Lulu lets loose

A tor­mented child­hood, a near-fa­tal car crash and that fling with Bowie – as she opens up about her tu­mul­tuous life...

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny John­ston

H aving been blessed with just one child – and a son at that – Lulu had heard all the old adages and feared they might be true. ‘You hear the sto­ries, don’t you?’ she says. ‘Es­pe­cially the one about a daugh­ter be­ing yours for life, but only hav­ing a son un­til he finds a wife. When you’ve only had one child, a son, that’s some­thing you worry about. I used to pray, “Please let him marry a girl who gets on with his mum, oth­er­wise I’ll never see him or my grand­chil­dren.”’

Her son Jor­dan, a restau­ra­teur and for­mer actor whose fa­ther is the hair­dresser John Frieda, mar­ried his wife Alana in 2008, and the cou­ple now have two chil­dren. To say that Lulu – or ‘Nanny Lu’, as Bella, seven, and Teddy, four, call her – is a be­sot­ted granny is to put it mildly. But she seems just as smit­ten with her daugh­ter-in-law. ‘My prayers were an­swered!’ she says. ‘When they de­cided to marry, I won the lot­tery.’

She even goes as far as to sug­gest she now has a closer re­la­tion­ship with Alana than she does with Jor­dan. ‘I love my daugh­ter-in-law. I have a great re­la­tion­ship with my son too, but maybe I’d like us to be even closer. He’s very busy so I talk more to Alana.’

Few mother-in-laws could, hand on heart, boast of such close­ness. What’s the se­cret? She laughs: ‘You have to work at it. You have to work at ev­ery­thing. A lot of it’s about know­ing when to let go. That’s a con­stant les­son.’ Then she gives an­other guf­faw at the idea of be­ing pre­sented as some show­biz sage. ‘I don’t have the an­swer to ev­ery­thing be­cause I’m a work in progress my­self. Some­times things aren’t the way you want them. The more I know, the more I re­alise I know noth­ing,’ she says.

What a force of na­ture Lulu is. Now 68, she’s been mar­ried twice, nei­ther time too con­ven­tion­ally. Hus­band No.1 was Bee Gee Mau­rice Gibb; No.2 was John, at the time the king of celebrity coif­feurs. In be­tween there was a jaw-drop­ping fling with David Bowie (who had un­for­get­table thighs, ap­par­ently) and a more re­cent ‘thing’ with Take That star Ja­son Or­ange, who’s 22 years her ju­nior, when she recorded with the band. How to ex­plain all that to the grand­kids?

It comes as a shock, then, to dis­cover that she spent her early life crav­ing con­ven­tion – even if it brought her only heartache. ‘I was pro­grammed to think that the an­swer to life was a white picket fence and three chil­dren, you know, the happy-ever-af­ter. And it’s un­re­al­is­tic.’ She was a woman driven en­tirely – and of­ten dis­as­trously – by her feel­ings, she says. ‘When I was younger I was prob­a­bly com­pletely ruled by my emo­tions. But now that’s not the case be­cause I put so much work into look­ing at my­self ob­jec­tively.’

What a con­tra­dic­tory co­nun­drum Lulu’s life has been. One of the most in­ter­est­ing chap­ters was that fling with Bowie in the Sev­en­ties. It was out­landish at the time. She was the slightly kooky pint-sized Scot­tish singer with the huge voice; he was, well, David Bowie. ‘Has there ever been an odder cou­ple?’ is how she her­self summed it up in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy I Don’t Want To Fight.

‘He was the cool dude and I was just not’

Bowie – struck by her voice and, clearly, more – invited her to record with him at his chateau-based stu­dio in France, lead­ing to the ul­ti­mate pinch-your­self mo­ment. They ended up in bed to­gether, even though he fa­mously told her she could do with los­ing weight. Wasn’t she out­raged? Ap­par­ently not. ‘He wasn’t sug­gest­ing I should lose weight be­cause he fan­cied me more that way,’ she pointed out in her book. ‘It was more a pro­fes­sional ob­ser­va­tion. He was one of the pi­o­neers of the ema­ci­ated, heroin-chic look and he thought it would help my ca­reer. It was typ­i­cal of David.’

He was, she says, ‘to­tally se­duc­tive’, with a ‘mag­netic sort of per­son­al­ity that was in­tox­i­cat­ing to be around. He had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing very sex­u­ally ad­ven­tur­ous, and I’m sure it’s true,’ she wrote. ‘But with me he stayed within fairly nor­mal ter­ri­tory. It wasn’t wild or any­thing like that.’

It must have been flat­ter­ing to be sin­gled out by Bowie as worthy of at­ten­tion? ‘Oh it was,’ she says to­day. ‘A thou­sand mil­lion times. I was not cool and he was cool, so I was un­be­liev­ably flat­tered. He was the cool dude, and I was just not.’ Did the re­la­tion­ship have long-last­ing ef­fects on her con­fi­dence, per­haps? ‘Did it change my life and I then be­came some­thing else?’ she pon­ders. ‘I think it in­flu­enced my life. But then I mar­ried John Frieda. I didn’t stick around with David Bowie.’

Pre­sum­ably Bowie didn’t fea­ture in her picket-fence fairy­tale fu­ture? Or did he? ‘Was I look­ing to marry David Bowie to have chil­dren with him?’ she says, with some in­credulity. ‘No. That never even en­tered the frame.’

One of the most strik­ing things about our chat to­day is how much she re­turns to the theme of hav­ing been quite a ‘con­ven­tional, con­ser­va­tive’ sort of per­son, even when she’s laugh­ing away about her af­fair with Bowie. You might think some­one like Lulu, whose life has taken the clas­sic rags-to-riches tra­jec­tory (all the way from the ten­e­ment home in Glas­gow to the lav­ish LA life­style).

We’re here be­cause she’s lay­ing bare her life in a new project where she opens up about be­ing a Bri­tish icon for a Vaux­hall cars pro­mo­tion. With a nod to the Car­pool Karaoke seg­ment from James Cor­den’s Late Late Show, it fea­tures celebri­ties driv­ing around places that are spe­cial to them and rem­i­nisc­ing about their early lives, and Lulu re­turned to Glas­gow. You’d think she’d have had her fair share of flashy mo­tors, but sur­pris­ingly she re­veals

she’d al­ways choose a saloon over a sports car. ‘I’ve al­ways been a bit con­ser­va­tive that way, I al­ways wanted some­thing safe.’

Her de­sire for safety might be down to the fact she al­most died in a car ac­ci­dent in 1979 (she sev­ered an artery in her head and smashed a knee in the crash af­ter a gig), but she points out that was nearly 40 years ago, and she hadn’t been a fan of fast cars even be­fore that. Her first car – bought be­fore she’d even passed her test – was a lowly Re­nault.

But ob­vi­ously such a trauma as the crash didn’t help. Even to­day, she’s off to the os­teopath af­ter we chat. ‘It’s a re­cur­ring prob­lem with my knee and lower back, but it also af­fects my neck and then my jaw,’ she says. ‘If you’ve been jarred or bashed about it’s very hard for you to heal be­cause the mus­cles have a mem­ory and you will tend to lean in a cer­tain way to stop any dis­com­fort – which cre­ates an­other dis­com­fort.’

It seems that although she’s still charg­ing about on stage like Mick Jag­ger, this is only be­cause of care­ful treat­ment. A stint on Strictly didn’t help her knee prob­lems, and she can no longer ski. So is she by na­ture con­ser­va­tive and safe, or one for liv­ing on the edge? In truth you can see both sides of her. The fun, feisty, devil-may-care Lulu runs along­side a darker char­ac­ter. She can be quite the diva. At sev­eral points during our in­ter­view she’s down­right dif­fi­cult, mak­ing sweep­ing ref­er­ences to her trou­bled child­hood (she would fre­quently watch her fa­ther beat­ing up her mother) but be­rat­ing me for re­fer­ring back to her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy for the de­tail (‘I wouldn’t go by that,’ she snaps, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, when I quote her own anec­dotes back to her).

She ad­mits she’s a mass of con­tra­dic­tions. ‘I have a nat­u­ral propen­sity to be... what’s the word, not ir­ri­ta­ble, more kind of restless,’ she says at one point. Doubt­less this con­clu­sion has been born of many, many years of ther­apy, and she does at times sound like a self­help man­ual. She talks about hav­ing post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der. ‘I can be quite fran­tic.’ Where does she think this comes from? ‘Be­cause of my past. You grow up anx­ious be­cause of sit­u­a­tions. My child­hood, my na­ture, all mushed to­gether. I’m just a very anx­ious per­son. I have a nat­u­ral ten­dency to tip over the edge.’

In­ter­est­ingly, she feels her per­son­al­ity isn’t nec­es­sar­ily suited to be­ing in the volatile mu­sic in­dus­try. Quite the op­po­site, in fact. ‘If you’re in the mu­sic in­dus­try you’re a gam­bler, and I never gam­ble. Maybe be­cause I had the type of child­hood where I had to go to the pawn shop with my mother’s ring. We didn’t know whether money was com­ing in. I grew up want­ing to feel se­cure.’ Which is some­thing you can never do in show­biz? ‘Ex­actly!’ she says. ‘It’s not se­cure. It’s the

‘I have a ten­dency to tip over the edge’

last thing you would choose. But some­times it’s your destiny too.’

The young Lulu – born Marie McDon­ald McLaugh­lin Lawrie – was per­form­ing on stage at the age of 12, a fe­ro­cious and pre­co­cious tal­ent. By 15 she’d been signed to Decca Records and had moved away from home to live with her man­ager’s fam­ily in Lon­don. By 16 she was be­ing asked, by Eric Clap­ton no less, what she was do­ing that evening. She jokes she’d be able to think of a bet­ter an­swer these days. Her mother went to pieces af­ter she left. ‘I was a child. None of us had any idea what would hap­pen.’ Would she sanc­tion such a thing with her grand­chil­dren? ‘No way!’ Ob­vi­ously the story of her early days in show­biz – hang­ing out with The Bea­tles, who saw her as a lit­tle sis­ter, and tak­ing ca­reer ad­vice from Frank Si­na­tra – is the stuff of leg­end. Less clear is how she emerged from this era seem­ingly in­tact.

Why did she never go over the edge? ‘Maybe I’m just lucky.’ But maybe it’s not that sim­ple. She cites the early in­flu­ence of her man­ager Mar­ion Massey, who in­sisted Lulu stay with Mar­ion’s mother when she moved to Lon­don. Mar­ion had been an opera singer be­fore find­ing her way into the pop scene. ‘Maybe if I’d been with a younger man­ager who just looked af­ter rock ’n’ roll bands I’d have been in­flu­enced dif­fer­ently,’ says Lulu. ‘I know I have a kind of com­mon sense too.’

Cru­cially, she never got into the drug scene, which seems to have been her sav­ing grace. How­ever, she did en­counter the world of rock ’n’roll ex­cess through her mar­riage to Mau­rice Gibb, whose heavy drink­ing was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in their even­tual break-up. Sim­i­larly, Lulu and Bowie were head­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, she says.

There have been equally eye­brow-rais­ing re­la­tion­ships since, though. While record­ing with Take That she en­joyed a very brief fling (she’s since called it a ‘lit­tle flir­ta­tion’) with Ja­son Or­ange. Is she sin­gle now? She cuts off that line of con­ver­sa­tion, say­ing it’s ‘not what I want to talk about’. She will con­fess to a re­cent crush, though, ad­mit­ting that her ideal man is none other than Barack Obama. ‘I want to meet him. It’s not that I want to take him away from his wife. I just think he’s fab­u­lous. I’ve al­ways had a crush on him. He’s just an amaz­ing per­son. I like the way he thinks. He’s un­real.’

Ob­vi­ously 2016 was a sober­ing year for any­one in the mu­sic in­dus­try, see­ing so many leg­ends die. Bowie passed away just over a year ago, leav­ing Lulu reel­ing. She didn’t know he was ill and they hadn’t been in touch for years. ‘It’s so shock­ing when peo­ple like Bowie just die like that. George Michael just died like that – no warn­ing.’

Does the loss of con­tem­po­raries make some­one like her con­sider their own mor­tal­ity? She con­sid­ers the ques­tion. ‘I wouldn’t say peo­ple dy­ing puts the fear of God into me; what it puts into me is the sense of un­be­liev­able grat­i­tude for what I have,’ she says. ‘When you get to my age it’s not about sit­ting in fear. It’s about be­ing grate­ful and en­joy­ing the present.’

She’ll be back on the road later in the year, get­ting a sec­ond wind, it seems. She talks of how, when she did re­turn to live per­form­ing a few years ago, she was ter­ri­fied that she wouldn’t be able to sell tick­ets af­ter not tour­ing for a while – es­pe­cially in a mu­sic in­dus­try that ev­ery­one knows is a young per­son’s game. ‘Three years ago I did my first solo tour in about eight years. There was a lot of worry and an­tic­i­pa­tion. Were peo­ple go­ing to come? Was I go­ing to sell tick­ets? But it sold out, so we did an­other last year, and now we’re go­ing to do it again.’

Af­ter the UK leg in Oc­to­ber, she’s head­ing State­side too. ‘I’ve never toured Amer­ica be­fore, so I’m ex­cited. I’m play­ing a lit­tle bit of rock ’n’roll, a bit of soul, a bit of pop. It’s kind of a pot­pourri. We’ve ac­tu­ally had to add dates to the tour be­cause there’s de­mand for an old fart like me,’ she says, only halfjok­ingly. ‘I never want to sit still.’

Lulu at work in the stu­dio and (left) with David Bowie in 1973

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