Shirley Bassey / archive photo

Shirley Veronica Bassey, better known simply as Shirley Bassey. She is a glamorous Welsh singer, wearing luxurious jewellery and glittering dresses. Although she rose to fame in the 1950s, she is still performing today. She has recorded three exclusive theme songs for the James Bond films, “Goldfinger”, “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker”.

A difficult childhood

Shirley Bassey was born to a white mother and a Nigerian father on 8 January 1937 in Cardiff, Wales. The singer’s mother had a total of ten children, Shirley being the youngest. Her parents divorced when Bassey was two years old. The father, who mined coal in the engine rooms of ships, was jailed for eight years for repeatedly raping a nine-year-old girl.

The future POP diva had a difficult childhood. First of all, Shirley is mixed race. At the time, mixed-race children were a scandal and very unusual. But Bassey’s most unpleasant memory from her childhood is poverty. “Being mixed race was never my problem. In Cardiff our problem was simpler. Food.” she said.


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Shirley Bassey left school at the age of 14 to work in a steel factory. Everyone noticed her musicality and her strong voice, as the teenager sang everywhere, all the time. Shirley remembers being told to shut up at work and school. Working as a packer at the Curran Steels factory, Shirley used to sing in pubs and clubs in the evenings and at weekends. Although the experience in the pubs was sometimes unpleasant, with harassing and aggressive men, the singer says she was happiest on stage.

Shirley Bassey and David Bowie, another well-known singer, have in common not only the fact that they both boast global music careers, but also the fact that they both performed in the same clubs when they were unknown. David Bowie said that once, when asked where the toilet was in a club, he was pointed to the sink. Of course, the future singer refused, but then he heard from a club worker: “Listen, son, if it was good enough for Shirley Bassey, it’ll be good enough for you.”

First steps towards a career

In 1953, a 16-year-old girl signed her first musical contracts, which included Bassey’s weekly salary of £14. Not bad for a 16-year-old, right? She sang in the musical Jolson and later joined the “Hot from Harlem” project, which led to touring.

  1. Bassey soon gave up the tour as she was pregnant at 16. She never named the father of the child, but she was determined to have her baby. The singer returned to Cardiff, worked as a waitress in her home town and sang whenever she could. Bassey gave birth to a daughter, Sharon, who initially lied and said it was her sister’s daughter. After the birth of her first-born, Shirley had lost all hope and thought that her career as a singer was over.

Six months later, Bassey was invited to perform in Jersey. Her mother was always supportive and encouraged her daughter not to miss this opportunity. Later, the singer was invited to perform in the ” Such Is Life” stage show at the Adelphi Theatre, thus taking the West End stage.

At the age of 19, she recorded her first single Burn My Candle in 1956. At the time, BBC Radio banned and did not broadcast the recording because radio bosses considered it too ambiguous and the lyrics included the word ‘sex’. “I think they purposely didn’t tell me what the song was about so that I could give it that innocence,” the singer said. One can compare how the music industry has changed since the 1960s, when ambiguous songs with censored words were commonplace.


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Born to Sing the Blues was Shirley Bassey’s first album. The single “Banana Boat Song” reached number 8 in the UK singles chart. Her next albums were The Bewitching Miss Bassey, which consisted of new and older recordings, and The Fabulous Shirley Bassey. These two albums were released in one year. Shirley Bassey has released a total of seventy albums during her singing career.

Despite her success and her distinctive voice, Shirley Bassey has never studied music or had singing lessons. She has said that she cannot read music. The global star said that growing up in Cardiff she did not plan a career in show business. She planned to be a stewardess, a model or even a nurse, but when she saw the blood she realized that was not the path for her.

In the whirlpool of love

The singer surprised many when she announced her wedding to director Kenneth Hume, who was her manager. More surprising was the fact that the groom was homosexual. Bassey was convinced that she could change her husband’s sexual orientation. Shirley became pregnant for the second time, and her husband, Mr Hume, was furious because the couple did not live together and it was clear that he was not the father. In 1963, Shirley Bassey gave birth to her second daughter Samantha. Although unconfirmed, it is believed to have been the result of an affair between the singer and actor Peter Finch. Sadly, Samantha Bassey was found drowned dead in the River Avon at the age of 21. Shirley Bassey claims it was not a suicide.

Shirley Bassey had met love many times in her life. She remarried an Italian, Sergio Novak, her manager, with whom she adopted a baby boy, Mark, the singer’s nephew. The couple were together for 13 years before they announced their divorce. Shirley had a new boyfriend. The singer says her partners liked what they saw on stage and just wanted a trophy.

Shirley’s relationship with her adopted son Mark was not the best. He felt neglected by Shirley Bassey’s constant touring and absence from his life. Mark told his story to a tabloid magazine and this greatly damaged the singer’s reputation. The singer became notorious as an unreliable mother who loved drinking and the company of men. Bassey’s sister also contributed to the story and said that Shirley had completely forgotten and abandoned her family.

Shirley Bassey cemented her status as a pop star by recording the theme song of the James Bond film “Goldfinger”. She re-recorded the song in 2014, restoring the original orchestration. Bassey acknowledged that there were two wrong notes in the original version and was happy to have the opportunity to re-record the song. Shirley Bassey is the only artist who has recorded more than one song for the James Bond films. She has also sung the theme songs “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker”.

At the age of 20, the singer received a frightening and threatening declaration of love. Shirley was imprisoned in her hotel room for two hours. An armed man burst into the room and declared that he loved the singer and that if he couldn’t have Shirley, then no one else would have her either. It was the worst two hours of the singer’s life, although everything ended happily and the intruder was arrested.

Bassey became famous for her covers of songs written by others. She has never written songs herself and has shown no desire to express her feelings in her work. She once hinted that she does not write poetry, does not keep a diary and will never write anything intimate, not even in love letters. However, in 2009, listeners were treated to an album of songs written by the singer.

The crazy side of Shirley Bassey

Celebrating her 25th year in the music and entertainment business, Bassey had a little too much champagne. She pushed away a policeman who was trying to calm her down because Shirley was showing up drunk in public and calling others disrespectful names. The singer was arrested for this, but this did not stop her glittering lifestyle: she was later photographed at a Glamorgan charity event, where she gave a peck on the cheek to Prince Charles, while Shirley Bassey was only appearing at the event for bail.

Bassey was sued by her former personal assistant for getting angry, hitting her assistant and speaking to her in a judgmental and insolent manner. “I didn’t hit her, I just pushed her. I told her on the way out that she was a pampered Jewish princess, I didn’t call her anything else.” said Shirley Bassey. In the end, the famous singer won the case.


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Shirley Bassey has sung with many legendary musicians, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Pet Shop Boys and Neil Diamond. She has also collaborated with contemporary musicians. Rapper Kanye West used Shirley Bassey’s vocals for his song “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”. Bassey and Paloma Faith recorded a fun and upbeat version of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”.

Glittery dresses are a hallmark of the singer

In 2003, Shirley donated the proceeds of an auction of her dresses to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to set up a scholarship fund in her name. Since this investment, a scholarship is now awarded each year to an outstanding Welsh singer to help further their musical development.


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Shirley Bassey, 83, is Britain’s most successful female vocalist, with more than 50 years in the charts. The stage diva now lives alone in Monte Carlo, loves it there and says she can wear her diamonds with peace of mind. Shirley Bassey can be seen at grand and festive events. This year, she also released another album marking her 70th year in music and on stage.


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In 1977, Bassey won the Britannia Award for the best solo singing career of the last 50 years. In 1993, she became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 2000, a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

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