Petula Clark Biography
Petula Clark, CBE (born November 15, 1932), is an English singer, actress and composer, best known for her upbeat popular international hits of the 1960s. With nearly 70 million recordings sold worldwide, she is the most successful British female solo recording artist to date. She also holds the distinction of having the longest span on the international pop charts of any artist—51 years—from 1954, when "The Little Shoemaker" made the UK Top Twenty, through 2005, when her CD "L'essentiel - 20 Succès Inoubliables" charted in Belgium.
She was christened Petula Sally Olwen Clark in Epsom, Surrey. Her father, Leslie Clark, coined her first name, jokingly alleging it was a combination of the names of two former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla. As a child, she sang in the church choir; her first public performances were in a department store in suburban London, where she sang with an orchestra in the entrance hall for sweets and a gold wristwatch. In October 1942, she made her radio debut while attending a BBC broadcast with her father, hoping to send a message to an uncle stationed overseas. During an air raid, the producer requested that someone perform to settle the jittery audience, and Clark volunteered a rendition of "Mighty Lak a Rose" to an enthusiastic response in the theater. She then repeated her performance for the broadcast audience, launching a series of some 500 appearances in programs designed to entertain the troops. In addition to her radio work, Clark frequently toured the UK with fellow child performer Julie Andrews. She became known as "Britain's Shirley Temple" and was considered a mascot by both the RAF and the United States Army, whose troops plastered her photos on their tanks for good luck as they advanced into battle.
In 1958, Clark was invited to appear at the famed Olympia in Paris where, despite her misgivings, she was received with great acclaim. The following day she was summoned to the offices of Vogue Records to discuss a contract. It was there that she first met publicist Claude Woolf, to whom she was immediately attracted, and when told he would work with her if she signed with the label, she immediately agreed. Her initial French recordings were huge successes, and in 1960, she embarked on a concert tour of France and Belgium with French star Sacha Distel, who remained a close friend until his death in 2004. Gradually she moved further into the continent, recording in German, French, Italian and Spanish, and firmly establishing herself as a multi-lingual performer.
In June 1961, Clark married Woolf, first in a civil ceremony in Paris, then a religious one in her native England. Desiring to escape the strictures of child stardom imposed upon her by the British public, and anxious to escape the influence of her Svengali-like father, she relocated to France, where she and Woolf had two daughters in quick succession, Barbara Michelle and Katherine Natalie, and later a son, Patrick, who was born in 1972. While she focused on her new career in France, she continued to achieve hit records in the UK into the early 1960s, thus developing a parallel career on both sides of the Channel. Her recording of "Sailor" became her first #1 hit in the UK in 1961, while such follow-up recordings as "Romeo" and "My Friend the Sea" landed her in the British Top Ten later that year. In France, "Ya Ya Twist" (a cover of the Lee Dorsey rhythm and blues song, "Ya Ya") and "Chariot" (the original version of "I Will Follow Him") became smash hits in 1962, while German and Italian versions of her English and French recordings charted, as well. Her recordings of several Serge Gainsbourg songs were also big sellers.
In 1963 and '64, Clark's British career foundered. Composer/arranger Tony Hatch, who had been assisting her with her work for both Vogue in France and Pye Records in the UK, flew to Paris with new material he hoped would interest her, but she found none of it appealing. Desperate, he played for her a few chords of an incomplete song that had been inspired by a recent first trip to New York City, which he intended to present to The Drifters. Upon hearing the music, Clark told him that if he could write lyrics as good as the melody, she wanted to record the tune as her next single. Thus "Downtown" came into being.
NOTE: Although Petula Clark released her first single in 1949, her first chart record was not until 1954, since the first UK pop singles chart was not published until 1952.