As she interrogated the audience from the stage of the Royal Albert Hall, during a charity performance attended by Princess Margaret, chanteuse Dusty Springfield was delighted to see that so many in the crowd were clearly her own fans – flamboyant gay and outrageous camp.
With a sly nod to Her Royal Highness, Dusty joked: & # 39; It's nice to see that the royalty is not limited to the box. & # 39; In other words, the place was full of queens.
As Dusty liked to tell the story, Princess Margaret made her dissatisfaction clear at the after-show party. Shaking hands with all the artists, the haughty prince finally arrived at the big star of the night – and ignored her and pulled out.
Dusty Springfield & # 39; s courage and curses are celebrated in a film about her life, at the height of her career and starring Gemma Arterton
Worse still had to come. The next day a typed letter arrived from Kensington Palace with a pre-written apology for Dusty to sign and return.
That was 1978. But Dusty Springfield was never accepted by the establishment. In her music, her sexuality and her wild lifestyle, she defied every convention. Brave open about her series of lesbian love affairs, she was decades ahead of her time.
Now her courage and curses are celebrated in a film about her life, at the height of her career and starring Gemma Arterton.
What even her most avid fans rarely suspected was that hedonism and promiscuity, the diva attitude and drug-driven parties were all an act – set up to overcome her crippling uncertainty.
At the age of 16 in 1955, North London schoolgirl Mary O & # 39; Brien believed she was stupid, boring and destined to be an old girl who worked in a library.
She had the face of a chubby tomboy with short, messy red hair and round NHS glasses. Her battered gym briefs and school tie emphasized how strange and uncomfortable she seemed.
Mary O & # 39; Brien had the face of a plump tomboy with short, mouse-red hair and round NHS glasses
Within the next ten years she would turn into a glorious parody of femininity, with a blonde beehive wig and heavy layers of mascara. She burst into a pop world that had never seen such a reinvention – long before Ziggy Stardust or the androgynous figure of Annie Lennox changed into a suit, Dusty changed herself.
She was born in April 1939, in West Hampstead, to a lively mother who had been a flapper in the 1920s and a father, known to everyone as O.B., who was the parliamentary reporter for the Irish Times. Her parents were constantly arguing – her father was a & # 39; lazy sod & # 39; with & # 39; a lot of anger & # 39 ;, she said later.
Disturbed by the fighting, little Mary began to wound herself, gripping the hot pipes of the radiators until her skin blew and burned. Her inner fear deepened after a measles attack, at the age of seven, left her overweight: & I became fat and terrible. & # 39;
It was an education filled with suppressed emotion, but something happened that neither her parents nor the school could have foreseen: Mary discovered American music.
During a talent show at school to celebrate the feast of Saint Stanislaus, Mary formed a band, played the guitar, and sang American folk songs with two friends. The nuns enjoyed standards such as Scarlet Ribbons, but when the girls performed the ordinary St. Louis Blues, six of the staff walked away in disgust.
Mousy Mary had discovered how she could be herself. She named the creation Dusty Springfield.
Her brother, Tom, four years old, earned a living as a nightclub musician and Dusty started lying around her age to come and drink with him on stage in Chensea and Belgravia. It was a brutal way for a monastic girl to pay her rights as a singer. In 1959, at the age of 20, she was part of a girl group, The Lana Sisters.
A year later she rejoined her brother as the star of a band that bore her name – The Springfields.
When the group broke up three years later, Dusty was determined to shake off her folkloric image. When the Beatles topped the charts in November 1963 with She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah), she released her first solo single I Only Want to Be With.
Dusty was an instant star. She was immediately a diva. Some now acknowledge that she was a woman who stood up for her music in an industry that was overwhelmingly masculine. Others, including her songwriter Clive Westlake, insist to this day that she is just a & # 39; bitch & # 39; and a & # 39; cow & # 39; used to be.
Anyway, no one has ever called Dusty easy to work with. The American singer Julie Felix, Dusty & # 39; s lover in the late 1960s, says: & # 39; She was such a & # 39; n musician. She knew exactly what she wanted. In those days, women were not respected that way. & # 39;
On a talent show at school to celebrate the feast of Saint Stanislaus, Mary formed a band, played the guitar, and sang American folk songs with two friends (photo, age 15)
Her passion for perfection and the habit of being critical of her own work made studio sessions a tough test. She felt claustrophobic in the recording rooms: & It looked like singing in a filled cell. I had to leave. & # 39;
More often than not she ended up in the powder room because the acoustics were good. Her 1968 hit, Close My Eyes And Count To Ten, was recorded at the end of a corridor.
The singing did not come easily either.
After the rhythm track and orchestration were finished, she would gather her courage, the volume levels in her headphones at a & # 39; level of pain & # 39; and then sing. This was how she forced herself to perform at that pitch of excitement.
And while the hits were rolled out – Wishin & # 39; and Hopin & # 39 ;, I just don't know what to do with myself, you don't have to say you love me – she built up a unique following, with many listeners who are much older than the average teeny-pop fan.
An audience for whom she had no appeal was the conventional, the old school. Shockingly, when I just wanted to be with you, the ITV family variation show Sunday Night At The Palladium booked the Beverley Sisters instead to perform the song. It was a joke that Dusty never forgave.
Part of the response to her came from the timbre of her voice. Dusty sounded black.
The same prejudice that the nuns had drained away when she sang St. Louis Blues now counted against her in the pop world. Even her friends didn't always help: in a well-intentioned but clumsy tribute, Cliff Richard lovingly referred her as & # 39; the white negro & # 39 ;.
Dusty is challenging as ever and flew to New York to play 12 nights in an all-star R&B selection, including Martha And The Vandellas and The Temptations. Martha Reeves became one of her best friends and she shared a dressing room with the Ronettes – & # 39; it was warm, like 104 degrees, and all our beehives collided constantly. & # 39;
One night, when she had a sore throat, one of the temptations told her to numb the pain with a dash of vodka. The glass he offered her was 88 percent proof, & # 39; because those guys liked it. I drank it, pinched a few times and five minutes later I went – Yes! This is the answer to life. & # 39;
It was, she swore, the first time she drank alcohol. She was 25.
But she could also burst backstage. On a tour of Australia with Brian Poole And The Tremeloes, she took exception to the number of birthday candles that the boys stuffed on her cake. She laid it on the floor and stomped on it. It didn't pay to mess with Dusty.
After moving to LA, Dusty started a series of lesbian relationships while playing the theatrical diva and surrounded herself with gay male friends
Even members of the public were not safe. In the restaurant at the top of the post office tower, a man called out a snide. Dusty threw a sandwich at him.
But at the height of her fame, she was haunted by low self-esteem. Convinced that her left side was ugly, she insisted that only the right half of her face could be photographed in profile. She refused to be seen without full make-up, even at nine o'clock in the morning she wore wigs that cover up her face at any time of the day.
If she ordered a meal in her room in hotels, she would hide in the bathroom until it was delivered. & # 39; My body was wrong, my face was wrong, & # 39; she said. & # 39; I didn't look like a singer. & # 39;
It didn't help that the press was constantly asking about her love life. She shared a flat in Kensington with her old lover, the artist Norma Tanega, and rumors flew by. Dusty tried to fend them off with vague statements: & I think that marriage, if it happens, is the most desirable state to be in. But to be honest, there are no men with whom I know I could live forever. & # 39;
She decided to tackle the rumors immediately, after a Top Ten hit with Son of A Preacher Man. Her relationship with Tanega fell apart and she considered moving to California to take advantage of the relaxed attitude of the West Coast towards sexuality.
In a 1970 newspaper interview with Ray Connolly, she abandoned her cheerful, family-friendly statements and revealed her controversial side. & # 39; Many people say that I am bent and I have heard it so many times that I have almost learned to accept it. I know I can be moved just as well by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don't understand why I shouldn't do that. & # 39;
It was a bold statement for the era. And it was probably prompted by her affair with Julie Felix. & # 39; Dusty lived in Kensington (with Tanega) and I was on King & # 39; s Road, not far away, & # 39; Felix remembered, a beautiful woman of mixed Mexican and Indian heritage. & # 39; We were both with other women, so our time together was double secret. We were naughty and we loved the intrigue. & # 39;
But the affair had an ugly side. When Dusty once became jealous of Felix & 39's other lover, she hit me. We had drunk some wine and she took Mandrax (a tranquilizer), and I think the combination was bad. & # 39;
After he moved to LA, Dusty started a series of lesbian relationships, playing the theatrical diva and surrounded himself with gay male friends.
She started drinking heavily and taking cocaine: & I wanted more of life, whatever it brought & she said.
Her performances suffered and the standard of locations willing to book her began to slide. Playing clubs that were not interested in her art brought out all her anger and worry. & # 39; I would become so frustrated that I find myself in hotel rooms throwing crockery against the walls. & # 39;
Drugs and drink began to dominate her life. & # 39; I finished it, & # 39; she said. & # 39; It just distorted my life. I felt outdated, with a sense of uselessness. & # 39;
As her depression worsened, she tried to hurt herself and take a knife around her wrist. It would not be her last suicide attempt.
Sometimes when she thought she was in the elevator, she was at her lowest point. One evening, alone at the Continental Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, she called for another bottle of champagne. & # 39; I thought it was good, & # 39; she said, & # 39; I was a lady. & # 39; And the room service waiter said: & # 39; Have you not had enough? & # 39; And I thought, Christ, if he says so. . & # 39;
Dusty surrounded himself with friends whose constant task was to encourage her and keep her in the car. & # 39; It is very easy to stop drinking, to stop taking drugs, & # 39; she said, & # 39; but it's not easy to stay stopped. & # 39;
Gradually people started to see her as an eccentric. In an interview in the early 1980s, she appeared in lilac silk with Dallas-style shoulder pads, with two small kittens. & # 39; Pray, sir, be kind to me, & # 39; she said to the photographer, & # 39; the lady has had a sleepless night. & # 39;
Maybe she was trying to play the star, but she seemed kind of crazy.
It was the Pulp Fiction movie that brought her back to A-list status. A scene with John Travolta and Uma Thurman played on the sound of Son Of A Preacher Man: it helped make the soundtrack album a huge hit in 1994.
That year, Dusty began suffering from a series of infections while recording in Nashville. Back in London, she discovered a deep notch in her chest. Cancer was diagnosed.
To her surprise, she discovered that chemotherapy was pretty bearable. & # 39; I think my body loved the chemicals. I have poisoned it in so many years that it went: & # 39; Yes! Poison! & # 39; & # 39;
Despite a few remissions, the disease was relentless. She died in 1999, six weeks short before her 60th birthday. She received the OBE shortly before her death, but she was too sick to go to Buckingham Palace. Instead, she received the medal at her bedside.
Stuck to her contempt for the foundation until the very end, she commented: “It is a beautiful medal. But why couldn't they have had a better ribbon? It is a bit frayed. & # 39;
At the end, she had earned royal forgiveness. . . as if she cared for her.
- Dusty by Lucy O & # 39; Brien is published by Michael O & # 39; Mara, £ 16.99 © Lucy O & # 39; Brien. To order a copy for £ 13.60, call 0844 571 0640. P&P free for orders over £ 15. Offer valid until September 14, 2019
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