Considering that Barbara Dickson's main-stream 'pop' career kicked off with a Beatles songfest in the memorable Willy Russell musical John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert at Liverpool's Everyman some 20 years ago it is astonishing that she's never bumped into Paul McCartney.

All that changed recently when she was introduced to the great man at a LIPA graduation ceremony in the Philharmonic Hall, where she turned up as a special guest of honour on Sunday at a charity concert.

"Yeh, it is surprising but I'd never met him and there he was, my teenage heart-throb. I told him that I still had the big poster of him that had adorned my bedroom wall as a girl," giggled Barbara.

"He really is gorgeous and I don't care what people are saying about him," she added.

Barbara was at the LIPA event with her Liverpool-born mum Ruth who was keen to take photos of the big meeting.

"But her flash wasn't working and then, would you believe it, Mike McCartney stepped in to help as he was also there taking photographs," explained Barbara, who last year sang before the Queen at a private party in Windsor, presumably adding a notch to her OBE bestowed in 2001 for services to music.

Singing for the Queen was a bit nerve wracking but maybe not as much as meeting Paul. "When I started off with folk songs as a youngster most of the stuff was frothy until the Beatles came along and put a harder edge to the music.

"I was and still am a big Beatles fan and told Paul this. He was very gracious about my revelation."

Now Barbara has been asked by LIPA boss Mark Featherstone Witty to do a spot of teaching next spring at the Liverpool-based music academy that is loosely based on the legendary Fame School in New York.
"He wants me to pass on a bit about what I've learned in the business and I am delighted to have a chance for this payback, especially in Liverpool which I regard as my second home on several levels," she says.

Dunfermline-born Barbara, who now lives amidst the rolling fields of Lincolnshire with her three sons and husband Oliver Cookson, a former stage manager at the Liverpool Playhouse, is in a bit of a tizz when we talk about Sunday's show and her love of Liverpool as she and the family are in the midst of shifting house.

"I'm sorry if this is a bit rushed but the removal folk will be here soon but I do want to tell everyone that I am always delighted to perform in Liverpool," gasps Barbara animatedly, clearly multi-tasking as we chat.

Barbara's early incarnation as a singer was on the Scottish folk music scene and she still holds the like of Archie Fisher and distinguished Ewan MacColl in the highest of regards, including amongst her then contemporaries the Glaswegian King of the Comic Cutthroats Billy Connolly.

"The songs carried political and social messages that were important for the time, and we seem to have lost that foundation," remarks Barbara, whose seminal Beggars Mantle traditional folk album has now been digitally re-mastered and reissued as a CD, along with a handful of others.

"But I don't get a penny from them although it's great that they should be out there again," she says, not too bothered as her recording career has been somewhat charmed since those early days of warbling Beatles songs in Willy Russell's trail-blazing musical biop, which arguably launched what is now a veritable tidal wave of tribute shows.

Russell had known Dickson well through his own folk music antecedents running a folk club in Runcorn - while still a full-time teacher - and as a member of a trio.

He wanted her to sing in his new musical but Everyman Theatre director Alan Dossor wasn't really up for a folk singer - and a Scottish one to boot, although in mitigation half a Scouser - doing Beatles songs.

"But Willy was insistent and I did the show, although I was very nervous at first. I was very fortunate because Robert Stigwood was at one of the shows and signed me up on the spot," explains Barbara, who maintained her close friendship with Russell in the ensuring years.

She was his natural choice for the lead role in Blood Brothers; the tragic tale of twins separated at birth that still receives standing ovations after every performance.

Her Mrs Johnstone - the first in a distinguished long line of singers to play the heartbroken mum is still rated as the most poignant, winning her an Olivier Award, along with a clutch of others West End prizes.

She has returned the favour singing on Willy's own debut album Hoovering the Moon but is adamant, like legions of others, that he should write another musical.

"He can get to the very heart of people's feelings and is hugely talented as a lyricist and musician," commented Barbara.

"I reprised Mrs Johnstone in London in the early 90s and in Liverpool a few years ago but really its no longer on my future agenda, although it was my first acting part," she says, recalling that following that she became almost a household name starring in the hit television drama series Band of Gold with Geraldine James, who has also remained a close pal.

"I do consider myself an actress as well as a singer and if I could work with the likes of Trevor Nunn or Chris Bond I would love it," says Barbara, who went on to star with James Bolam in The Missing Postman and then a wealthy ex-pop star in Taggart, the Glasgow-based cop thriller.

She also hit a chord with the nation as the housewife who blows a fortune in Spend, Spend, Spend.

Barbara may well incline to describe herself modestly as a folk singer who got lucky but she didn't rely on that genre to catapult herself - and that singularly stunning voice - onto a wider arena, chalking up a string of hit albums in the late 1970s. She just grasped the nettle and sang.

Her first - and for that matter only - number one was shared with the diminutive vocal powerhouse Elaine Page with the perfectly sublime song I Know Him So Well, although Barbara had already cut her teeth with such striking songs as Caravans.

Contrary to what people might assume, after her fast-paced hit songs Barbara confesses that she does have a dark side that reflects the mood and temperament of the folk songs she was weaned on.

"It was a defining period in my life and those songs do have such passion. These days I am fortunate to be able to do the sort of songs that really appeal to me and my forthcoming new album is closer to the style of that early material," she adds.

"Daily Post", October 2003. Interview by Lew Baxter.