be among people and still be alone in my own little world.

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I was a peculiar child. I am a peculiar grown-up.


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I had a great time. Every Thursday there was the factory club: archery, darts, dancing. I was happy until success entered my life, then it was downhill. Success spoilt me. It took away my happiness. There were so many demands put upon me. I will be happy again when I retire.

The success almost never came because at 17, having toured with a review, Memories of Jolson, she became pregnant. Not many people knew about it because I can be very private, just as I can be very public. But I could look after myself. You must never corner a rat because she will go for your throat. I would punch someone out if they had a go at me. I had a reputation in the nightclubs. People learnt not to cross me. And yet, for all the feistiness, she did allow people to get close to her.

She looked for a father figure in men, having not known her own father, and it is telling that both her husbands became her managers. Her first, Kenneth Hume, was 11 years older than her. They married in and divorced in Bassey had a second daughter, Samantha, during that marriage, but tests showed that Hume was not the father. In , when her career was at its height and she became a tax exile, she married an Italian, Sergio Novak.

It was a hour thing. Is the fact that she is still performing, still making herself unhappy after 50 years, tantamount to failure? Long pause.

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I have found happiness in my work but not in my private life. The one takes from the other. I had to take from my private life to make my public life successful. I had to make a lot of sacrifices. In the old days I was doing two shows a night. I would dash off to a nightclub and do a midnight cabaret. I tried again and nothing. It was like a nightmare. I wanted the stage to open up. Her body had been found under Clifton suspension bridge. Does Dame Shirley think the loss of her voice was psychological rather than physical? What about the mental one? I was guilt-ridden. The shock had been too much.

I would start talking about it and they would always interrupt with something that happened to them, as a way of comforting me, I suppose.

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But no one had an equivalent story to mine. My only option was to go to a therapist who I could pay just to listen. I know too many people who get hooked on therapy. After a year she checked in to a health clinic, took on an exercise regime to lose weight and went back to work. But after a while the mountain got closer. The place was getting smaller. Peter Finch [the award-winning actor with whom she had had an affair] told me when he was leaving Switzerland that every morning the mountains were getting that much closer.

It was chilling. It came true for me. One morning they had come closer. Girls can't help but flirt. When you wear your first bra you look down and say, 'Oh, look at these'. Actually I wasn't very well developed at first - slim little thing, no boobs. I didn't really need friends. I could be among people and still be alone in my own little world.

Shirley Bassey - I Am What I Am (2009 Live at Electric Proms)

I was a peculiar child. I am a peculiar grown-up. Eileen doubts her "confident" sister would have described herself as a shrinking violet, but revealed she gets terribly nervous before a show.


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And then I can breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit because she's in control. She's been singing for years and years and still gets that flutter in the pit of her belly before she goes on. I know she wants to retire, but I think she'll find it hard to give up.

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PDF I Used to Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey

I know she's also fed up singing all the songs she's famous for, like Diamonds are Forever and Goldfinger but she won't stop singing them because she knows that's what people want to hear. She also admits that rumours rife in the Press about a lack of closeness between Shirley and her family is "rubbish, just exaggerated". Her sister, Marina, once sold her story to a tabloid, claiming that Shirley had sidelined her family in Wales.

But then I never could. I was just in the way.

Eileen, now 74, sees things quite differently and believes Shirley is close to retiring in a bid to finally fully reconcile with her extended Welsh family.