Shirley Bassey

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Shirley Bassey
Bassey in 1971
Bassey in 1971
Background information
Birth nameShirley Veronica Bassey
Born (1937-01-08) 8 January 1937 (age 84)
Cardiff, Wales
Years active1953–present

Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey, DBE (/ˈbæsi/; born 8 January 1937)[1] is a Welsh singer. Born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, she began performing as a teenager in 1953. She became well-known for her expressive voice and for recording the soundtrack theme songs of the James Bond films Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Moonraker (1979).[2][3][4] In January 1959, Bassey became the first Welsh person to gain a number-one single on the UK Singles Chart.[5] In 2020, with the release of her final album, I Owe It All To You, Bassey became the first female artist to chart an album in the top 40 of the UK Albums Chart in seven consecutive decades.[6]

In 2000, Bassey was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to the performing arts. In 1977, she received the Brit Award for Best British Female Solo Artist.[7] Bassey is widely regarded as one of the most popular female vocalists in Britain.[8][9]

Early life[edit]

Shirley Veronica Bassey, the sixth and youngest child of Henry Bassey and Eliza Jane Start,[10] was born on Bute Street, Tiger Bay, Cardiff. She grew up in the adjacent community of Splott.[11] Her father was Nigerian, and her mother came from Teesside.[2][12][13][14]

Two of her mother's four children from previous relationships lived in the Bassey household. Bassey's mother listed her first husband, Alfred Metcalfe, as her own father in the registry of her marriage to Henry Bassey, giving rise to speculation that this marriage was bigamous in the absence of a prior divorce.[15] Eliza and Henry's second child died in infancy, so Shirley was born into a household of three sisters, two half-sisters, and one brother.

Teachers and students alike at Moorland Road School noticed Bassey's strong voice, but gave the pre-teen little encouragement: "...everyone told me to shut up. Even in the school choir the teacher kept telling me to back off till I was singing in the corridor!" A classmate recalled her singing the refrain "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" from Show Boat with such feeling that she made their teacher uncomfortable.[16] She left Splott secondary modern school aged 14 to work at Curran Steels and, in the evenings and weekends, to sing in local pubs and clubs.[17]


1953–1959: Career beginnings[edit]

In a 1999 interview with Nigel Havers in her Monte Carlo apartment, Bassey pointed to a piece of paper framed on the wall and referred to it as her first contract, at a salary of £14 a week (a considerable sum for a sixteen-year-old in 1953). However, upon closer inspection, this document, dated 17 December 1953 (three weeks before her 17th birthday), appears to promise £10 for two performances.[18] Also in 1953, Bassey signed a contract to sing in the touring variety show Memories of Jolson, a musical based on the life of Al Jolson.[19] She next took up a professional engagement in Hot from Harlem, which ran until 1954.[citation needed]

In 1955, Bassey toured various theatres until she was noticed by the impresario Jack Hylton. He invited her to feature in Al Read's Such Is Life at the Adelphi Theatre in London's West End.

During the show's run, Philips record producer Johnny Franz spotted her on television, was impressed, and offered her a recording deal. Bassey recorded her first single, "Burn My Candle", released in February 1956, when she was 19. Owing to the suggestive lyrics, the BBC banned it. More singles followed, and in February 1957, Bassey had her first hit with "The Banana Boat Song", which reached number 8 in the UK Singles Chart.[20]

In 1957 she also recorded under the direction of American producer Mitch Miller in New York City for the Columbia Records label (which at the time had a distribution deal with Philips), producing the single "If I Had a Needle and Thread" b/w "Tonight My Heart She Is Crying". She then made her American stage début in Las Vegas at El Rancho Vegas.[21]

In mid-1958, she recorded two singles that would become classics in the Bassey catalogue. "As I Love You" was released as the B-side of another ballad, "Hands Across the Sea"; it did not sell well at first, but after an appearance at the London Palladium sales began to pick up. In January 1959, "As I Love You" reached number one and stayed there for four weeks; it was the first number-one single by a Welsh artist.[5]

While "As I Love You" climbed the charts, so did Bassey's recording of "Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me" and both records would end up occupying the top 3 at the same time. A few months later, Bassey signed to EMI's Columbia label, and the second phase in her recording career had begun.[citation needed]

1960–1979: Success and breakthrough[edit]

In the early and mid-1960s, Bassey had numerous hits in the UK, and five albums in the top 15. Her 1960 recording of "As Long As He Needs Me" from Lionel Bart's Oliver! reached number two, and had a chart run of 30 weeks.[4] Bassey made her American television début on 13 November 1960, when she performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.[22] Her collaboration with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra, the album Let's Face the Music (1962), reached number 12 in the UK album chart; and the single, "What Now My Love" made it to number five. Other UK top 10 singles of the period included her second number-one, the double A-side "Reach for the Stars"/"Climb Ev'ry Mountain" (1961), "I'll Get By" (also 1961), and a cover version of the Ben E. King hit "I (Who Have Nothing)" in 1963.[20] Bassey appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine in 1963, and sang at a Washington gala celebrating President Kennedy's second year in office.[23]

Bassey made her Carnegie Hall debut on 15 February 1964. The complete concert recording was not released until it was included in the EMI compilation 'The EMU/UA Years 1959–1979' (ref: AllMusic review by Bruce Eder).

Bassey enjoyed her only US top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit in 1965 with the title song of the James Bond film, Goldfinger. The single, released in the United States during January 1965, peaked at number eight, while the original soundtrack of Goldfinger hit number one in the US that year. Also in 1965, she sang the title song for the James Bond spoof The Liquidator, and had a top 20 live album, recorded during a sold-out run at the Pigalle in London.

Bassey recorded a song for the next Bond film, Thunderball (1965). "Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was not used in the movie, although the film's score follows its melodic theme. Written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse, after Bassey's version it was re-recorded by Dionne Warwick, and then rejected in favour of a new song, "Thunderball," hastily written by Barry and given to Tom Jones (who, like Bassey, is Welsh) after the film's producers decided the song over the opening credits must feature the film's title.[24]

The "Goldfinger" theme song, however, had a lasting impact on her career. In the sleeve notes for Bassey's 25th Anniversary Album (1978), Peter Clayton noted that: "Acceptance in America was considerably helped by the enormous popularity of ("Goldfinger")...But she had actually established herself there as early as 1961, in cabaret in New York. She was also a success in Las Vegas...'I suppose I should feel hurt that I've never been really big in America on record since "Goldfinger"...But, concertwise, I always sell out.'..."[25] This was reflected in the fact that Bassey had only one solo LP reach the top 20 in a US chart (R&B, Live at Carnegie Hall), and she was technically a one-hit wonder. In the aftermath of "Goldfinger" her UK sales started to falter as well: only two of her singles would enter the UK top 40 from 1966 to 1970. She had signed to United Artists, and her first album on that label, I've Got a Song for You (1966), spent one week on the chart; from 1966 to 1970, only two albums would chart, one of those a compilation. One of her best-known singles, "Big Spender" was released in 1967, charting just short of the UK top 20.[20]

Bassey began to live as a tax exile in 1968 and was unable to work in Britain for almost two years.[14][26]

In 1969, she appeared in NBC's The Spring Thing, a musical television special hosted by Bobbie Gentry and Noel Harrison. Guests included were Goldie Hawn, Meredith MacRae, Irwin C. Watson, Rod McKuen, and Harpers Bizarre.[27]

Bassey performing in West Germany in 1973

Bassey's UK comeback came in 1970, leading to one of the most successful periods of her career. Starting the year with a BBC Television 'Special' The Young Generation Meet Shirley Bassey, recorded in Sweden and shown on BBC1 on 18 March.[28] She returned to the UK with a record-breaking run of performances at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Also that year, her album Something was released, and showcased a new Bassey style, a shift from traditional pop to more contemporary songs and arrangements (the eponymous single was more successful in the UK charts than the original recording by The Beatles) – although Bassey would never completely abandon what that had been her forte: standards, show tunes, and torch songs.[citation needed]

"Something" was also a top 10 US hit on the Adult Contemporary chart. Other singles of this period included the hit "Never Never Never", an English version of the Italian "Grande grande grande", reaching the top 10 in the US Adult Contemporary Chart, the UK top 10 and number one in Australia and South Africa. The success of "Something" (single number four, album number five in the UK) spawned a series of successful albums on the United Artists label, including Something Else (1971), And I Love You So (1972), I Capricorn (1972), Never Never Never (1973), Good, Bad but Beautiful (1975), Love, Life and Feelings (1976), You Take My Heart Away (1977) and Yesterdays (1978). Additionally, two of Bassey's earlier LPs also entered the charts in the '70s: And We Were Lovers (1967, re-issued as Big Spender), and Let's Face the Music (1962, re-issued as What Now My Love). Two compilations, The Shirley Bassey Singles Album (1975) and 25th Anniversary Album (1978), both made the top three of the UK charts: The Shirley Bassey Singles Album her highest-charting album, reached number two and earned a gold disc, and the 25th Anniversary Album eventually went platinum.[20][29]

Between 1970 and 1979, Bassey had 18 hit albums in the UK Albums Chart.[4] Her album The Magic Is You (1979) featured a portrait by the photographer Francesco Scavullo. In 1973, her sold-out concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall were recorded and released as a two-LP set, Shirley Bassey: Live at Carnegie Hall. This album and the majority of her recordings from this period have been released on CD by EMI and BGO Records. Returning to the James Bond franchise, she recorded the theme song for Diamonds Are Forever (1971).[citation needed]

Bassey was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions: in November 1972 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Heathrow Airport,[citation needed] and in January 1993, when Michael Aspel surprised her at the curtain call of a sell-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall.[citation needed]

Bassey appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, broadcast on Christmas Day in 1971.[30] Bassey starred in the six-episode The Shirley Bassey Show (1976), the first of her television programmes for the BBC, followed by a second series of six episodes in 1979. The final show of the first series was nominated for the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1977. The series featured guests including Neil Diamond, Michel Legrand, The Three Degrees and Dusty Springfield and featured Bassey in various international locations as well as in the television studio. In 1978, Bassey pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly "after shouting abuse in the street and pushing a policeman".[3] In 1979, Bassey recorded the title theme song for the Bond film, Moonraker.[citation needed]

1980–1999: Continued success[edit]

Throughout most of the 1980s, Bassey focused on charitable work and performing occasional concert tours throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States. She had ended her contract with United Artists, whose former record division was now part of EMI, and began what she referred to as "semi-retirement". Bassey recorded an album entitled All by Myself (1982) and made a TV special for Thames Television called A Special Lady with guest Robert Goulet. Around this time she recorded a duet with the French film actor Alain Delon, "Thought I'd Ring You" (1983). Bassey was now recording far less often but an album of her most famous songs, I Am What I Am (1984), was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) conducted by Carl Davis. This was followed by a single and video to support the London Tourist Board, "There's No Place Like London" (1986), which was co-written by Lynsey de Paul and Gerard Kenny. She recorded an album of James Bond themes, The Bond Collection in 1987, but was apparently unhappy with the results so she declined to release it. (Five years later it was released anyway, Bassey sued in court, and all unsold copies were withdrawn.)[31]

Bassey provided vocals for Swiss artists Yello on "The Rhythm Divine" (1987), a song co-written by Scottish singer Billy Mackenzie.[2] An album sung entirely in Spanish, La Mujer was released in 1989. In the latter mid-1980s Bassey had started working with a vocal coach, a former opera singer, and her album Keep the Music Playing (1991) displayed a grand, operatic pop style on several songs (perhaps also influenced by her album with the LSO seven years earlier).

EMI released the five-CD box set Bassey – The EMI/UA Years 1959–1979 in 1994. The accompanying booklet opened with a poem by Marc Almond. Bassey collaborated with Chris Rea in the film La Passione (1996), appearing in the film as herself and releasing the single "'Disco' La Passione". The remix of this single charted just outside the UK top 40.[20] Bassey's "History Repeating" (1997), written for her by the Propellerheads, reached number one on the UK Dance Chart, and number 10 on the US Dance Chart.[32] The liner notes of the Propellerheads' album Decksandrumsandrockandroll included the lines: "We would like to extend our maximum respect to Shirley Bassey for honouring us with her performance. We are still in shock...." Bassey celebrated her 60th birthday in 1997 with two open-air concerts, at Castle Howard and Althorp Park, and another TV special. The resulting live album The Birthday Concert received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.[33] On 7 October 1998 in Egypt, Bassey performed for a benefit at an open-air concert close to the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid. Bassey played the Friday night at Henley Festival in 1984.[citation needed]

Bassey was sued in a breach of contract case in 1998 by her former personal assistant, who also accused Bassey of hitting her and making an ethnic slur. Bassey won the case.[3] The episode was lampooned by Alexander Baron in his one-act play The Trial of Shirley Bassey. The following year, she performed the official song for the rugby World Cup, "World in Union", with Bryn Terfel at the opening ceremony at The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, wearing a gown designed on the Welsh flag. Their single made the top 40, and Bassey contributed two more songs to the official album Land of My Fathers, which reached number one on the UK compilations chart, and went silver.[29][34]

2000–present: High profile performances and final album[edit]

Bassey at Wembley Arenain 2006

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Bassey continued to perform at various high profile events. In 2001, Bassey was principal artiste at the Duke of Edinburgh's 80th birthday celebration. On 3 June 2002, she was one of a prestigious line-up of artists including Elton John, Paul McCartney and Tom Jones who performed at the Queen's 50th Jubilee Party at Buckingham Palace. Bassey celebrated 50 years in show business in 2003 with the release of the CD Thank You for the Years, which was another top 20 album. A gala charity auction of her stage costumes at Christie's, "Dame Shirley Bassey: 50 Years of Glittering Gowns", raised £250,000 (US$500,000) for the Dame Shirley Bassey Scholarship at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Noah's Ark Children's Hospital Appeal.[35] Bassey topped the bill at the 2005 Royal Variety Performance, introducing her new song "The Living Tree".[citation needed]

Two popular Audiences with Shirley Bassey have aired on British television, one in 1995 that attracted more than 10 million viewers in the UK, with the second being broadcast in 2006. Bassey returned to perform in five arenas around the UK in June the same year, culminating at Wembley. She also performed a concert in front of 10,000 people at the Bryn Terfel Faenol Festival in North Wales broadcast by BBC Wales. Marks & Spencer signed her for their Christmas 2006 James Bond-style television advertising campaign. Bassey is seen in a glamorous Ice Palace singing a cover version of Pink's song "Get the Party Started", wearing an M&S gown.[citation needed]

"The Living Tree", written, produced, and originally recorded by the group Never the Bride, was released as a single on 23 April 2007, marking Bassey's 50th anniversary in the UK Singles Chart – and the record for the longest span of top 40 hits in UK chart history.[4] Bassey performed a 45-minute set at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival wearing a pink Julien Macdonald dress, and customised Wellington boots.[36] A new album, Get the Party Started, was subsequently released on 25 June 2007 and entered the UK Albums Chart at number six.[20] The single of the title song reached number 3 on the US Dance Chart.[37] The same year, Bassey performed "Big Spender" with Elton John at his annual White Tie and Tiara Ball to raise money for The Elton John AIDS Foundation.[38] In 2007, Bassey performed in Fashion Rocks in aid of The Prince's Trust at the Royal Albert Hall.[citation needed]

From left to right: Sting, Debbie Harry, Lady Gaga, Sir Elton John, Dame Shirley Bassey and Bruce Springsteen at Carnegie Hall in 2010

She was rushed to hospital in Monaco on 23 May 2008 to have an emergency operation on her stomach after complaining of abdominal pains. She was forced to pull out of the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute concert because of her illness.[39] A biography of Bassey, Diamond Diva, was published in 2008.[citation needed]

Bassey recorded the album The Performance (2009), with James Bond composer David Arnold as co-producer (with Mike Dixon). A number of artists wrote songs expressly for Bassey, including Manic Street Preachers, Gary Barlow, Tom Baxter, KT Tunstall, Pet Shop Boys, Nick Hodgson of the Kaiser Chiefs, John Barry and Don Black. Bassey headlined at the BBC Electric Proms on 23 October 2009, in her only full live set of 2009.[3][40] She performed several of the new songs from The Performance in November 2009 on various TV shows: The Graham Norton Show, The Paul O'Grady Show and as the guest singer on Strictly Come Dancing.[citation needed]

Bassey performed at a gala celebrating the 80th birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev on 30 March 2011.[41] She also performed at the Classical Brit Awards in 2011, singing "Goldfinger" in tribute to John Barry.[42]

The BBC broadcast a 70-minute drama entitled Shirley on 29 September 2011, depicting Bassey's early life and career.[43] Ruth Negga played the title role. Bassey was one of the line-up of artists on 4 June 2012 who performed at the Queen's 60th Jubilee Party at Buckingham Palace, singing "Diamonds Are Forever".[44] She performed at the 2013 Academy Awards on 24 February 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise. It was her first appearance at an Oscars ceremony as a performer.[45] She sang "Goldfinger" to a standing ovation.[citation needed]

Bassey performed "I'm Still Here" and "The Lady Is A Tramp" on 13 November 2014 at the Royal Variety Performance in the presence of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.[citation needed]

Bassey released another album, Hello Like Before, was released on 17 November 2014. It includes a 50th-anniversary re-recording of "Goldfinger" (recreating the original orchestration) and a duet of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" with Paloma Faith, produced and conducted by Stuart Barr.[46]

In December 2016, Bassey starred in a 60-minute BBC broadcast hosted by David Walliams.[47]

On 11 March 2018, Bassey performed "Almost Like Being In Love" in a tribute to Sir Bruce Forsyth at the London Palladium. At a gala for AMFAR (The Foundation for Aids Research) in Los Angeles on 18 October 2018, Bassey sang "Goldfinger", "Diamonds Are Forever", "Almost Like Being In Love" and "I Am What I Am".[citation needed]

On 9 August 2019, Dame Shirley performed at UNICEF's Summer Gala in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, singing "Goldfinger", "Diamonds Are Forever" and "S'Wonderful". Bassey appeared on the Ball & Boe TV Christmas Special on Friday 20 December 2019, singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with Michael Ball and Alfie Boe.[citation needed]

In 2020, with the release of her final album, I Owe It All To You, Bassey became the first female artist to chart an album in the top 40 of the UK Albums Chart in seven consecutive decades.[6]

BBC TV series[edit]

TV specials[edit]

Title Director Original airdate
11"Shirley Comes Home"Selwyn Roderick3 September 1957 (1957-09-03) BBC Television at 6:45 pm
From the bright lights of Las Vegas and the West End, Shirley Bassey returns to her own people in the heart of Cardiff's dockland. Also at the party are: Gladys Morgan, Jimmy Rogers and 'The Black and Whites'. Introduced by Alun Williams from Cardiff's Queen Alexandra Dock.[48]
21"Shirley Sings and Riddle Swings"Yvonne Littlewood23 June 1962 (1962-06-23) BBC Television at 8:20 pm
Shirley Bassey, Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra and The Hi-Lo's. Introduced by David Jacobs.[49]
31"International Cabaret presenting Shirley Bassey"Buddy Bregman25 April 1964 (1964-04-25) BBC2 at 9:40 pm
Starring Shirley Bassey with Robert Clary and The Ted Heath Orchestra. Musical director: Harry Rabinowitz. With The Heralds and the International Cabaret Dancers.[50] Repeated on BBC1 18 August 1964 at 8:25 pm.
41"Show of the Week: The Sound of Shirley Bassey"Stewart Morris22 February 1966 (1966-02-22) BBC2 at 8:50 pm
Recorded on the eve of her departure for a world tour. Orchestra directed by Kenny Clayton.[51] Repeated 8 July 1967 at 7:40 pm.
51"The Shirley Bassey Show"Tony Charmoli12 April 1969 (1969-04-12) BBC1 at 7:40 pm
Shirley Bassey sings and introduces her guests Noel Harrison and Laurindo Almeida.[52]
61"Show of the Week: Shirley Bassey at Bern's Restaurant"Stewart Morris6 July 1969 (1969-07-06) BBC2 at 9:55 pm
Shirley Bassey at Bern's Restaurant, Stockholm. Orchestra directed by Alyn Ainsworth. A BBC co-production with Sveriges Radio.[53] Repeated on BBC1 20 September 1969 at 7:30 pm.
71"The Young Generation Meet Shirley Bassey"Stewart Morris18 March 1970 (1970-03-18) BBC1 at 8:00 pm
From the Cirkus Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. With Udo Jürgens, Andre Tahon and Ray Dondy with Alyn Ainsworth and his orchestra. A joint BBC/SR production.[54]
81"Shirley Bassey Singing Special"Stewart Morris13 August 1970 (1970-08-13) BBC1 at 9:10 pm
Tonight this international singing star makes one of her rare appearances in this country. With Brian Fahey and his orchestra.[55] Repeated on BBC2 23 December 1970 at 9:20 pm.
91"Night Club starring Shirley Bassey"John Ammonds11 June 1972 (1972-06-11) BBC2 at 11:05 pm
An international cabaret this week from London introduced by Francis Matthews. Also starring Trio Athenee, Rod Hull and Emu, Alfredo Alex Welsh and his Band, Joe Castor and Partner and the Pamela Devis Dancers. The Night Club Orchestra directed by Johnny Harris.[56]
101"Show of the Week: Shirley Bassey"Dieter Finnern28 September 1972 (1972-09-28) BBC2 at 9:25 pm
Shirley Bassey on location in Sardinia and Berlin sings some of the songs which have made her famous. With the SFB Orchestra directed by Brian Fahey. A BBC/SFB Co-production.[56]
111"Shirley Bassey"Stewart Morris26 December 1972 (1972-12-26) BBC1 at 9:55 pm
Shirley Bassey Recently returned from a record-breaking appearance in New York. With 'Segment' choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and featuring Alyn Ainsworth and his orchestra.[57]
121"Shirley Bassey at the Royal Albert Hall"Johnnie Stewart1 January 1974 (1974-01-01) BBC1 at 9:25 pm
Orchestra directed by Arthur Greenslade.[58] Repeated on 19 April 1974 at 8:15 pm.
131"Shirley"Stewart Morris28 December 1974 (1974-12-28) BBC1 at 8:30 pm
Starring international singing star Shirley Bassey with her special guest Neil Diamond. Orchestra directed by Arthur Greenslade.[59]
141"Shirley Bassey"Stewart Morris27 December 1975 (1975-12-27) BBC1 at 8:20 pm
From the triumphs of a world tour, this superbly talented artist arrives for another high-flying television special. Tonight Shirley sings many of her famous hits together with a selection of new songs. Orchestra directed by Arthur Greenslade.[60] Repeated on BBC2 16 April 1976 at 9:10 pm.
151"Shirley Bassey: I Am What I Am"Mike Alexander30 July 1994 (1994-07-30) BBC1 at 9:50 pm
In a documentary that is almost as revealing as her dresses, Shirley Bassey talks about her work and the cost to her family life.[61]
161"The Shirley Bassey Concert"Gavin Taylor30 July 1994 (1994-07-30) BBC1 at 10:40 pm
Footage of a performance shot last September as Shirley Bassey opened Cardiff's new International Arena with two sell-out shows before an audience of 11,000 fans.[62]
171"Shirley Bassey: This Is My Life"Alan Lewens2 January 1998 (1998-01-02) BBC1 at 10:05 pm
A documentary portrait of the internationally-acclaimed vocalist, following her travels through New York, London and Monte Carlo. The programme contains intimate moments behind the scenes as well as capturing her performances on the stage.[63] Repeated 7 April 2000.
181"Shirley Bassey: Viva Diva!"Mike Mansfield31 December 1998 (1998-12-31) BBC1 at 9:10 pm
Shirley Bassey sings a selection of show stopping songs, with the help of a large orchestra, the cast of the hit West End stage musical Chicago and a million pounds' worth of diamonds.[64]
191"Dame Shirley Bassey: Electric Proms"Janet Fraser Cook24 October 2009 (2009-10-24) BBC2 at 10:40 pm
The singer celebrates 50 years in the business with a special performance at London's Roundhouse.[65] Repeated multiple times on BBC HD and BBC4.
201"Imagine... Dame Shirley Bassey"Dione Newton24 November 2009 (2009-11-24) BBC1 at 10:35 pm
Dame Shirley Bassey: The Girl from Tiger Bay. A profile of the Welsh singer on the release of The Performance, an album of songs composed for her by, among others: Gary Barlow, Rufus Wainwright and KT Tunstall.[66]

Shirley Bassey (Series 1)[edit]

Produced by Stewart Morris.

Broadcast Saturdays on BBC1.

Title Director Original airdate
11"Episode 1"Stewart Morris30 October 1976 (1976-10-30) at 8:15 pm
Making for BBC Television the first series in her outstanding career. Guest stars: Charles Aznavour, The Three Degrees and 'Emma' (Bassey's Old English Sheep Dog). With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[67]
22"Episode 2"Stewart Morris6 November 1976 (1976-11-06) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars Rolf Harris, Janis Ian, The Brythoniad Male Voice Choir and 'Emma'. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[68]
33"Episode 3"Stewart Morris13 November 1976 (1976-11-13) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars Johnny Nash, Gilbert O'Sullivan and 'Emma'. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[69]
44"Episode 4"Stewart Morris20 November 1976 (1976-11-20) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars Morris Albert, The Stan Getz Quartet and 'Emma'. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[70]
55"Episode 5"Stewart Morris27 November 1976 (1976-11-27) at 8:35 pm
Guest stars Mel Torme, Clive Westlake and 'Emma'. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[71]
66"Episode 6"Stewart Morris4 December 1976 (1976-12-04) at 8:35 pm
Guest stars Bobby Goldsboro, Rod McKuen and 'Emma'. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[72] This programme was selected as the BBC's entry for the Festival of the Golden Rose of Montreux 1977 and was repeated on BBC2 7 April 1977 at 8:25 pm.
77"Highlights compilation"Stewart Morris23 December 1977 (1977-12-23) at 9:15 pm
Shirley Bassey introduces highlights from her 1976 television series. Guest stars Charles Aznavour, Rolf Harris, Johnny Nash and 'Emma'.[73]

The series (excluding the 7th highlights episode) was repeated on BBC2 on non-consecutive Thursdays from 23 June – 4 August 1977.

Shirley Bassey (Series 2)[edit]

Produced by Stewart Morris.

Broadcast alternate Saturdays on BBC1.

Title Director Original airdate
81"Episode 1"Stewart Morris30 September 1979 (1979-09-30) at 8:20 pm
The first programme of a new series of six television spectaculars, with her guest stars: Dana, The Three Degrees and Sal Davis. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[74]
92"Episode 2"Stewart Morris13 October 1979 (1979-10-13) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars: Freddy Cole, Paul Daniels and Tony Monopoly. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[75]
103"Episode 3"Stewart Morris27 October 1979 (1979-10-27) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars: Lulu, The Drifters and Demis Roussos. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[76]
114"Episode 4"Stewart Morris10 November 1979 (1979-11-10) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars: Les Dawson, The Nolan Sisters and Third World. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[77]
125"Episode 5"Stewart Morris24 November 1979 (1979-11-24) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars: The King's Singers, Michel Legrand and Dusty Springfield. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[78]
136"Episode 6"Stewart Morris8 December 1979 (1979-12-08) at 8:15 pm
Guest stars: Lennie Bennett & Jerry Stevens, Pete Conrad and The Swingle Singers. With The Shirley Bassey Dancers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe and Arthur Greenslade and his orchestra.[79]

Series repeated Mondays on BBC2 from 15 September – 20 October 1980 at 8:15 pm.

Personal life[edit]


Bassey's first marriage was to Kenneth Hume in 1961. The couple separated in 1964 and divorced in 1965 in the wake of the singer's affair with actor Peter Finch. Bassey then announced to the press that she and Finch would not be marrying, telling the press: "It simply wouldn't work out. Just now I am not ready for marriage to anyone. I feel I have to be free."[80] A year later, Hume sued the actor and another man, John McAuliffe, for being "indiscreet" with the singer.[81] Both Finch and McAuliffe were cited as co-respondents in the Hume–Bassey divorce.[82] For her part, Bassey was named as co-respondent in 1965 when Finch's wife, South African actress Yolande Turner, divorced the actor.[83]

From 1968 until they divorced in 1979, Bassey was married to Sergio Novak, the assistant manager of the Excelsior Hotel in Venice. During this time, Novak was Bassey's manager, and they adopted Mark, her grand-nephew.[84][13][14]


The fathers of Bassey's two daughters, Sharon Bassey (a.k.a. Sharon Novak, born 1954) and Samantha Bassey (a.k.a. Samantha Novak, born 1963), are unknown.[84][85] However, Bassey's first husband suggested that Samantha, born during the couple's marriage, was the result of an affair between Bassey and Peter Finch.

In 1985, Samantha, age 21, was found dead in the River Avon in Bristol, England. Bassey has always maintained that the death of her daughter was not a suicide.[3] On 24 March 2010, Avon and Somerset Police confirmed they were undertaking fresh inquiries into the death and specifically claims that the convicted killer Michael Moffat was involved in her death.[86] However, in October 2010 it was reported that the investigation came to an end and concluded that there "is no evidence of any criminal act involved" in Novak's death.[87] The ordeal of losing her daughter caused Bassey to temporarily lose her voice.[88]

In a 2009 interview, Bassey stated that she and her son, Mark, had reconciled.[3] Bassey has four grandsons through her surviving daughter, Sharon Novak.[89] Bassey resides in Monaco.[90]

In 2018, Bassey reported that she had a great-granddaughter.[91]


Bassey was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) on 31 December 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II for services to entertainment.[92] She was invited to perform in 2002 at the Party at the Palace, a public celebration of the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Dame Shirley also performed at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace on 4 June 2012, singing "Diamonds Are Forever". She was invited to perform at the Queen's 90th Birthday celebrations at Windsor Castle on 15 May 2016.

In November 2016 the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama announced the naming of the Shirley Bassey Studio in celebration of Bassey's long-standing support for young Welsh singers studying at the College. She was awarded France's top honour, the Legion d'Honneur, to signify her popularity and importance in the culture of France. Bassey was awarded the freedom of her hometown, Cardiff, in a ceremony at City Hall on 17 May 2019.[93]

Awards and achievements[edit]

In 2012, Bassey was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork – the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life that he most admires.[94][95] In 2016, she was named as one of "the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time".[96]

  • 1959: Favourite British Female Singer – NME Award
  • 1960: Favourite British Female Singer – NME Award
  • 1972: Best Female Singer – TV Times
  • 1973: Best Female Singer – TV Times
  • 1974: Best Female Entertainer – American Guild of Variety Artists
  • 1976: Best Female Singer – Music Week
  • 1976: 22-day British tour to mark twenty years as a recording artist
  • 1976: EMI Award for twenty years as a recording artist – UK
  • 1977: Best British Female Solo Artist in the previous 25 years – BRIT Award
  • 1977: Golden Rose of Montreux nomination for The Shirley Bassey Show
  • 1991: Walk of Fame, Star Boulevard – plaque unveiled in Rotterdam[97]
  • 1993: Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
  • 1994: CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire[98]
  • 1995: Showbusiness Personality of the Year – Variety Club of Great Britain
  • 1997: Grammy nomination – The Birthday Concert (recorded live at Althorp Park)
  • 1998: Longest run by a solo artist (ten shows) – Royal Festival Hall, London
  • 1999: Légion d'Honneur – France
  • 1999: Madam Tussaud's waxwork unveiled in London (second model in Las Vegas)
  • 2000: DBE – Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • 2000: Most Successful British Female Singer – Guinness Book of Records[citation needed]
  • 2003: Outstanding Contribution to Music – National Music Awards, UK[99]
  • 2003: Lifetime Achievement Award (inaugural award) – Western Mail Welsh Woman of the Year Awards[100]
  • 2004: "100 Great Black Britons", Bassey voted into the top ten
  • 2004: Artist for Peace Award – UNESCO
  • 2004: Welsh Legend Award, presented at the opening of the Cardiff Millennium Centre
  • 2005: Avenue of Stars – plaque unveiled in London
  • 2008: "Goldfinger" – United Artists single (1964) inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame[101]
  • 2013: Dorian Award, TV Musical Performance of the Year – Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association
  • 2014: Lifetime Achievement Award – World Music Awards
  • 2017: Hall of Fame Award, Jersey Style Awards
  • 2017: Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Award
  • 2018: She unveiled a carriage on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, named in her honour[102]
  • 2019: Freedom of the City of Cardiff
  • 2019: Square of Fame – plaque of Bassey's handprints unveiled at the SSE Arena, Wembley Park, London
  • 2020: Official UK Chart Record – First female artist to claim a top 40 album in seven consecutive decades[6]



  • "Shirley Bassey: Diamonds Are Forever" – Mary Long (2017)
  • Miss Shirley Bassey – John L. Williams (2010) – London: Quercus. ISBN 978-1-84724-974-6
  • Shirley Bassey: Diamond Diva – Peter Hogan (2008)
  • Cardiff: Rebirth of a Capital (Foreword by Shirley Bassey) – Ungersma, Hurn (2005)
  • Shirley Bassey: Welsh History Stories – Evans, Stokes, ap Emlyn, ap Emlyn (2003)
  • Shirley Bassey: An appreciation – Muriel Burgess (1998, reprinted 1999)
  • My Life on Record and in Concert – Shirley Bassey (Bloomsbury, 1998)
  • The Trial of Shirley Bassey – A Play in One Act – Alexander Baron (1998)
  • Shirley Bassey: This Is My Life (Piano/vocal/guitar) – Sheet music book
  • Shirley Bassey: You're the Voice (Piano/vocal/guitar) – Sheet music book
  • Guinness Book of British Hit Singles – 14th Edition – ISBN 0-85156-156-X
  • Guinness Book of British Hit Singles – 16th Edition – ISBN 0-85112-190-X
  • Guinness Book of British Hit Albums – 7th Edition – ISBN 0-85112-619-7
  • The Book of Golden Discs – 2nd Edition – ISBN 0-214-20512-6
  • The Guinness Book of 500 Number One HitsISBN 0-85112-250-7

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c Shirley Bassey at AllMusic
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hattenstone, Simon (24 October 2009). "Shirley Bassey Interview". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 44–45. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. ^ a b "Number ones from Wales". BBC Wales Music. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  6. ^ a b c "Shirley Bassey's final album sets huge Official Chart record". Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  7. ^ The Brits 1977, Brit Awards
  8. ^ Paphides, Pete (30 October 2009). "Dame Shirley Bassey: The Performance review". The Times. London. Retrieved 10 December 2009. "Welsh diva thrives on new material written by artists half her age"
  9. ^ Sexton, Paul (3 November 2009). "Shirley Bassey Returns With 'The Performance'". Billboard. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  10. ^ Williams, John L. (2010). Miss Shirley Bassey. London: Quercus. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-1-84724-974-6.
  11. ^ Williams, John (8 October 2010). "Trail of the unexpected: Discover Dame Shirley Bassey's former haunts in Cardiff". The Independent. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  12. ^ Eaves, Krysta (25 June 2011). "Dame Shirley Bassey's links to Teesside revealed". Gazette Live. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
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External links[edit]

Preceded by
Matt Monro
From Russia with Love, 1963
James Bond title artist
Goldfinger, 1964
Succeeded by
Tom Jones
Thunderball, 1965
Preceded by
John Barry
On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969
James Bond title artist
Diamonds Are Forever, 1971
Succeeded by
Paul McCartney and Wings
Live and Let Die, 1973
Preceded by
Carly Simon
The Spy Who Loved Me (Nobody Does It Better), 1977
James Bond title artist
Moonraker, 1979
Succeeded by
Sheena Easton
For Your Eyes Only, 1981