Lulu: "I've still got something to shout about"
She's been in showbiz for half a century, but Lulu has just shed her secrets and shame and found a best friend in her former husband ahead of her Belfast show later this year
Lulu is like a young one. She's standing on two bar stools, a Converse-shod foot on each, posing for her photograph. Initially, she baulked at the suggested pose, but not because she wasn't game.
She just didn't like the mural backdrop, but she came around. Her two young male assistants aren't so sure about the slightly wobbly stools, but Lulu's not bothered. She's not going to fall, she assures them, and with it you get the message that no one should dare to think, never mind say, that at her age, she shouldn't be taking the risk.
Lulu is 66 now. Or, that should really read 'only 66'. Because she is like a young one, with her strawberry blonde hair, all flicky and shiny and far more suited to her face than the helmet-like bobs of the 1960s. She gets it done at the salon of her hairdresser ex-husband, multi millionaire Frizz Ease inventor John Frieda, Lulu admits, with a cheeky squeal of laughter.
Funnily, though, contradicting her girlish demeanour, Lulu says that it's only now that she finally feels like a grown-up. The Glasgow girl who became a star with 'Shout' when she was only 15 might be a granny, but she only feels like a real adult lately.
"You don't become an adult at 15," she says of her first flush of fame. "You do adult things and you give the impression of being grown up, but you're not. I've only grown up now, really. Which is why it's so amazing to be able to sing again now, when I really appreciate it."
Lulu is on the promotion circuit for her first album in a decade, Making Life Rhyme, which is being distributed by Decca, the label that first signed her in the 1960s. She's excited about the whole enterprise and, because this is an album of mostly self-penned songs, she has an extra feeling of being wanted. Which is unexpected, she says.
"In this business," Lulu says, "that's something a young person gets. Us older people, I don't know. This business is young and it always was. But here I am."
Here she is. Lulu, all grown up and with a happiness that has been hard won. She was born Marie Lawrie and raised in a small flat with her parents, her sister and two brothers, one of whom, Billy Lawrie, has been her lifelong musical collaborator. It was a tough childhood, as both of her parents drank heavily and her father was violent towards her mother.
It was a childhood that made Lulu a 'caretaker' and a worrier. "I'm cray-cray, as my niece says," Lulu explains with a laugh, "because my head is always like a spin-dryer, spinning constantly.
"Coming from a violent household," she explains, "you learned very early how not to discuss or let on what was really going on behind closed doors. Life was all about secrets. But nothing was secret, really, because everyone knew what was going on, because you were living in a tenement building. But you didn't talk about what you knew about other people, either, so it was a world of secrecy."
And the secrets came down the generations, Lulu explains. Her mother, Lulu discovered when she was small, had been given away by her parents to another family. Her mother, she says, only found this out when she was 15, when a new girl came to her school and told her that she was her sister. It wasn't discussed in any proper way, of course, and to this day the family don't know what really happened, but Lulu and her siblings lived through the fallout.
"Both my parents were very damaged," she says. "My father's father threw him out of the house when he was 13. And neither of them had any help in understanding the damage."
Lulu says this as someone who has done what we now call massive work on herself. She tells me that she meditates and she has a guru, but that's only part of the effort she has put into breaking the cycle of damage.
"A while back," she says, "I did a feature in a newspaper with my brother [Billy]. I didn't read his part until it was published and it said, 'I am the oldest alcoholic son of an oldest alcoholic son of an oldest alcoholic son.' It was quite shocking, because he'd never said it to me before. But my siblings and I have done a lot of going over our past and moving on and also loving our parents. And we did love them, very much.
"That's because they were very loving," she adds. "But they were very damaged. They wouldn't talk about it and that was how I was brought up. But at this stage of my life, I'm talking about it a lot. I've lost the shame, and all the worrying. The feeling responsible for everyone else, has been alleviated."
Lulu sang from a very early age, she was in bands from the age of 11, and Shout made her a star at 15. It also got her away from home. Was that a conscious plan, I wonder?
"Yes, it got me away, but it wasn't my plan," she says. "But maybe subconsciously, you know? And it was hard. It was a wrench. But it was fun. It was unbelievable fun. I used to pinch myself."
Her teens must have been a whirlwind. When she was only 18, she became the first British female act to tour Russia. She went out with Davy Jones of The Monkees, she cracked America with her acting role opposite Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love, and she was Britain's favourite, bubbly, bouncy female megastar.
She was barely out of her teens - and about to represent the UK at the Eurovision - when she married Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. The marriage lasted only four years, and was reported to have been broken apart by his drinking and infidelity, but she speaks only fondly of him now.
Lulu was just shy of 30 when she married John Frieda. That marriage began when her star was still shining pretty bright in the late 1970s and continued through the lull of the 1980s, during which time Lulu had her only child, a son, Jordan. Her career enjoyed an unexpected renaissance in the early 1990s, when she featured on the Take That hit, Relight My Fire, but divorce from Frieda took the shine off that. In fact, that divorce took the shine off a lot of things for a long time for Lulu.
"It was a terrible time," she says now. "I had a lot of shame. I had a lot of anger. I was angry at myself. Was it my fault? And anger at my ex-husband, and his part in it. But now I've learned what my part was and accepted it, and I've let go that anger and shame. I see it all for what it is.
"I've forgiven myself," Lulu adds. "And I found that difficult, because I'm very hard on myself. If I have a critical mouth, it's my mother, because my mother was very critical. But she also had a hard life. And she had no one to explain anything to her, and that's where you can go crazy. I've had lots of help."
The new album, Making Life Rhyme is mostly about vulnerability, Lulu says. It's about not being afraid to say that you need love, that you have regrets and have made mistakes, but that you have hope, too. "My vulnerability was something I never wanted anyone to see," she says. "But I have learned and that has changed."
And she remains open to love. A long-term relationship ended some years ago and crops up on the album, but she has no big desire to forge one again.
"There are two men in my life, but nothing serious," she says. "They're my age and we have things in common, grandchildren, life experience. Oh, and there's another, one, but he's younger."
"He's in his late 50s," she squeals, and cracks up with laughter.
"But, you know, the most fabulous thing that has happened to me is that my ex-husband John and I have somehow got to the point where we are best friends again. It just shifted. We were always friendly, because we have a son, and we love him, but it's gone to a deeper level. You can fall out of love with someone, but you still love them, but it's because we're getting older, too.
"I don't know if I would ever get married again," Lulu continues, "and I don't care. It really doesn't matter. And that's a big thing for a girl who was raised to believe that happiness was the white picket fence."
Every morning, Lulu kneels and offers up the outcome of the day to a higher power. At night, she kneels again and gives thanks for what she has. And she's happy with what she has and is, as she admits, surprised at how things continually change and grow.
"I feel like this album is a gift that I've been given," she says. "I started with Decca at 15 and they're really rebooting me now and I can't believe it. It's amazing, really, because if you're an artist, if you're a performer, what you really always want is to communicate. We want to be heard."
And to be understood? I ask Lulu.
"Ah, I don't know," she answers with a laugh and flash of her original Scots accent. "Maybe that's asking too much. To be heard is enough."
Lulu's 'Making Life Rhyme', on the Decca label, is on sale now.
Lulu plays the Waterfront Hall, Belfast on Saturday, October 10. Tickets are available from the Waterfront box office on 028 9033 4455