THE chat with Lulu doesn’t begin as expected at all. Rather than go in at the Boom Bang-A-Bang entry level of conversation, where we talk about general (easy) questions about her upcoming gig in North Berwick at Fringe By The Sea, instead we start at a deep soul, Leave A Little Love, level.
Why? Well, the singer asks me about me the health of a family member and the impact. (It’s unusual for interviewees to ask the questions). The pop legend is concerned. And before you know it, we’re into how she copes with life’s slings and arrows, rewinding on her traumatic years as a schoolgirl in Glasgow and the vulnerabilities she’s felt since.
“I have been studying Eastern philosophy since 1984 and I have a guru,” she offers. “And I constantly think of the question, ‘Why am I here, and what am I doing?’ “One of things I’ve learned to focus on is acceptance. I don’t know if you are religious at all but there is a prayer called The Serenity Prayer. ‘Good grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ “I try to follow that. And what I’ve also learned is to try and live in the moment. Because in my whole life I’ve run, run, run. It’s about been about what I do, not who I am.”
The reflective singer, at 72, is speaking in understatement. The ‘Dennistoun-born dynamo’ was in a band from the age of 13, whisked down to London to live with her manager at the age of 15 and has never stepped off the carousel since, either as a recording artist, a television presenter, an actor or a writer.
And while success has brought great material wealth (she’s speaking from her home in Kensington), the carousel has at times, she admits, become a white-knuckle ride. “Well, I had huge struggles as a child. I came from a very violent, alcoholic background. And yet, my parents were lovely people. Just not very well.
“And, of course, then having huge success as a child . . .” She laughs; What the f***! But you know, all of what was happening to me was frightening. And often daunting. Yet, at the same time, exciting. Yes, and I left Glasgow at the age of 15.”
That wouldn’t be allowed today. Social services would be called in. “Even though I wasn’t allowed to leave school until I was 15, I did it anyway. And when I was at school, I wasn’t receiving an education. Do you think I could focus, given what was going on around me? Not a chance. And I was anxious. Today, they would call it PTSD. But that’s what I had. No question.”
The on-going demands of being Lulu, the major successes, the chart failures, all of it led to the Eastern journey. So, who is Lulu? We know she’s a Scot who happens to have the best white soul voice on the planet. She’s a consummate performer, who lives for the stage.
“My life is crazy, but I’m very blessed. It’s a mix of showbiz headiness and . . .” Headf***s? She laughs in agreement. She’s just off the phone to Elton John – “We talk all the time.” And there are people lining up to talk her through her daily schedule.
But if Lulu’s life is all about perpetual motion, how did she cope during lockdown? The singer reveals she contracted the virus in January. “I was lucky,” she says, in soft voice. “I didn’t get a bad case of it where I had to go to hospital. But there have been repercussions. I still get a bit tired. Sometimes it will just hit me.
“And I have a little bit of a cough and a slight case of asthma. And to add to that I have a propensity to be a bit chesty. It’s always been in the family. Now, I think I have a mild case of long Covid.
“But overall, I’ve been lucky not to become chronically ill. The worst I’ve felt was like I’ve had a bad, bad flu.”
What of her voice? “Well, yes, it’s a little rusty at the moment. I was supposed to be in rehearsals this week because I’m also going on tour with Boy George. “I’ve known George for a long time, and he’s always had an obsession with Bowie.” She giggles. “And he’s had a little bit of an obsession with me. So I’m going to get up and sing with him.”
That’s an interesting three-way thought right there, Lulu, given that she and Bowie were once close on-stage – and off. She laughs aloud and moves on. “It’s going to be a great show.”
You can sense Lulu is desperate to carry on with life. She needs to be out there performing. “I love to perform. I want to be up there singing Relight My Fire.”
I tell her that minutes before the interview she was on the radio singing Sixties hit The Boat That I Row (a Neil Diamond song). And it won’t go out of my head. “That’s wonderful!” she yells. “You see, we all need music. I’ll be doing everything that everyone wants to hear.”
She adds she’s been song-writing in lockdown, with her brother, Billy. “We written a great new song, We Don’t Fall.” The singer throws in a stray thought. “He’s a great person.”
An anchor? “He has a big heart, my brother.”
Will she be trepidatious getting up on stage? “Yes, absolutely. But I hope the enthusiasm will carry me on. And even though some people think singing is just about opening your mouth, that’s not the case. I will have to be showfit. You have to work on it.”
She mentioned Elton, who famously likes to connect with new talent. Does this apply to her? “Yes. It’s all about the music. I never got into this business to be famous. So young, new talent is exciting.” Does she worry about youngsters who see fame as the endgame? “It can destroy you,” she agrees.
What of this notion of fame? As a schoolgirl her head had been turned by music and the excitement of live performance. But did Marie Lawrie ever imagine she would one day be Lulu? “No, I never had any hi-falutin’ ideas.” Honestly? “Honestly. The best I would have hoped for was that I could do the singing job at night when I’d finished my day job. That was how I was brought up.”
She smiles. “It wasn’t until the arrival of the Beatles that we could see ourselves going on to have a career in music.”
And where did she see herself working with the day job? “In a hairdressers,” she says, without a second’s thought. “And I never even imagined I’d have my own hairdressers. I never had a plan. All I wanted to do was sing as much as possible.”
Lulu has certainly had a demanding, rather mad life. She’s coped with divorce (from hair giant John Frieda,) the death of close friend and producer Mickie Most, ex-Monkee boyfriend Davy Jones, and an ex-husband (Bee Gee Maurice Gibb.) There have been broken romances. The readjustment to smaller stages, the larger demands that come with being a pop veteran.
How is her love life? “My life is full of love, but it’s not one-on-one,” she says. No one person? “Been there, done it. And it’s not a priority. Maybe as a kid it was. But not now. It’s about the bigger sense of love.”
There’s a sense when speaking to Lulu in recent years she has changed a great deal. More interested. More self-aware. Is it because she continues to learn? “Absolutely. Self-education. I couldn’t have learned what I know without living, without travelling. I’ve been in lockdown but I haven’t been standing still.”
She reflects, returning to the beginning of our conversation about those close becoming ill. “I’ve learned that sometimes you have to feel pain and hardships, but you know, no one gets away from it. No one leads a happy-clappy life.”
Is she happy right now? “I have my ups and downs, but I’m working through them,” she says, smiling. “I’m still in the pursuit of serenity. And appreciating just being alive.”
Lulu, Fringe By The Sea, North Berwick, August 7. The Festival runs from August 6-15 and also features Eddi Reader.