She topped the charts aged 15 and hasn’t been out of the public eye since but, Lulu tells Sarah Freeman, behind the confident smile she’s still a bundle of insecurities.
Lulu is sat in a back room of the Fenwick department store in York where she has just devoured a slice of chocolate cake. She’s just come from Bettys where she’s been promoting her beauty range over afternoon tea and, while she has a goody bag in hand, there wasn’t much time to sample the freshly baked sultana scones or the selection of handmade miniature cakes. In fact given the amount Lulu can talk, it’s a wonder she ever eats at all.
“It’s a wonderful place isn’t it? It’s like a little piece of the past and I love the old fashioned uniforms the waitresses wear, just lovely.”
Some interviewers have found her prickly. Not today. In a breathless half an hour Lulu will share her views on Scottish independence, fame, her own insecurities and insatiable appetite for self-help books, as well as her reliance on a spiritual guru. For good measure, she will also give a quick rundown of her current crushes.
However, first Lulu is keen to talk about Time Bomb, the range of night creams, day serums, polishing pads, body lotions and secret oils she designed to halt the ageing process. She’ll be 66 this year and lines and wrinkles first began to trouble her three decades ago.
“They say necessity is the mother of invention and that was certainly the case for me. I remember looking in the mirror when I hit my late 30s and thinking, ‘God, I look old’. Before that, I’d always thought I was invincible and it was a shock to realise I wasn’t.”
She says that she tried every anti-ageing product on the market, but finding them all wanting she decided to create her own. With the help of Gail Federici and Dr Joe Cincotta, who created products for her ex-husband, the hairstylist John Frieda, Time Bomb was born. These days every celebrity worth their salt has a range of merchandise, but Lulu insists hers is different.
“If someone said to me that they had their own beauty range, my first reaction would be, ‘what do they know?’, but this isn’t about being a front person for some big multi-national. I honestly tried every product going and I mean everything, but there were things I wasn’t getting. The moisturisers were too greasy, the eye cream burned. I would go out to LA and see all these women looking fabulous after having had chemical peels. It wasn’t for me. While they may have had a red face for three days, my skin is so thin it would have been a month indoors. So that’s when I approached Gail and it was her idea to challenge the team to see if they could come up with a range. Time Bomb has always been about finding solutions to specific problems. It’s not about jumping on the bandwagon and running after the latest ingredients.”
While it might have helped sales, Lulu took the deliberate decision not to plaster her name across the website, although she is a walking advert for the range. However, while dressed in grey leather jacket, jeans and in a nod to her Scottish heritage, a tartan scarf tied around her waist, she looks effortlessly glamorous, she admits she hasn’t always felt so confident about her looks.
She was just 15 years-old when she left home and found herself at the heart of Sixties London and while she grasped every opportunity which came her way, behind the smiling photographs which appeared in every glossy magazine was a naive, insecure teenager.
“It was magical time, a special time, but it was also slightly tortuous. I suddenly found myself among all these musicians who had 6ft tall models for girlfriends and there was me, short, with a round face, ginger hair and pink skin. Thank God for my green eyes. If it wasn’t for them, I would have been doomed. I learned to make the best of myself and I was good at acting tough, but the reality was that I was very insecure, particularly in social settings. What young kid wouldn’t be? I remember being introduced to Princess Margaret at some event and I couldn’t get a single word out. I’m not often dumbstruck, but what on earth could a kid from working class Glasgow have to say to a princess? However, the one thing I knew was that I could sing and once I was on stage all those insecurities fell away.”
Some might have beat a hasty retreat, but whatever doubts Lulu, who had been born Marie Lawrie, had, she knew that she had to stick it out and make the most of the good hand life had dealt her.
“For 20 years I worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I think it comes down to having working class values and never taking anything for granted. I don’t think I ever set out to have a better life than my parents, in fact it all happened too quickly for there to have been any kind of plan, but I knew that I had an opportunity to make something of myself.
“The truth is I was incredibly lucky to have been born around the same time as The Beatles. Their success meant the eyes of the world were focused on this country and that gave people like me a chance to break out. I’d been singing as soon as I could speak and my voice was always as big and husky as it is now.
“From the age of 12 I was singing in clubs on Sunday nights and performing at American air bases. It was great, but I never thought there would be anything beyond that.”
Lulu was wrong. Under the wing of her agent Marion Massey, she announced her arrival on the British music scene with her version of The Isley Brothers’ Shout and before her 21st birthday she had made her film debut in To Sir With Love, secured her own television series and taken on the Eurovision Song Contest with Boom Bang-a-Bang, back when the UK had a chance of winning.
While most of those she shared the stage with in those early days faded from view, Lulu never went away. When chart success looked like it was waning, she turned again to acting, appearing in musicals and hosting a long-running show on London’s Capital Radio.
Even in the 1990s when the world became obsessed with Britpop, Lulu managed to squeeze back into the charts with Take That and a cover of Relight My Fire. Along with her brother Billy Lawrie, she also wrote I Don’t Wanna Fight which in 1993 became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic for Tina Turner.
“I’m doing a bit of writing and recording with Billy at the moment and it’s great. I love going back into the studio, but there’s always a fear. What if you can’t produce another record? What if the songs have dried up? I still worry that one day, someone will tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘I’m sorry, we got it wrong, this wasn’t the life you were suppose to lead’. I know I’ve been incredibly lucky and there’s a part of me that worries I will be found out.”
Ask about regrets and while she’s reluctant to go into specifics, she does admit to occasionally looking backward.
“I’ve had two divorces (as well as Frieda, with whom she had a son, there was Bee Gee Maurice Gibb, who she married in 1969, splitting four years later), I work at moving on and I pray about disappointments. I’ve read a lot of self help books and I’ve had a lot of therapy, but I’m now working with a spiritual guru who is making me see life from a different perspective. I’m in a happy place right now.
“The main thing I’m thankful for is that I’ve had good people around me. In this business it’s easy to get surrounded by the wrong kind of people, but anyone I don’t like or mistrust doesn’t last long around me.”
There may be a steeliness to Lulu and she does occasionally sound as though she has spent too long in LA, but she also refuses take herself too seriously.
“There are not many people who I can’t look in the eye. Eric Clapton is one of them. I had quite a crush on him back in the day. In fact I still have quite a crush on him and who else? Well, there’s that fabulous actor who played Nelson Mandela (her PR does a quick search on Google to confirm she’s referring to Idris Elba), Gabriel Macht from Suits and Barack Obama. I adore him and he’s not a bad singer, maybe one day we could duet at the White House?”
Lulu breaks into a version of Obama doing Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, a rendition which earned him a whole new set of fans when he sang it a New York fundraiser. So what of her own politics? Where does she stand on the thorny question of Scottish independence?
“I do sit on the fence on this one. If those who live in Scotland want independence then why shouldn’t they have it? However, one of my mottos for life in general is ‘united we stand and divided fall’. As a human race I can’t help thinking we are stronger together.”
• Lulu is appearing on 14 May 2015 at the York Barbican, and on 23 May at Sheffield City Hall.