First and Last: Elaine Paige
- Brian Donaldson
- 8 September 2017
Elaine Paige on the Duchess of Windsor, Dick Whittington and Daphne du Maurier
The singer and radio broadcaster is back on our stages with an In Concert tour in which she sings some of the classics which made her name plus a number of tunes from other contemporary songwriters. Here she takes on our First & Last Q&A.
First record you ever bought
Funnily enough, the concert show I'm doing is based on the music I grew up with – the music that influenced me as a young adult – artists such as Carole King, Bread and the Beatles, as well as songwriters like Harry Nilsson, Bacharach & David and Randy Newman. One of the first albums I bought was Sunshower by Thelma Houston, an album written entirely by the great Jim Webb whose songs I also sing in the show. But the actual first ever record I bought was 'Magic Moments', a 45rpm single by Perry Como for my mum.
Last extravagant purchase you made
It's probably a gown for onstage, for a concert or an event. Due to my diminutive stature, my stage-wear has to be made. I'm very fortunate that designers such as Jacques Azagury, Lindka Cierach, Nadia La Valle and Amanda Wakeley have all designed and made beautiful dresses for me. I've recently been having fittings for my Queen Rat costume for this year's London Palladium pantomime, Dick Whittington; it's being designed and made by Hugh Durrant who is a genius. He's designed for Cher … but I'm not going to be THAT brave!
First film you saw that really moved you
It has to be West Side Story. It inspired me to follow a career in this industry after completing a three-year course at drama school.
Last lie you told
I don't lie. I find it always comes back and bites you on the … bum! Always best to be honest whatever the consequences.
First thing you do when you've got time off work
Lie down and sleep! Actually I either book a holiday or take time out to catch up on the things I can't do when I'm working, like painting, playing tennis, meeting up with pals.
Last great meal you cooked
Well, I wouldn't say it was great, but I do enjoy cooking Thai food, and over the years I've rather mastered a few dishes quite well. I like to do a Pad Thai with chicken and prawns, or a chicken and ginger stir-fry with noodles or fragrant rice.
His name was Mick Eagling at secondary school! Where is now?
Last book you read
The biography That Woman by Anne Sebba, about the life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. The book lets us into the secrets of the darker side of what is commonly referred to as 'the most romantic love story of the 20th century'. It's a fascinating insight into the woman who was at the centre of the abdication crisis of Edward VIII in 1936 and her subsequent banishment from the United Kingdom.
First great piece of advice you were given
In the 60s I was a hippy and always carrying around a copy of the I Ching and when I was first struggling to get a great role in the theatre my father said to me 'remember the saying in the I Ching: "perseverance furthers"'. I've remembered that to this day.
Last time you were star struck
Has to be meeting Roger Federer. He's my tennis hero. Doesn't get better than that!
First thing you'd do if you ran the country
Oh, don't get me started … how many pages have we got? Currently I'm hankering after running Transport for London! No: perhaps best leave this unanswered!
Last meal on earth
Roast lamb dinner with all the trimmings: mint sauce and lots of gravy.
First song you'll sing at karaoke
I'd never sing at karaoke. I find it incredibly difficult just to get up somewhere that isn't a stage or an event and sing. I get embarrassed and I'm quite shy really.
First time you realised you were famous
The morning they announced I was Eva Perón in Evita. Outside my flat were hundreds of paparazzi, film crews and journalists. I couldn't get out. At the time I used to sing doo-wops on other people's albums and was booked for a session that day, but I didn't know how to get out. So I put on a wig, some glasses and made a run for my car. I just made it but as I looked in the rear view mirror I could see them all chasing after me: it was like a scene from a movie.
Last time someone criticised your work
To be honest I wouldn't know. I don't read reviews. I learned that very early on. You can have ten, 15, 20 great reviews for something and one bad one and it's that one bad one that stays with you, and eats away at you. So I don't read any of them. I am, on the other hand, happy to discuss with my friends and colleagues what they think about a concert I'm doing: does a song work? Is it in the right place? I think that is very constructive because it's difficult when you're not sitting watching something to see if its 100% right.
First three words your friends would use to describe you
Funny, generous, kind … and gorgeous. Oh that's four words! Am I allowed four? Surely I'm allowed four …
First concert you ever attended
Billy Joel at Wembley Arena in June 1984. It was in conjunction with his album Innocent Man. I loved that album and still have it. It was a wonderful night, a real showman and such a brilliant songwriter.
Last time you bought someone flowers
Today in fact! I buy flowers all the time. I love them at home and also for friends' birthdays, celebrations, and first nights. My sound engineer got married last week and as I was unable to go but I sent flowers.
First object you'd save from your burning home
I'd probably grab my phone: my diary and schedule are on there. It also has everyone's number on it and I'll need to call someone to ask if I can stay as I'll be homeless. Oh dear what a depressing question! Next!
Last funny thing you saw online
I can't remember the last thing as my friends are always sending me funny pictures, jokes and videos. My favourite I can remember is the baby panda that sneezes and scares its mother: it still makes me giggle.
My mother was a milliner, so I used to work in her hat shop sometimes after school and on a Saturday. But my first proper job was at 16 when I landed the role of an urchin in the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.
First words you spoke
'Curtain up!' Ha ha ha. I don't remember!! Probably 'dada' or 'mama': isn't that most children's first words?
Last crime you committed
What? Really? I've never committed a crime! Well … unless you count smoking grass on the roof of the Shaftesbury Theatre when I was in Hair in the 60s. But I was never arrested.
First book you read for a second time
I love Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and have read it more than twice. It's a classic gothic romance with several spectacular twist and turns. It really draws you in and hooks you as a reader. If you haven't read it, do so: you won't be disappointed.
Last song at your funeral
Something stirring, something that makes everyone leave feeling triumphant. Maybe 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' or 'Onward Christian Soldiers'. I know: what about something from Dreamgirls: 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going'!! Ha ha ha.
First person you'd thank in an award acceptance speech
I'd thank the people who were involved in the production: the producer, the director, the writers, the cast, the team backstage. This business is all about collaboration: there's no 'i' in team! I can't believe I've said that! Ha ha ha. But it's actually true.
Last thing you think of before you go to sleep
Probably what I've got to do tomorrow and what time I need to get up.
First thing you think of when you wake up in the morning
I'm still here! Ha ha ha ha.
Elaine Paige In Concert is on tour from Tue 3 Oct–Sun 26 Nov. Elaine Paige on Sunday, Radio 2, Sun, 1pm.