Interview: Lulu on Growing Up

She’s been famous for so long, it’s hard to remember a time when Lulu wasn’t a household name. As she embarks on her latest live tour, we focus on the wee Scottish pop star with the big voice

Not many female singers approaching 70 would relish the prospect of performing live every night, but Lulu Kennedy-Cairns (she now goes by her mother’s original surname) admits she ‘couldn’t wait’ to get on the road again this autumn for her latest UK tour.

‘I’m so grateful that I can still go out there and do something like this,’ says the long-established entertainer, who is experiencing a late career renaissance, thanks to her critically acclaimed recent album, Making Life Rhyme.

It’s hardly surprising that she’s enjoying herself. After all, live performance is in her blood, and age has never stopped her doing what she loves. Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie started belting out hits with a local band at the tender age of 12. By the time she was 15, she had a record deal and a hit single with Shout, and had moved from the tough world of the Glasgow tenements to the bright lights of London. 

Fast-forward several decades and, although she’s had her fair share of setbacks and disappointments (the failure of her second marriage to John Frieda was ‘excruciatingly painful’), Lulu still considers herself extremely fortunate. ‘Every day I think, “How lucky am I?” I’ve always thought I was lucky.’ But it’s taken a lot more than luck to sustain a career that’s spanned six decades. So how does she do it?

First, there’s that extraordinary voice, which is as strong as ever, though she takes more care of it than she used to. ‘When I’m on a tour, I don’t speak before 12pm… I warm up my voice intermittently throughout the afternoon, doing gentle exercises.’ She credits her parents, Betty and Eddie, for her love of music. ‘My parents were mad about music. They bought records every Friday, when they got their wages. Whatever was the hit of the moment was on the radiogram. That’s what formed my life, really.’

Then there’s her work ethic. Growing up in poverty concentrates the mind, and Lulu has never been afraid of hard work. She’s reinvented herself many times over the years. As well as having a pop career, she’s been a TV star, actress and DJ, and has a successful range of anti-ageing skincare products. You might also remember her as the face of Freemans catalogue back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. ‘Maybe the kind of family I’m from gave me a certain drive,’ she admits. ‘I had to become a businesswoman.’

Living in the Present

Lulu has grown more reflective over the years, coming to terms with the effects of her childhood. ‘There was a lot of violence,’ she remembers. ‘My mum and dad hammered each other nightly. I never slept properly. I was afraid they would accidentally kill each other. I’ve been afraid my whole life. Afraid of everything. Afraid to reveal myself. Afraid that, if you knew me, if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.

‘I’ve been thrown from pillar to post emotionally. I’ve dealt with demons, sadness… anxiety, anxiety, anxiety. I wasn’t happy.’ 

Being honest about how she feels now – and how she used to feel – is clearly important to her. ‘I’ve done a lot of hard work to change the way I do things. I’m more accepting of myself, warts and all, and more accepting of other people, too.’ 

Age has helped her to put life into perspective. ‘I’ve finally learned how to calm myself down. As you get older, it’s important to take stock. ‘When I was younger, I’d never entertain the idea of changing my mind. I was adamant and rigid. Now I’m not so sure. That’s the lovely thing about growing older. All things are possible.’

Maturity has also brought a new-found confidence as a songwriter. Making Life Rhyme contains several songs she’s co-written. ‘I should have started writing when I was young. That was a big mistake,’ she says. ‘But it feels like it fits so well now. I’ve found a way to deal with the things that have driven me. I’ve always tried not to be vulnerable, and this is allowing me to open up.’

So is the new, laid-back Lulu finding life more enjoyable? It certainly seems so. ‘I’m living more in the present and I’m more aware of what I’ve got. I’m not searching any more. My consciousness and perception have shifted because I’m getting older. I’m finally growing up, I think.’

To Sir with Love turns 50

In October 1967, a film starring the American heartthrob Sidney Poitier (below with Lulu) arrived in British cinemas. 

Poitier played an unemployed engineer who takes a teaching job at a tough inner London school and captures the hearts and minds of his streetwise pupils – one of whom was the fresh-faced young British singer, Lulu, making her film debut. She had only a minor role but impressed director James Clavell so much that he expanded it and gave her the theme song to sing.

Fifty years later, To Sir, with Love is considered one of the best films of the 1960s, holding a special place in many people’s hearts, especially those who saw it as teenagers and fell in love with the handsome leading actor.

As for that title song, it stayed at number one in the US for five weeks, selling more than a million copies and making Lulu – previously unknown there – a star. 

To Sir, with Love was never released as a single in the UK, but it remains of such cultural significance in the US that, in January this year, it was performed on legendary US sketch show, Saturday Night Live, to honour the outgoing president, Barack Obama.

For information on Lulu's tour, go to luluofficial.com

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Image credits: Allstar, David Venni / Chilli Media, Getty Images