“Who am I kidding?” she spoke to herself. “Of course it’s worth the risk. I’d kill to get my career back.”
Her journey started out back in 1967, when the singular child Barbara Bolton was just thirteen years old. A friend of her father’s was working for a record company and told her over Sunday dinner that Cliff Richard was looking for a quiet little girl to record a duet with, a pretend father-and-daughter song for Mothers’ Day – just perfect for her.
She auditioned and made the shortlist. At the last minute, however, Cliff’s management decided against the idea and chose a different direction for the star. Her parents were distraught and cheered when the very next year Cliff Richard missed out on victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. That would teach him for snubbing her, they all had thought.
The song she had auditioned for was given to a different singer and a different girl but the producers had noticed Barbara’s memorable voice and took her under contract, not yet as a recording artist but as a performer at Sunday tea dance events. Her voice was very distinguishable and perfectly suited to convincingly cover the songs of Clodagh Rogers, Sandie Shaw or Lulu. Innocent looking as Barbara was, she presented no distraction to the regulars of those dances and blended perfectly into the low-key set-up which the conservative organisers of such events tried to achieve.
Her family invested in a vocal coach and soon she was contributing handsomely to the family’s finances with regular engagements on weekends and on some weekday nights. Her father would accompany her to the events to make sure that, despite her young age, she was able to perform in clubs and bars.
She was gradually allowed make-up, new glasses, modern hairstyles and outfits that showed her as a grown-up instead of the choir girl image she so despised. Her mother made sure, though, that Barbara remained a sexless and conservative version of Lulu and Olivia Newton John.
In 1971, a talent scout for Andrew Lloyd Webber hired her to perform in West End shows but after a few years of this, by the mid-Seventies, Barbara was fed up with the repetitiveness of her singing life and with the boring roles she ended up with. She longed for something outrageous and lively and some original material to sing, preferably outside the world of stage.
She observed how back-stabbing and bitchiness had brought less talented women than her to the public eye. By keeping quiet and doing as she was told she was missing out on the opportunity to become a big star. The audience had failed to single her out. Barbara was in danger of becoming a regular side-kick.
“Daddy, I can’t bear this boring music anymore,” she complained at the kitchen table one evening. The family ate usually early so Barbara could go to work on time and that day was a special occasion because her agent had confirmed that the contract with the musical company was going to be renewed. Her mother had prepared a big roast as celebration and was expected to serve it any minute now.
“What are you talking about?” her father had asked, surprised. He put his newspaper and reading glasses aside and folded his hands over his swelling belly. “I’ve sacrificed so much time and money for your career. What on earth do you want to do instead?”
“I want to sing real music, Daddy,” she said, passionately. “The show tunes are a dead end. The times are changing. Just listen to the Beatles, Abba, Donna Summer, pop music and disco. Don’t you recognise the change?”
“Look, Daddy,” she had insisted. “Even at Eurovision miserable chansons lose out to upbeat pop numbers, these days. Abba, The Brotherhood of Man … they have real hits. There is a career to be made out of this trend.”
“Everyone needs to know their place in life,” her father said dismissive, giving her an affectionate pat on the arm. “Not everyone can be a Barbra Streisand or Dionne Warwick, you know. Be content with the career you have. Others would be happy with that. As a singer, a steady income is hard to achieve. You did very well for yourself,” he smiled, picked up his reading glasses and his newspaper and waited for his wife to serve the food.
When her manager repeated the same sentiments, she took a gamble by not renewing her contract with Lloyd Webber and descended into London’s nightclub scene, where she covered songs by Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick. She became a moderate success there but was still stuck at the easy-listening end of the musical spectrum.
Barbara’s thick glasses were a problem as they provoked too many comparisons with Nana Mouskouri. After a few months of singing in a popular jazz club, a handsome record producer took a liking to her and decided to make her a big star.
Richard Karajan had successfully produced some minor but well-respected artists and that was exactly the kind of niche market Bebe had been hoping to break into.
“The first thing we need to do is change your name – Barbara Bolton sounds so ordinary . . . too provincial . . . there’s no theatricality, no sense of the exotic.” He tugged at his lip and stared into the distance. “Barbara Bolton . . . Babs Bolton. No . . .”
He thought about it some more and then clicked his fingers.
“Yes! Of course! Barbara Bolton – BB, your initials. We’ll call you Bebe.” Then, his eyes fell on a bottle of champagne that nestled in an ice bucket on her dressing table. It was his present to her at the end of her gig. His eyes lit up when he read the label on the bottle, and so the name was born.
She liked it, and Bebe was eternally grateful ever since that the champagne in question had been Bollinger and not Piper-Heidsieck.
The other thing we need to do is to teach you how to walk on heels without your glasses on,” Richard had said.
She looked at him with outrage, but his smile was warm and disarming.
“Darling you’ve got sex appeal. It’s time you started showing off.”
“My father always said I should know my place,” she replied. “When it comes to my looks, I’m not going to be flattered.”
“Nonsense,” he replied and squeezed her buttocks. “I know better than your dad. And you know better than him, else you’d still be singing show tunes.”
He didn’t wait for her response and took her glasses off.
“Now walk. Take as long as you like. Walking slowly can add a lot of gravity to a singer’s image,” he said.
Under his adoring and encouraging comments she found confidence. The focused walk that resulted from Richard’s training was a signature move of hers that made her instantly recognisable whenever she went on stage. It did give her an air of mystery and caught the audience’s attention. Her unfocused stare added to that mystery and her young, curvy body appealed to the audience.
Bebe’s first single entered the charts low but gradually moved up. Thanks to ever-increasing airplay, the song made it to the top twenty. Richard’s drinking buddy was working for the BBC and he had successfully persuaded some of his friends to put Bebe’s song on their playlist. It could pass for a jazz number if you were looking at it benevolently, and it was beautifully in sync with the moderate feminism that was emerging at the time.
Her follow-up hit Losing My Mind enjoyed a very positive reception. It was less catchy than its predecessor but the orchestration built up to a great big finale. BBC airplay ensured that she made it on to the Top of the Pops show. By then her husband, Richard decided it was time that Bebe record her first album. Her blend of soul and jazz was aimed at the more sophisticated niche of the music market and she preferred it that way. She rather fancied herself as a serious artist, and for such a precious image she happily would forfeit monetary gain. With Richard by her side it was easy to forget about money anyway.
The less appreciative members of the public, however, soon started to make fun of her signature stare. Stand-up comedians and TV comedy programmes were cruel and in that regard the title for her second single had been unfortunate. Losing My Mind gave the mocking audience a line to associate with her trademark facial expression, which became a stigma she carried around with her name for the rest of her career − and beyond
The Body in the Snow” is now available as e-book on Amazon on pre-order via these links:
For those who can’t wait, I have some ARC copies to give out.
THE BODY IN THE SNOW – A BEBE BOLLINGER MURDER MYSTERY:
Fading celebrity Bebe Bollinger is on the wrong side of fifty and dreaming of a return to the limelight. When a TV show offers the chance of a comeback, Bebe grabs it with both hands – not even a lazy agent, her embarrassing daughter, irritating neighbours or a catastrophic snowfall will derail her moment of glory. But when a body is found in her sleepy Welsh hamlet, scandal threatens.
Detective Sergeant Beth Cooper has a string of unsolved cases to her name. Her girlfriend left her and she’s a fish out of water in rural West Wales. Things couldn’t get much worse – until the case of the Body in The Snow lands in her lap.
Can Beth solve the case and save her career and can Bebe make her comeback? All will be revealed in this light-hearted, cosy murder mystery by best-selling and award winning historical and crime fiction novelist Christoph Fischer.