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Billy Sloan meets Lulu: ‘I loved a satsuma at Christmas… and Ziggy Stardust’

© PAScots singer, Lulu.
Scots singer, Lulu.

Lulu knows exactly what she wants for Christmas, and it’s not going to give Santa any last -minute headaches.

The singer says she’ll be happy just to spend the festive holiday with two of the most important people in her life… her two beautiful grandchildren.

The doting gran is affectionately known as “Nanalu” by Isabella Rose, 12, and brother, Edward, 10, the kids of her son Jordan and his wife Alana.

Jordan, a restaurateur, is the only child from her 20-year marriage to former husband, hairstylist John Frieda.

“Christmas now is a lot to do with my grandchildren and my family being together,” said Lulu, 74. “My son doing the cooking, being with my grandkids and getting them something they like.”

Lulu looks back at her incredible career in a special programme aired on BBC Radio Scotland this Christmas when the star reveals some festive memories from her childhood growing up in Dennistoun, in the east end of Glasgow.

“We weren’t well off but if I wanted a pair of roller skates – or a bike or pram – I’d get them,” she recalled. “Now, I try to be more aware of the spiritual side of Christmas rather than just being a mad consumer. I’m much less of a consumer now that when I was younger and first started to make money in the 1960s.”

© Steve Brown / DCT Media
Lulu at Rewind Festival, 2019.

“My memories of Christmas when I was small was the pathetic sock with an apple and an orange – and not an awful lot else. I love a satsuma so I got one of them,” she said, laughing.

“I don’t want to sound like Oliver Twist but today’s kids get so much. If we were lucky you maybe got a shilling hidden in the toe of the sock. Or wait until you got some money out of the Christmas pudding.”

In 2023, Lulu embarks on one of her biggest ever tours – including 10 shows in Scotland – to kick-start celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of her first hit single, Shout, in 1964.

It was when Lulu first saw her friend Alex Harvey perform Shout – a record by US soul act, The Isley Brothers – in a local club that proved a pivotal moment in her career.

Harvey blew her away so she decided to record the track herself – with its famous “We-ell-ell-ell-ell” opening vocal refrain – and it was her first Top 10 hit and became her signature song.

“Having a hit so young was a euphoric and very traumatic experience,” she admitted. “There was a lot going on in London. It was all throw your bra off, drugs, and rock and roll. I was just 15 so it was daunting.

“Yet I was hanging out with The Beatles at parties and my best friend was their manager Brian Epstein’s secretary.

“John and Paul appeared on TV pop show Ready, Steady, Go! and the host Cathy McGowan asked if they had a favourite record that week.

“They both said… Shout, by Lulu. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

© Sipa/Shutterstock
Lulu performing in younger years. 

In the radio show she recalls another life-changing moment when 14-year-old aspiring singer Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie was spotted by agent Marion Massey during a gig at The Lindella Club in Glasgow. Massey was blown away and famously said: “Well, all I know is that she’s a real lulu of a kid.” She changed Marie’s name to Lulu and the singer has never looked back.

“I’ve been singing for nearly 60 years. That can’t be true…can it? It’s just flown by,” said Lulu. “But I love what I do. I wanted to sing whether I got paid for it or not. I hope I can still do it until the day I drop.”

She learned her trade playing local clubs and US air force bases in Scotland – with groups The Bellrocks and The Gleneagles – where the GIs would play her their favourite R&B records on the jukebox and feed her American hamburgers.

Lulu went on to take the local music scene by storm with a new group, The Luvvers. One of their earliest support acts was The Who, then just a bunch of unknown musicians from London, who opened for them at the Kelvin Hall.

“After the gig, I invited The Who back to my family home for a party. They sat up with my dad having a drink until five o’clock in the morning. We’ve been friends ever since. Roger Daltrey still remembers that night… he mentioned it to the audience during his gig in Glasgow a few months ago.”

When Massey took her to London as a teenager she was suddenly rubbing shoulders with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Twiggy and The Bee Gees but Lulu was also a contemporary of other emerging UK female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw.

“My relationship with Marion was astonishing. She managed me for 20 years,” Lulu said.

“I lived with her mother and father in a wee apartment in St. John’s Wood, where people like Eric Clapton or Cat Stevens would come over.

“Paul McCartney would drop by while out walking his dog, Martha, because he just lived up the street. It was destiny… we had a karmic relationship.

“Marion protected me and always had my back. She is one of the main reasons I’ve had such longevity.”

During the radio show, Lulu also speaks fondly of working with some of the biggest stars in music history including Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Take That and David Bowie.

Lulu recorded with Bowie at the peak of his post-Ziggy Stardust career in 1974, covering his classic song The Man Who Sold The World. She also had a brief romance with the music icon.

“Bowie looked like a spaceman with his Ziggy hairstyle and he said: ‘That Saturday night TV image does not suit your voice… I want to make a great record with you.’

“In the studio it was very much his territory. I was stepping in to his world and didn’t feel that confident because it was so daunting. But I was hungry for a new experience and I was getting that with Bowie.

“He told me to smoke cigarettes to make my voice sound more rough. Bowie actually directed me to sing differently from what I’d been doing on television.

“Hanging around while he and guitarist Mick Ronson were doing the track was so interesting. He pulled out his saxophone to play the solo and then began to sing with me.

“I was in heaven because I was slightly in love with him, I have to admit.”

Billy Sloan Meets Lulu is on Radio Scotland on Christmas Day at 3pm and December 27 at 12.30pm