I find it hard to remember life before Petula Clark, although as a post-war baby of 1951 vintage, my years were not those of Romeo or Sailor or The Huggets.
Through the years I have seen her films and have heard her sing on many stages in concert and starring in the West End in The Sound of Music, Sunset Boulevard and Blood Brothers. She still tours all over the world and recently had a sell-out season at Feinsteins in New York. When I last heard her live on stage in Paris, the magic was still there.
Petula Clark at 80 - voice, stamina, looks all still very much present
I spoke to her recently about her new album Lost In You. I met her for half an hour in a quiet haven amid the bustle of Sony Records Headquarters in central London. At 80 years old and with 68 million record sales to her credit, her voice, stamina, beauty are all intact - but what keeps her going? "Passion," she says emphatically.
"I feel passionately about music, not just my music; I love going to the opera, I love jazz. Music is of course extremely important to me. The business of communication with people, on stage. But is that what makes me tick? It's a kind of passion it's a kind of flame, but that's not a very good answer."
A new sound from Petula Clark... prepare to be surprised...
So, to the new album... "It's now, it's nothing to do with what I've done in the past. We're not trying to recreate anything I've done... We didn't say, lets try and recapture something from the past and we didn't say lets try and do something contemporary."
One of tracks I like the best on the new album is 'Lost in You'. She agrees... "well we all loved that song... "
It's a studio album, but not far from home, as she explains. "[The] studio is at the bottom of the garden. It's one of those lovely English gardens with roses and birds and a cat. At the bottom of the garden is a Wendy House. Step inside and you're in a studio."
"...sometimes you can be in the most amazing studio with everything you can possibly need and it doesn't work. This worked. Inspired? I don't know. I was inspired by the whole thing."
I asked her how conscious she was of her fan base and how much of the album has been aimed at those of us who feel we know her songs well? Had there been a deliberate effort to make fans of younger people, or the un-Petula Clarke'd?!"
"I'm very conscious indeed of my fans but as to appealing to new fans,
that sounds as if it's very planned," she ponders. "To be perfectly honest it's totally organic. We just chose songs that we liked and they turned out the way they turned out. There wasn't any 'let's do something to keep the fans happy' or 'lets do something to be modern'. I swear to you it wasn't."
Clark is one of our treasured bridges to music past, and there are tributes on this album to John Lennon and Elvis Presley (with 'Imagine' and 'Love Me Tender'), both of whom she knew personally...
"I met John in Montreal... he was doing a bed-in with Yoko. I was having a bit of a problem because when I first went to Montreal it was as a French artist, totally in French... then, a few years later I had had a number of hits with 'Downtown' and others in the States and this time they asked me to go back to Montreal singing in a much bigger theatre and I thought, 'well great, I can do a bi-lingual show'. Wrong! It was the time of Quebec libre and the English weren't happy when I sang in French and the French weren't happy when I sang in English.
"It was really hard and I was very upset. I knew John was in town, I didn't know him. I knew where he was staying, went over there, no security. I walk into his room and there they were sat in bed. I told him my sorry story, and had a little bit of a weep and he put his arm around me and said some very wise things to me, including something rather rude which I can't tell you. He said 'you need a glass of wine'. I went into the suite, and they were recording 'Give Peace A Chance' so, actually, I'm on the record, that was kind of nice."
As for Elvis, theirs was less of a musical collaboration, more of a social one.
"I was out with Karen Carpenter, we were in Vegas. I must have had a night off, and she was in town and we said 'Let's go out on the town, a girlie night out.' Neither of us knew Elvis, or had seen him perform. He had just come back and he was very excited about us being in the audience and he invited us back to his dressing room and he was impressed with us, lets put it that way."
It gets better...
"Well, you know, it was Elvis, Karen and me. Karen and I were the biggest female artists in the world and he had some ideas about how the evening should end!
It was getting very sort of flirty indeed and Karen, bless her, was charming but she was a bit naive so I decided to be Mary Poppins or something, I said 'We have to go, you've got that thing in the morning' and she said 'What thing?' and I said 'We have to go! Thank you Elvis.' He watched us leave and he was laughing, he thought it was very charming. I met him a couple of times after that and he never forgot that."
The album contains a variety of styles in the choice of songs - including a haunting version of George Gershwin's He Loves She Loves, and some country and western influences in 'Enough'. But even fans not au fait with the broad Clark portfolio will recognise the words of 'Downtown', her most enduring hit since she recorded it in 1964.
They shouldn't worry if they don't recognise it straight away. Apparently, the songstress didn't herself...
"I'd said no to including it, and went to Paris... when I got back to the Wendy house, my manager John played me the track. I said 'That is beautiful, what is it?' and he said 'It's Downtown.' I didn't recognise it at all, I was mystified by it.
"Then I stepped up to the microphone and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to sing it. Because, you know, I've sung it thousands of times. Because it's slowed down, and it's got a different mood, it's got different chords. It suddenly felt very different. It was almost like singing a new song. I have to say I am very happy that we've done it... it's very interesting and it's really rather beautiful"
I asked her about her busy work schedules, which still include giving performances all over the world, and if there's any prospect of slowing down...
"I adore travelling. I actually enjoy touring. Performers say that that touring is exhausting, I suppose it is, but for me it's interesting and singing in different theatres; there's a different vibe in every theatre. Audiences are different everywhere. Of course the actual physical thing of traveling is quite tiring but it's so worthwhile. Our children travelled quite a lot with us, it's part of their education. They are the way they are because they've seen so much."
Perhaps, with so much travelling, it must be hard to know where she feels that she really belongs. Where are her roots?
"I don't think I have any roots actually."
"So your roots are your music?"
"Yes. I know it sounds a bit corny."
Not at all.
Lost In You is available now, through Sony Music. Here's the title track...