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Rose Marie: 'I lost my sister and good friend to cancer... but I light candles and still feel their presence'

Newry singer Rose Marie on how she coped with heartbreak... and how baby's bum cream helps her keep her youthful looks

By Una Brankin

Published 18/06/2016

Singer Rose Marie
Singer Rose Marie
Rose Marie during the early part of her career
Rose Marie's beloved sister Kathleen who lost her battle with breast cancer two years ago
An old photograph of Rose Marie with her mother Ann and her late father Owen, who passed away three years ago
Rose Marie with her mum Ann, who she dedicated her last album to
Singer Rose Marie

Every morning, Rose Marie follows the same ritual at her home in Blackpool, or her apartment in Kensington if she's performing in London. Before her hot water and lemon, she remembers her lost loved ones by lighting a series of candles, which she keeps burning all day.

The angel-shaped candles include one for her sister Kathleen and her friend Sally Farmiloe, ex-mistress of Jeffrey Archer, and one for her father, Owen, who died three years ago.

Now a very youthful looking 60 (she has her shapely legs insured by Lloyds of London), the award-winning Newry-born singer, who has sold more than 17 million albums worldwide during a career spanning 30 years, lost Kathleen to breast cancer in 2014, while she was rehearsing for her role in the musical, Over The Rainbow - The Eva Cassidy Story.

"My Katy Daly, as I called her (after the song), she didn't want me to know how bad it was," Rose Marie recalls. "She didn't want to annoy me and swore mam to secrecy. (She was) selfless. Her last message to me was to congratulate me on getting the part in the Eva Cassidy musical.

"She was always congratulating me, she was always proud of me. My Katy D always said, 'Rosie Posie, you just go for it. That part was meant for you.' I was starting rehearsals at 8am one morning when I got the news she had died. It was such a shock."

The husky twang, down the line from Blackpool, is unmistakeable. It cracks at the memory of Kathleen, who was 55 when she died, and she cries a little.

A mother of-two, Kathleen was living in Australia with her husband, Fletcher, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned home for treatment, but died last August, a few months before her daughter, Anne-Marie, was married.

"It's in my family on both sides, especially my dad's," says Rose Marie. "Nobody ever knew anything about that BRCA gene years ago. My Katy Daly knew she was going to die. She was very spiritual, big time, and very psychic.

"Dad was like that too. It's a gift you don't question. I'm always tempted to go to a psychic, but my faith holds me back. You're told not to do that, but there's nothing wrong with it. I know she's looking down on me and I think I will go and see someone, but I don't really need to.

"I light these little angel candles my niece bought me. I'm a great candle person - it helps me feel her presence. It's sort of like a meditation. If they go out, I'll light them again."

Like her older sister, Kathleen was musical and an accomplished player of the spoons. Rose Marie, however, is the star of the family of six, from a farm outside Newry. She has sung with Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, and counts John Travolta among her Hollywood friends. Her latest album, My Gift of Love for You, is dedicated to her 80-year-old mother, Ann.

"My lovely mum keeps me going. She 80 but looks 50 - unbelievable," she squawks, cheery again. "She's no big fat mamma. She has great bones and energy. She was a redhead too - that's why dad married her. He loved her looks.

"She's the love of my life. I look like her, I've got the same bones. Mother was a good singer, but girls didn't get to choose their profession in those days. She still sings at parties. Entertaining keeps her young. She always sang around the house."

Ann was encouraged to sing by Rose Marie's late father, Owen, a farmer with a high regard for women.

"Daddy always said, 'give the floor to your mam'," she recalls fondly. "He was an old-school person, but he thought mothers were the most important people on Earth.

"On Father's Day, he never wanted any fuss - he was always, 'Never mind about me - it's all about your mum'.

"I think about him every day. I love the way he thought about mam. He was surrounded by females - he had only one son - and he loved and admired us."

Still single, Rose Marie says throwing herself into work had been "cathartic" and has helped her get over her grief for her father, sister and friend Sally, who also died of breast cancer. The glamorous Howard's Way actress was 66. Rose Marie was one of the last to visit her before she died in 2014, a few months before the death of her sister Kathleen.

"They don't give you breast screenings until you're 50 - that's wrong. You need them earlier," she insists. "I get screenings and I'm fine - I'm into my green tea and all that. I run about like a headless chicken, but I love it - I thrive on it. I'm still a child at heart."

"I'm very lucky - I have the best of both worlds," she adds. "I'm in Blackpool overlooking the Irish Sea and I'm in Kensington in all the pollution. London for the fast lane; Blackpool for the sea air and the power-walking in the mornings."

Rose Marie lives alone but has dozens of friends in London, Hollywood, Las Vegas and Blackpool, where she worked and socialised with the late Frank Carson. Although she's had a few romances in her life, she says she has never met the right man.

"The ideal thing would be to meet a man with kids," she admits. "I would take on a family and love it. But I'm still waiting. There have been a few times it might have been, but it's not on the agenda at the moment. But if I met the right person - and I hope I do - it wouldn't matter if he had kids.

"Not having my own is not something I regret; I think it's a bit sad if you have regrets like that. It didn't happen. I have loads of nieces and nephews, and I'm godmother to four. I've put a lot of effort into my career and I respect women who've had kids and who try to keep their career going. I know how hard it is.

"I love it that my friends trust me to mind their children when they need a babysitter. I'm always minding their dogs, too. I'm a big animal lover but I'd never have the time for a pet.

"If I had a choice, I'd have a big old dog, not a wee one. I love labradors. I walk my friends' dogs all the time around Kensington Park. I love that. They'll come to me all dewy-eyed asking me to babysit them when they're going away."

A natural redhead, the singer has inherited her mother's youthful genes. She has smooth pale skin, which sits firm on her rounded face without the help of fillers or Botox, and often ventures out without make-up.

"Problem is, if I put a balaclava on to rob a bank, my voice would give me away," she guffaws. "I go out to the corner shop for a pint of milk with no make-up and my sunglasses on and it's, 'Oh hello Rose Marie, how are you?'

"I've never lost my Irish accent and my voice always bleedin' gives me away. But anyway, I think the most important thing to do is to look after your skin. You must cleanse and moisturise. I could write a book on that. Don't even go to the school gates without your moisturiser on."

Joanna Lumley recently claimed inexpensive Astral cream kept her skin smooth. Rose Marie has an ever cheaper alternative.

"You won't believe me - my mum likes Nivea, but I put on baby's bum cream every night," she confides. "It's for nappy rash and it does the trick. It's as greasy as hell, but I lather it on.

"I was told about it by a friend who read it in Vogue. You can get in Waitrose for about £2 - Baby's Bottom Butter. Just wait until your husband's away. I've my face covered in it at the moment."

She squeals and laughs when I tell her I'm going to try it immediately. Her sense of humour is infectious, and it's easy to see how presenter Dermot O'Leary hit if off with her when she appeared on the Big Brother spin-off show Little Brother on E4 a few years ago.

"He's a lovely fella. I played the theme tune on the accordion and told him he had no taste in music, as a joke, and he near wet himself laughing," she remembers with glee. "So then I got him to do Riverdance along with me and he laughed his head off. I'm delighted he's back on the X Factor and I love my Louis and Sharon too.

"I wanted Louis to manage me years ago - I was about 30 and he said, 'You're too old! I only look after boy bands'. So, then I met him again recently to judge an all-England talent competition, and when I walked through the door he greeted me like a long-lost cousin and hugged and kissed me. He said, 'Look at you! You look younger than me! What are you doing with your face?'

"I reminded him that he didn't want to manage me all those years ago and he said he would now, I look that well - 'Great for your 70s', he said. The craic we had... we took the mickey out of each other the whole time. He's been around the block and he's very genuine."

A former "dreadful" hairdresser, Rose Marie's talent judging days go back to the BBC NI show Go For It, in the 1980s. Fellow judges included her friends Philomena Begley, Twink and Bill Cullen, composer of the Riverdance theme song. With her comments on fashion, Rose Marie made many colourful headlines and an appearance on the cult BBC comedy series Shooting Stars impressed hosts Vic and Bob so much, they invited her to join them on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo for the live shows.

"BBC Northern Ireland was way ahead of its time with that show," she says. "I was the good cop, Bill was the Simon Cowell. You just go with your gut and try to give constructive criticism. We need shows like that to give talent a chance in front of an audience.

"My first audience was the cows on our farm - I sang Danny Boy to them when I was doing the milking. I wanted to be a female version of Tom Jones, a singer and entertainer, and thank God, dear heart, that's what happened and I'm still at it."

Her legions of fans will be delighted to hear Rose Marie's planning a Northern Ireland tour date for early next year.

"I'm hoping to do the Grand Opera House," she says. "I'm treated so good at home and I love coming back. I'm very proud to be from Northern Ireland."

  • My Gift of Love For You is out now. See

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