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Rose-Marie reflects on her career, family and meeting 'iconic and lovely' Princess Diana

Outstanding performer: Rose-Marie has starred in hit musicals and enjoyed success as a solo singer
Outstanding performer: Rose-Marie has starred in hit musicals and enjoyed success as a solo singer

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to singer Rose-Marie (63) from Newry.

Q Tell us about your childhood

A I’m the eldest of six — there was me, my sisters Ann and Madeline, my late sister Kathleen, my brother Danny and then Geraldine, the youngest.

We grew up on a farm just outside Newry and we were all very close when we were young.

My late father, Owen, was a farmer who worked all the hours God sent. And mammy, Ann, bottle-fed the lambs and everything. I can remember as a child watching her doing that — she was very nurturing that way. But she had to take care of us too. It was a wee bit like Little House on the Prairie!

Me and my sister Ann (Annie, as I call her) had to milk the cows every morning before school because we were the two oldest. We used to sing Danny Boy to them because the acoustics were fantastic out there. Then we’d have to rush back, get our uniforms on and dash for the bus to go to school. We didn’t think anything of it, we just did what we were told — but it was no picnic.

I was never cut out for the farm life at all. I always wanted to see the bright lights of London, and even if I had gotten as far as Newry, I would’ve been a happy bunny! But you do as your parents tell you.

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The first four girls — me, Ann, Madeline and Kathleen — were the Kane Sisters and we sang at senior citizen homes. We would have gone up to the hospital at Christmas and entered talent shows. But I could not get these girls to rehearse.

My sister Kathleen, who was the youngest of the four of us, was always the gorgeous one. The rest of us were all redheads and nobody looked at us on stage, but Kathleen had beautiful black hair and big eyes and she would play up to the audience. At that stage, I was very shy and I had an awful lot of pimples on my face. I tried everything to get rid of them my whole teenage life and very little worked, so I didn’t have the confidence I have now.

But anyway, I would put them in front of the mirror and say, “Right, this is how we should dance, and this is what we should sing” but they were more interested in boys at the time. I was like the female Simon Cowell.

Precious memories: Rose-Marie with her mother Ann and father Owen
Precious memories: Rose-Marie with her mother Ann and father Owen

I gave it up as a bad job and I thought to myself, ‘I want to be a solo singer’.

Q What are you most proud of?

A For four or five years I lived in Las Vegas and I studied acting in LA, but the thing is, playing the London Palladium was my biggest achievement I felt in terms of my own concerts. And I did it three times, and then the fourth time I performed in front of Princess Diana.

She said to me, backstage, “I loved your singing, but you made me laugh”. And you know, I like the audience to have a good laugh. It’s important to me that I make people happy, so I like to do a bit of humour in between songs. Then, I ended up playing Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. It’s the hardest role I’ve ever had to play, I mean you’ve got singing, dancing, dialogue and pathos.

I got it on my second audition. I was doing a TV show in Dublin when my agent called me saying producer Bill Kenwright had just called and asked could I come in tomorrow — I got the first flight out.

I had a great rapport with Bill and we were going through the script when he said, “Do you think you can do this Rose-Marie?” and I just said, “Listen Bill, if I have your help, I can pull this off”. And that was it. That’s how I got the part.

Q The one regret you wish you could amend?

A I’ve no regrets at all and I’m very lucky to have my mammy in great health. I’ve made the wrong choices in managements and agents who didn’t make the right choices for me because I was very naive.

Showbusiness is a business and you have to have your wits about you. I had to go to court to get the royalties for all my hit records. I don’t regret that, but I didn’t get a record deal for years after that because when you’re a female it’s different.

When George Michael took his record company to court he wasn’t quoted in the same way that I was and he was in the same situation. I feel like I didn’t have anybody standing up for me. I thought I’d set a precedent for females who are not getting paid for their work, and it’s still going on today.

Q And what about phobias? Do you have any?

A I cannot stand heights or escalators. When I got the news that my sister Kathleen had died I was going up an escalator and all of a sudden my head was spinning. She had sworn my mammy to secrecy not to tell anybody she was ill, but I wish I had got a wee bit of a heads up.

I was lucky enough to get a day off from rehearsals of the Eva Cassidy musical to come back to Ireland and go to Kathleen’s funeral. But since then it’s been like a vertigo thing with heights and escalators. I even said to Robin Elliot, who I’m working alongside in the Aladdin panto, “You know, I wear these high heels for the photoshoots, but I’m not entering on a staircase, because I don’t like heights!”

Q The temptation you cannot resist?

A A glass of red wine with pasta is the most glorious thing. And king prawns.

I’m always on the Atkins diet. But I watched a documentary and people say they lose their energy because of it, so every now and then, I go off it — plus you can’t have a glass of red wine while on it!

Q Your number one prized possession?

A My mammy. That goes without saying. She is not a possession, but I am so lucky to have her.

Q The book that’s most impacted your life?

A The Judy Garland story (Judy Garland: a Biography). I found it happy and sad, and I just thought she was the greatest talent and the most amazing star. Hollywood wasn’t good to her.

When I lived in LA and I did concerts in intimate clubs, Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s daughter) came to see me and that was a lovely feeling. I met up with her a few times and I reciprocated by going to see her perform.

Festive fun: Rose-Marie with her fellow cast members who will be performing in the pantomime Aladdin at the Crescent next month
Festive fun: Rose-Marie with her fellow cast members who will be performing in the pantomime Aladdin at the Crescent next month

Q If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A I’m not politically minded, but if I had the power I would like to do things surrounding dementia, cancer, poverty and the homeless.

I think it’s awful to see people sleeping on the street. We should have more soup kitchens here, so people can get a hot meal every night.

I’m a Lady Ratling and a Lady Taverner and we raise money for the blind. It’s great to belong to charity organisations like that.

Q What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A I can’t stand all the swearing on TV. It seems to be the “done thing” now, but it’s excessive. And I don’t like ignorance.

Q Who has most influenced you in life?

A Growing up, I used to listen to Tammy Wynette and I ended up touring with her. She’s the most beautiful and most fabulous singer. I just loved her music.

And, of course, my dear friend Philomena Begley — I love Truck Drivin’ Woman. We’ve worked together a few times. And Tom Jones. That just goes without saying. I just love his energy. He’s got a different career now being on The Voice and what a great casting choice that was.

Q Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive and why?

A John Travolta because I love all his movies, no matter the genre. He would be great fun.

Then Liam Neeson because I’m waiting on him to ask me to marry him (pigs will fly)! I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s just one of those good souls.

And my mother because I love her. She would love to be sitting next to John Travolta and Liam Neeson.

Q The best piece of advice you ever received?

A My father used to always say to me, “Look foolish, but be very wise”.

He had another one — if he saw someone looking at me, he’d say, “Look at that boyo, he’s so low, he could crawl under a snake’s belly with a top hat on!”

I don’t know where he got these sayings, but there are hundreds more of them. I think I got my sense of humour from him.

Q The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A I go to the gym, but I’ll be honest, it is a chore. I’m an early riser so I like to go at about six or seven in the morning. I have to make myself do it — but I’m motivated because I want to keep my energy up, on stage and in life in general. I walk a few miles before I even get to the gym. But once you go, you just feel fantastic and energised.

Q The poem that touches your heart?

A I’m not into poetry. I’m a romantic and I love gorgeous words, but I couldn’t tell you a poem. I love the song Wind Beneath My Wings. I’m a great believer in love, so I enjoy big ballads.

Q The happiest moments of your life?

A When I achieved playing the London Palladium, because I never thought I’d get to do that.

I went through years of playing in working men’s clubs and grotty places and then, all of a sudden, there I was at the Palladium.

When I see shows like X Factor and whatever else — and I got recognised on a similar show — they all just want fame, but they don’t want to work for it.

I was on Search for a Star and Frank Carson got me my first record deal. When I did my first pantomime with him in Belfast, he said, “You should have a record deal, what’s the matter?” And I told him that I already knew the song I wanted to do (When I Leave The World Behind) but I don’t have a record deal and straight away he got Barney Eastwood to finance it — they were great friends. I didn’t know who he was, apart from looking after Barry McGuigan, but I told him, “I’ll pay you back when I get my first royalty cheque”. And I did. So, Frank took me under his wing, and that was the start of it all.

Q And the saddest moment of your life?

A When my father and my sister Kathleen died. My father was in his 80s and my sister was in her early 50s. We lost her to breast cancer and it was the biggest shock of my life.

I’ve lost so many great showbusiness pals too. I recently lost my friend Joe Longthorne and I can’t believe he’s not in my life anymore. I lived around the corner from him in Blackpool.

And Frank Carson, of course, and Les Dawson, John Inman, all these greats who I’ve been lucky enough to work with.

A It was enthralling to meet Princess Diana. I’ve sung in front of a lot of royals, but for me she was the most iconic. She was so beautiful and lovely. That stands out in my memory.

I performed with Princess Anne in the audience once and we were told to stand in line to be greeted by her afterwards.

She got to me and said, “I thought it was very rude when you were singing Stand By Me and people were talking behind me!” She is such a wonderful person and she works very hard. She is also head of The Grand Order of Lady Ratlings, which I belong to.

Q What’s the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A To hold on to my health and my energy. And I’d like to do more acting. I love comedy, but I love pathos and I just think it’s the way to go for me. But, I’m never going to give up the music.

Q What’s the philosophy you live by?

A To be kind to people and say “please” and “thank you”. I think politeness is very important. And I like to say prayers for people who don’t have much in life.

Q How do you want to be remembered?

A I’d like to be remembered as a kind person. And for all the hit music that I’ve had because that didn’t come easy.

Rose-Marie will lead a stellar cast as she plays the Genie in The Crescent’s first ever panto, Aladdin, from December 17-22. For tickets, call 9024 2338 or visit www.crescentarts.org

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