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LULU ON MUSIC, GRIEF AND A MEMORABLE DUET

Dec 12 2003 The Mirror, U.K.
By Nina Myskow

SINGER Lulu can look back on an astonishing 40 years of hits. But the song that touches her most deeply has never been released as a single.

Nor does it feature Elton John, David Bowie, Ronan Keating or Sting - to mention just four of the superstar friends she has recorded with. .

On the final track of her Greatest Hits album she sings with her former husband, Bee Gee Maurice Gibb. It's a live version of First Of May, performed with him on TV just months before his sudden death during an operation in a Miami hospital in January. .

"It's a kind of homage to Maurice," she says. "He came and sang with me on my Audience With TV show last year.".

"Even Yvonne, his wife, said that it was an incredible thing to have done that show with him. Because although it's a Bee Gees song, it was Maurice on his own that I sang it with".

"Every song from our past means something to us because they remind us of certain times. The Bee Gees songs are so close to me, and that one in particular. I was married to Maurice and was in the room when they wrote it. With hindsight, it was a closing of the circle. We had closure - an incredible thing when you consider what happened so soon after." .

Lulu and Maurice married when she was 20. Though they were divorced four years later, it's obvious she was deeply affected by his death. "That was terrible," she says, the big, bright saucer eyes brimming with sadness. She shakes her head and recovers herself. I felt just... and I wasn't even his wife. I just don't know how Yvonne and the kids coped. They were completely devastated. "I think the whole family is still devastated." .

She pauses, and adds: "When I talk about him, I don't feel that he's gone, because he lived in Miami. Do you know what I mean? So it's hard for me to understand, to come to terms with it. I was in LA when he died." .

"I'd turn on the TV and all of a sudden big pictures of Maurice would come up, and they'd play something, and I'd just bawl. It was shock. It was a terrible shock. Horrendous, just horrendous" .

"Our marriage was a long time ago, but he's part of my life. Always will be. I still feel related to that family. I just do. They're very kind, they're nice people. And we made it our choice, to be friendly, to be civil with each other. To really remember, honour what was, and not just..." And her voice drifts off. .

"But thank God we had a fabulous friendship," she says, brightening. "The Bee Gees went off to America, so there was a healthy distance. No bumping into each other. And I was always close to the rest of them. I always spoke to Barry and his wife Linda, and his parents, Hugh and Barbara." Even so, she did not go the funeral. "I wanted to go," she says. "I talked to Yvonne, I talked to Linda, to Barbara, and to Yvonne again. They didn't know what had hit them." .

"And when I called Yvonne again about the funeral, she said: 'It's tomorrow." I said: 'Oh, my God. Where?' But while I was taking down the details, something inside me said: 'Should I or shouldn't I go?' Yvonne said: 'Lu, come if you like.' She's a really lovely person, and it wasn't: 'Come if you like, but I don't really want you to.'.

"But I was getting hundreds of calls from papers, asking for quotes. I thought that if I went and they started taking pictures of me I'd feel very uncomfortable. Yvonne and the kids, that was their moment, their time. I am the ex-wife." .

"And I thought: 'I won't go.' I think I made the right decision. You have to listen to your own voice, no matter what anyone else thinks. And be sensitive to other people." .

Wise words. But not surprising when you consider she's survived for so long in a fickle industry. It's 40 years since she first exploded on to the pop scene. It's somehow ludicrous to contemplate her age - 55 - when she's as cute and cheeky-looking as when she belted out her first hit, Shout. .

As she sits in a discreet corner of Claridge's in London, a diminutive figure almost engulfed in the plush setting, she appears fresher than ever. "I'm resilient and optimistic, which is a gift," she says, as she picks at a shortbread biscuit ("My downfall," she says). God knows I have to work on it, but it's all about attitude. .

"You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to deal with things. Move on. Let's face it, at this point in my life I have a lot to be grateful for. I love what I do. How lucky is that? After five decades, I've still got a record deal. It's like a bleedin' miracle." .

"It may seem like five minutes to me, but it's a hell of a long time. It's tough out there. Yet I'm writing songs, people are recording my stuff. It's a new lease of life for me." .

After the Greatest Hits album, there will be a new album and a tour next March. Lulu is putting herself out there in a big way, but she maintains that she is not in the business of competing with the likes of Kylie and Britney. "Kylie's fabulous, isn't she?" she says, grinning. "But she's the generation after me, and then Britney's another. I would never pit myself against all those other kids, either. That would be ridiculous. I'd never strip off the way they do. Most of them look like lap dancers." .

"But keeping up? I can keep up. That's key. I'm lucky. When you're wee like I am - five-foot-one - you can get away with murder if you're careful not to look like mutton dressed as lamb. And I'm fortunate that I've got good cheekbones." .

"I've tried Botox, but it's not something I do a lot. I try to keep a balance - except when getting up on stage and rocking it. That's where I can be extreme. Friends say to me: 'What are you on?' because I have so much energy. I take good care of myself, but music is what makes me tick and performing is my oxygen." .

LULU has the knack of looking good, and always contemporary. So when she was pictured last year with a toyboy there was not a whisper that she looked out of place or ridiculous. .

"That was so funny," she giggles. "What a fuss about nothing! I took him to a party, but it was not serious in any way. I went out with him twice. It was fun. In my work I hang out with all sorts of ages - it doesn't mean anything. But I loved the fact that Mo Mowlam and Janet Street-Porter both wrote about it, defending me." .

"Sometimes I wish I had somebody. I'm such a romantic. Sometimes I don't. I'm very independent. I had two of the best, so I can't complain." .

Her second husband - they are divorced, is hair-care millionaire John Frieda. "Thank God John is still alive," she says. "We are very, very close. I'm seeing him this afternoon." .

"I might not be interested in getting married again, but never say never. I'm quite confident that at some point I'll meet somebody, so I'm not really bothered. I have had a couple of relationships the public doesn't know about - nothing major, but it was great for a couple of years." .

She suddenly sneezes twice, and says: "My mum would say: 'One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a wish, four for a boy'." .

I tease her that she should sneeze four times. "Oh no, not a boy," she says, looking horrified. Then she jokes in the broad Glaswegian accent she slips into so easily: "It's a man I want." .

"I'm happy on my own until the right one comes along. I hate it when friends try to fix me up. But you've got to be open, open to change, whatever comes your way. Never mind men, the one constant in my life is music. I love it. People ask me when I'm going to retire. My God, if I was to stop I think I would fall apart. Disintegrate. .

"Doing what I'm doing now makes me so happy. Maybe I'm pathetic, or crazy, or maybe I'm mad. But I've had a great life, I have a great family, and I found a job I love doing when I was very young." .

"I've had my ups and downs, but I'm still doing it, and grateful for it. Why should I not be happy?" .