The Real Kathy Kirby
No Secret Anymore
A biography and memoir by Mark Willerton
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'Best of British' magazine ...
'A fascinating, and at times, brutal account of the star's life.'
Interview with Mark Willerton regarding the book here ...
About the book ....
As Britain’s highest paid female singing star of the 1960s, Kathy Kirby enjoyed a show-business lifestyle with all the trappings of success - a home in Mayfair, mink coats, diamonds and champagne on tap.
Kathy’s story also reveals the other side of the business - what happens when a star fades and falls to earth. Here is the truth behind the headlines; a compelling account of Kathy’s career and enigmatic life which has never been told so frankly.
Kathy, born in 1938 in Chadwell Heath, always wanted to be a star. A seven-year apprenticeship under the watchful eye of renowned bandleader Bert Ambrose finally paid off. During early 1963, Kathy successfully auditioned as a resident female singer for a new TV series, Stars and Garters. She quickly became a household name. At last, Kathy was in the spotlight and she won the public’s affection - proving popular with every age group, from tots to grandparents.
A regular chart contender with hit records including ‘Secret Love’, ‘Dance On’ and ‘Let Me Go Lover’, Kathy was voted Top British Female Singer of 1963-64 in the New Musical Express popularity polls.
Not only could she sing, but she looked delicious too - blonde, curvy and glamorous - the image of Marilyn Monroe. While Dusty Springfield became known for her black panda eye make-up, Kathy was equally recognised for her liberal use of lip gloss, which gave her lips a luscious, shiny look.
In 1964, the BBC offered Kathy her own TV show - the biggest deal to date offered by the corporation to a female singer. She also accepted an invitation to appear in the 1964 Royal Variety Show and the following year represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest - just a few of the many highlights of her career.
Ambrose managing his protégée seemed liked a winning formula. However, in 1966 a misunderstanding with the BBC saw their ‘Golden Girl’ defect to ITV - but the contract fell through. Then, Ambrose severed ties with Decca Records for a bigger deal with EMI. These two decisions proved disastrous and were a prophecy for the future.
When Bert Ambrose died in 1971, Kathy’s career took a downward spiral. It was soon revealed that not only had he been her manager and mentor, but also her ‘secret love’ - despite a forty-two year age gap.
Throughout the 1970s, Kathy Kirby became fodder for every national newspaper, with sensational headlines featuring her name. Stories emerged of her rollercoaster life - celebrity lovers, a knife attack at her flat, a drug overdose, bankruptcy, her admission to a mental hospital, and a lesbian affair. Kathy even fuelled this sensationalist interest by selling her story to various national newspapers. But it didn’t end there. Behind the scenes there were episodes of mental illness, a volatile relationship with her mother, and alcohol abuse.
In 1981 Kathy revived her career, and that latest ‘comeback’ would prove to be her last. “Have I ever been away?” she asked naïvely.
She then slipped into early retirement and more than twenty years passed, during which she was ignored by the music business and media. Faithful fans still held a torch for Kathy, desperate for any word of her - a glimpse of old film footage on a nostalgic television show or a CD release featuring her old hits.
Meanwhile, she became reclusive and steered her life away from the public gaze. Kathy’s flat in a quiet cul-de-sac in Kensington became her sanctuary, where she hid away from the world, rather like ‘Norma Desmond’ - the character portrayed by Gloria Swanson in the film Sunset Boulevard.
The public and even her fans were unaware that Kathy suffered with the debilitating condition schizophrenia. As she lost her glamorous looks, Kathy would see no-one but a handful of friends, whom she relied on for support and to oversee her daily needs.
Then it was discovered that Kathy was the aunt of Lady Claudia Harmsworth, wife of Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail and Associated Newspaper Group.
Suddenly, Kathy Kirby was big news again. Articles began to appear in the press, comparing her bleak, modest lifestyle with that of her rich and influential family. Her sister, Patricia, from whom she had been estranged for thirty years, re-entered her life. Patricia’s eldest daughter, Sarah, who is married to Sir Mark Thatcher, took control of Kathy’s affairs and became her power of attorney. Sarah investigated and uncovered what appeared to be evidence of financial misdemeanours by some of those who had been close to her aunt. As a result, those friends were methodically removed from Kathy’s life.
Mark Willerton enjoyed a thirty-year friendship with Kathy Kirby and, as part of her select inner circle, witnessed events first-hand.
While others walked away - or were pushed - he remained steadfast, until Kathy’s unexpected death in May 2011.
· A book in two parts - a biography (1938-1980) and a memoir (1981-2011).
· Additional commentary by Kathy’s friends, neighbours, contemporaries, songwriters, producers and managers.
· 80 pages of rare colour and black & white photographs - many previously unseen ...
including pictures taken by the author during Kathy’s reclusive years.
· Appendix - Kathy on Television and Radio - by Ian Parkes.
· Discography and values.
A Kindle edition is also now available.
© 2005 - 2012 Mark Willerton