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Shirley Bassey shows off ageless style as she picks up honour alongside daughter

In Europe
July 09, 2024
Shirley Bassey shows off ageless style as she picks up honour alongside daughter

It is hard to imagine that Dame Shirley Bassey – who has headlined the London Palladium with The Beatles, performed for John F Kennedy and recorded three James Bond theme songs – could be any more celebrated after seven decades in the public eye.

Yet the Welsh singer has spoken of her nerves before being made a Companion of Honour by the King for her services to music, joining members of a club limited to just 65 luminaries who include Sir David Attenborough, JK Rowling and, most recently, Gordon Brown.

She said: “I think it’s more nerve-racking to receive the award from him than to sing in front of him. I mean, it’s new, different, whereas singing I’ve been doing since I was a child.

“I forgot to curtsy, but that’s why I grabbed his hands because I forgot to curtsy. Instinctive.”

A beaming Dame Shirley, defying her 87 years with her striking beauty and sparkling Isabell Kristensen dress, attended the Windsor Castle ceremony with her daughter Sharon, 69, grandson Sebastian, and great-granddaughter Sofia.

Dame Bassey is made a Companion of Honour by King Charles III

Dame Bassey is made a Companion of Honour by King Charles III – Jonathan Brady

Dame Shirley has explained how she maintains her youthful appearance. “I try to eat healthily. I am a gym fanatic. A trainer comes to my apartment in Monaco three times a week. I try to go to the gym three times but make it twice if I am lucky. I feel it when I don’t go,” she said in a 2020 interview.

“I don’t have diet secrets. I just watch what I eat. At weekends I go mad – ice cream, caviar with lots of cream. I have a lot of facials and a lot of body massages. And it’s working. It is worth all the money.”

The smiles on display at Windsor on Tuesday belied the tumultuous family life Bassey has had since being born into abject poverty, but with a remarkable voice, in the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff in 1937.

Shirley is pictured with her husband and family, May 30 1964

Dame Shirley with daughters Sharon and Samantha, and Kenneth Hume, her husband at the time, in 1964 – Mirrorpix

Dame Shirley fell pregnant with Sharon when she was on tour with the Hot from Harlem show, aged 16, and gave birth in September 1954. Such were the mores of the time that she was forced to quit touring and move back to her native Cardiff to work as a waitress. Dame Shirley gave her daughter to her sister, Ella, to raise her as her own until she was nine.

She has never publicly identified Sharon’s father – because she “gets touchy if I mention it” – and we only know that he was Jewish and married with two of his own children when they had the affair. Those details emerged in 1998, when Sharon was in her mid-40s, and Dame Shirley was accused by a former personal assistant of anti-Semitism.

Sharon and her younger sister, Samantha, were eventually adopted by Dame Shirley’s first husband, Sergio Novak, assistant manager of the Excelsior Hotel in Venice. The couple also adopted Mark, Dame Shirley’s grand-nephew.

Dame Shirley and Sharon Bassey in 1957

Dame Shirley and Sharon Bassey in 1957 – Bob Collins/National Portrait Gallery

Samantha’s father has also never been named, though Novak suggested that she was the product of an affair Bassey conducted with the Bafta- and Oscar-winning Anglo-Australian actor Peter Finch.

Samantha, born nine years after Sharon, was found dead in the River Avon near the Clifton suspension bridge in 1985, aged just 21. Although she had been struggling with drink and depression, police suggested the death was an accident, and Dame Shirley has always maintained it wasn’t suicide. In 2010, Avon and Somerset Police started fresh inquiries into the case, but eventually concluded that there was “no evidence of any criminal act involved”.

The shock of her daughter’s death caused Dame Shirley to lose her voice for six months.

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