AFTER IMAGE - BARBARA DICKSON

"When I was appearing in the West End in 1974 in John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert I went to do a photo session for a new album cover and met a man called Regis who changed my life.

He is a hairdresser and make-up designer, and he turned me into a completely different person. He gave me a new hairstyle and taught me how to apply make-up in an interesting and glamorous way. In the space of one day I changed completely. Until then I had never been confident about the way I looked.

Because I didn't come from an artistic background, I was never exposed to fashion or style. Before I went into the West End I had been singing in folk clubs, so I usually dressed down in jeans and sweaters. I didn't even know how to apply make-up properly. So when I met Regis I learned so much. It was a fantastic confidence booster.

I've always thought that if I could give a present to every woman in the country, it would be to spend a day with a wonderful hairdresser and make-up designer to learn what their potential is. Not everybody is going to end up looking like Jerry Hall but you can really look much better than you think.

About four years later, I had some pictures taken by John Swannell and they were really lovely. I remember my mother being so proud of how beautiful I had become. And it convinced me that the way you look has a lot to do with who you are exposed to. If I had been a housewife married at 18 and still living in Scotland with three little children, I would never have known what it was possible to achieve.
Having said that, I certainly don't believe you should become obsessed with your image. I think it is a dangerous game to play to rely on your looks to convey everything. Basically I think of myself as being fairly tall and boney with lots of curly hair and a fat stomach. People usually think of me as being taller than I am, but that's because I worked with Elaine Paige and Elaine is so petite.

I have always found that people in the business are inclined to want me to come across as the chummy, girl-next-door type. That's how record companies have tried to promote me. That's not me at all. I'm not sure what my image should be. One of my main problems is that I haven't got a very clear idea of who I am. I diversify so much professionally and personally.

I have just finished an album called Parcel Of Rogues, which is traditional music from around the British Isles. It couldn't be further away from the hit that I had with I Know Him So Well. That excites me. I don't want to be doing the same thing all the time.

Personally I have two sides. Part of me is very domesticated and intensely loyal to my present home environment in Lincolnshire, and the other half wants to get away from all that and come and have a lovely time in London. I'm not entirely happy with either one all the time.

I never wanted to have just a career but I wouldn't have wanted just a family without a career, either. I consider myself very lucky to have met my husband Oliver when I went to do Blood Brothers in Liverpool. I had kissed so many frogs in my time that I suddenly found myself in my mid-30s wondering if I would ever get married. I am 11 years older than him and I remember thinking that we couldn't get married because of the age difference. Just before we got married in 1984, I said to him: 'You do realise that when I'm 60 you will only be 49. How do you feel about that?'

He said he didn't care. I warned him that he would be wheeling me round in a chair and I would have an ear trumpet and if he oggled any young girls I would run over his toes. I told him that when I'm old I'm going to be a real dragon, just like Bette Davis. We are aware of the age difference but there's nothing we can do about it. I'm not going to wear spray-on jeans and put four pairs of earrings in each ear and do all that tarty stuff to try to look younger because that's not my style. I think too much importance is attached to a woman's age, which is rather sad.

It works very well between Oliver and me because part of him is very mature and part of me is quite immature. Because of the age difference, I didn't initially see Oliver as a lifetime companion. Yet he was much more level-headed and suitable than most of the other men I had been involved with. He gives off an air of being in charge, and where important things are concerned, he is a very solid person. That's the sort of man you want to be the father of your children. You don't want some schmuck who's going to disappear.

A lot of women in showbusiness make poor decisions about their partners. I think it is wise for the leading lady to marry someone in stage management rather than the leading man. It might be very exciting but I don't think it's built to last. I didn't feel swept off my feet by Oliver but that's no insult to the relationship. I had been there and done all that, and I didn't want to settle down with a dangerous man. I'm old-fashioned and I want to be married only once. Unlike those starry-eyed, 18-year-old brides in white dresses, I really did listen to every word of the marriage ceremony and I found it completely terrifying. You are standing at that altar making all these promises in front of everybody and it's just not on to think that you can give up on it.

I suppose I left it quite late to become a mother. They say a woman's fertility seems to disappear as she gets older and that you can have problems starting a family. I had a miscarriage when I was 35 and I worried about it because I thought it meant I was going to keep on having miscarriages. But it's actually very common to have a miscarriage at least once, and when I knew that was the case it didn't bother me at all. I so desperately wanted to have a baby that I would have kept at it.

My son Colm was born within a year of my miscarriage. He was seven in August. Then I had Gabriel, who is five, when I was 40, and Archie, who is now three, when I was 42. I had no problems with any of them. When Colm was born I remember just holding him and thinking: 'Oh my God, this is a miracle' and I have never forgotten that feeling. It was very scary being responsible for this tiny, helpless person but - without a doubt - having my first child was the most momentous experience in my life.

I took about nine months off work after Colm was born. I went on tour throughout each of my pregnancies and I think I sang better than ever. But after each of the children was born I had to take time off. This did worry me because you are afraid that if you disappear for a while people won't remember who you are. It was important for me to be a human being as well as a music machine.

If anything, I think my emotional experiences of having children have improved my capacity as an artist. When I went back into Blood Brothers for 20 weeks earlier this year to celebrate its tenth anniversary, I felt that there was more depth to my performance. I hadn't done it for ten years, yet I reached new emotional levels.

I wouldn't have gone back into Blood Brothers if Oliver hadn't been able to take time off work. He is a freelance production manager in television so he was able to work round my being away. Our nanny, who is a very sensible, loving girl, was also there and my mum was nearby. But I couldn't have left my children without Oliver there. It just isn't fair to have children and then abandon them.

When I told them I was coming down to London again to sing at the Cafe Royal there were ructions but I assured them I would be back before Father Christmnas. I will be winging my way through the night on Christmas Eve and should get home by 2am. Once they knew that they were all right, although my middle son, Gabriel does still miss me terribly.

We have always been great therapists in our family. We talk about feelings, and love, happiness and unhappiness. The children and I always get to the bottom of whatever might be wrong. I think that is so important. It doesn't matter whether you're the Prime Minister or a dustman. You have to be happy in your own skin.

Now that my youngest son is three, and as long as I spend sufficient time at home on a kind of consistent basis, I do want to raise my profile. I would love to win another Olivier award. I would also love Willy Russell to write another wonderful musical with a down-trodden cleaning lady for me to play, and I would like to see myself in showbusiness for the next 15 or 20 years.

If I was hit by a truck tomorrow, I would still feel that I had achieved a huge amount. I will always have a career, but my children and my husband are the most important things in my life. Anything else is just fun and showing off and making a bit of money. I wouldn't exchange them for anything. If I had to, I would rather keep my family and work on the till at Sainsbury's.


"Daily Mail", December 1993. Interview by Lester Middlehurst
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