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DOWN-TO-EARTH SINGER BARBARA LIKES TO KEEP THINGS LOW-KEY

Made of the right stuff. Barbara Dickson, the Rosyth dockyard worker's daughter from Dunfermline, her 60th looming next year, exudes feet-on-the-ground solidity. Not too much of that about nowadays. Yet I've just slapped her wrist.

I can chide her so because I know her so well. She's not been listening to her mother. To be fair, though, Barbara, volunteered the disconcerting snip during our latest encounter. She has a new album to coincide with her forthcoming tour. All Beatles songs. "Mum wasn't best pleased when she heard it because they're not in-your-face songs. I've chosen rarely heard material from the Beatles repertoire that are within my provenance.

"Songs with a story. I'm sometimes told there's a sad, plaintive quality to my voice and that's a throwback to my folk singer days and what's in my soul. Mum just doesn't want to know. She'd have much preferred She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand or Can't Buy Me Love.  I didn't have time to hold her hand and explain when I was in Edinburgh last month, for just 24 hours exactly. I spent the day with Yvonne, my oldest friend. We met in Fife an eternity ago - like me, she's a native of the Kingdom.


"She now lives in Inverleith Terrace and we had a great day. Went down to the Palace at Holyrood to catch the Canaletto exhibition, on the way back I saw the parliament building close up for the first time. It looks so grim from the outside - how do they clean the windows? - but I'm not as vitriolic as some about it all.

"We had lunch in the Botanics, over the wall from Yvonne's house. My beloved Edinburgh. Ollie [husband Oliver] had driven me up from our home in rural Lincolnshire and as we strolled the city centre we were stunned by the views. Something spectacular to behold from every other street corner."

Something stunning about Barbara herself. I present for your perusal a portrait from a recent photoshoot. No airbrushing, as can be verified when the marathon two-month tour brings her to Scotland early next year. Most women will want to know - what she's on. Can they get it on the National Health? Something she gets from her neighbourhood herbalist?

"John, in terms of personal appearance I'm not concealing anything from the News' female readers. If there was a magic potion I'd flog it at the box office from every concert. Listen, if I'm looking reasonably presentable at 59, there's no secret, no hush-hush visit to the clinic. Quite simply, I am what I am - cue the song! - because I've always looked after myself. I've never had cosmetic surgery. I disapprove of that. I'm at the gym three times a week, I do have facials, I'm not into diets. A lettuce leaf for lunch isn't for me.

"No, you shouldn't get haggard if you take care of yourself, shouldn't end up looking like one of the witches from Macbeth at 59."

And she's not one for glitz and glam. "You're brought up in Scotland, you hide your light under a bush, don't you? I've never wanted to be a showgirl in a little frock like Madonna, Kylie and Britney. They need more front than Jenners and Harvey Nicks.

"Will you be making me sound all goody-goody? Well, it's true. I don't relish the high life, the big West End premieres. Billy Connolly's the man for that."

Her civil servant days here in Register House and lugging a guitar round the Capital's wee folk clubs, singing for her supper, are well chronicled. She lived in Edinburgh from 17 to 21.

One of the milestones in her 40-year showbiz career - her duet with Elaine Paige, I Know Him So Well - made number one in the 1985 charts for four weeks. Still Britain's best-selling record by a female duo. A quality song. Others that took her into the charts included Another Suitcase in Another Hall and Caravan. "I'm asked why I don't write songs myself. I'm not a writer. If I can't write songs like Randy Newman, I don't want to write at all."

"Reader, not a writer. I prefer a good book to newspapers. I don't watch the soaps. As for the reality TV shows, when I look at them in passing, I usually say 'who's that?' Feel free to call me a true grumpy fogey. At my age you've got to be grumpy. I positively revel in it. You might say, and write it large, Barbara Dickson feels she's coming into the prime of her grumpiness.

"Tell you something else where age is concerned - and I'm not obsessed - I really need to get the bus pass. I want to get the bus to Kinlochbervie, gratis and for nothing."

The Carnegie Hall in home town Dunfermline will be as close as she gets to her beloved Edinburgh this tour. The album, comprising the best of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, is titled Nothing's Gonna Change My World. It's appropriate - nothing's going to change the world of this mother of three with an OBE. Not now. Not with the big Six-O round the corner.

"My ambition? I hope I sound and look fairly happy with my lot. Mind you, the Order of the Thistle wouldn't go amiss because, from deepest Lincolnshire, I'm reaching out to Scotland all the time. I married an Englishman. But don't hold that against me.

"Oh and John, isn't 60 the new 40?"


Edinburgh "Evening News", December 3, 2006. Interview by John Gibson.