Dames are forever

Good old Shirley. Just when you thought the glittery dresses and James Bond theme tunes might be on the wane, out she marches with an album full of new songs. Bassey is 72, a dame, and reigning supreme over a music industry frothing with junior starlets and X Factor contestants; identikit crooners who come and go like fireflies.

Bassey's sparkle remains, however, shining through a recession-gloomed world.

Her album, The Performance, was released on 9 November to critical acclaim. And she's back on the stage - performing "Diamonds Are Forever" with Dizzee Rascal at the Royal Albert Hall. This is not a woman relegated to Vera Lynn-style nostalgia art.

It's a long way from Splott, the Welsh town where Bassey grew up. After she left school, aged 15, Bassey worked in a factory and sang in local pubs and clubs. Eventually, she was spotted and offered a recording deal. Her first single - "Burn My Candle (at Both Ends)" - seemed the perfect premonition of a life propelled by a superhuman energy. Its title provoked a BBC ban but launched a career that would make Bassey the most successful British female artist of all time. Thus far, she's sold 135 million records.

And so, Bassey must go on. The Performance has numbers written by songwriters from Gary Barlow to Rufus Wainwright - young men queuing up to worship a grand old dame.


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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains