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It's been an exciting week for Welsh diva Dame Shirley. A triumphant set at Glastonbury last weekend saw her delighting the mud-soaked crowds with renditions of Hey Big Spender and The Lady Is A Tramp.

It's been an exciting week for Welsh diva Dame Shirley. A triumphant set at Glastonbury last weekend saw her delighting the mud-soaked crowds with renditions of Hey Big Spender and The Lady Is A Tramp.

And ladies facing a sodden Northumberland Plate Day today can take a tip from Dame Shirley on how to cope with the conditions yet keeping a touch of glamour.

She got round the problem of the oozing mud by donning diamond-encrusted wellies bearing the letters "DSB", keeping the rain off her feathered Julien MacDonald outfit with a dressing gown.

Drama followed the fabulous gig when she was caught in the terrible weather on her way back from the festival. Her helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a school field in Surrey.

Dressed in wellies and a mac, she emerged from her aircraft and declared to gathered locals: "I don't need a cup of tea, I need the bathroom." Dame Shirley is all about doing it with style and drama and, small hiccups aside, 2007 is shaping up to be her most triumphant year yet.

After celebrating her 70th birthday in January, Dame Shirley came out of semi-retirement and became the first artist to have a career of chart hits spanning 55 years, with her recent single, The Living Tree.

And her performance at the music festival showed a younger generation what made their parents and grandparents fall in love with the pop icon.

"You can't say no to Glastonbury - it's exciting," she says in her trademark husky voice.

But despite years of experience, Shirley reveals that she still gets the jitters before a performance.

"I get more nervous now than ever, because the audience know your every move and they know your song. They know if you make a mistake.

"I suppose when you start off, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and then when you become successful, then you think, `I could lose all this,' and the nerves start."

Shirley's passion for singing began when she was only a child, the youngest of seven, living in a deprived area of Cardiff.

"I was born with these vocal chords that I didn't even know I had. When somebody tried to tell my mother, she said, `She gets on our nerves sometimes.'

"That didn't inspire me to be a singer at all. I would sing instead of crying, I remember, and my sister would say, `Mum, Shirley's at it again. Can you tell her to shut up? We're trying to sleep.'"

She continued to sing while working at a local factory as a teenager, and earned extra money singing at working men's clubs.

"Even when I had my first job in the factory, and I'm wrapping up all this enamel ware for export, I'd just sing and people would stop working.

"The supervisor would say, `Bassey, what do you think you're doing? Get back to work, all of you.' The whole factory would stop. I didn't realise what I was doing. I was not appreciated, I really was not.

"It was like I was meant to do it. This is my destiny. I have no say in it, so I'll probably be singing as they lower me down to six feet under," she adds before laughing heartily. "What a dreadful thought!" Her talent was discovered during one of those gigs and after signing her first professional contract at 16, Shirley was soon singing in theatres across the UK.

"This wave came in, I was discovered, and I've been on that wave ever since. I can't get off. Help!" she laughs.

"It's fantastic. My manager - who discovered me - always said to me that I would only be a cabaret singer and that I would never appeal to a family audience. Boy, did I prove him wrong, and was he ever proven wrong!"

The legend, who has swapped the bright lights of London for the glamour of Monte Carlo, has sold millions of records worldwide and spent more weeks in the charts than any other British female recording artist.

Her most famous hits include Big Spender and the two Bond themes Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever.

"What really helped me break America was Goldfinger. I aptly got my first gold record for the song, but it's a tough nut to crack," she explains.

"Goldfinger was written for me and so was Diamonds. I had to hold the note because I was singing to the credits and I had to hold it until the credits finished. I nearly passed out!"

Surprisingly, the Welsh superstar admits that she hasn't mastered the technical aspects of music.

"I know nothing about music. I cannot read a note... but I know music in my head, and I can sing."

But no one knows more about the changes in the industry than the Dame, and she isn't filled with optimism.

"There's so much competition, and if they do get discovered, it's sad. It's not lasting because they're not looked after, they're not nurtured and taken care of. I was taken care of.

"They're instant stars. They can't handle it and the inevitable happens - some turn to drugs and drink."

This month, the twice-married Shirley releases her new album Get The Party Started - her first after nearly 10 years. The album combines new recordings and remixes of classic tracks like Nancy Sinatra's You Only Live Twice, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive and Kiss Me Honey Honey.

She started recording after hearing the song The Living Tree, which was written by London duo Never The Bride.

"It was stuck in my gym bag for about three weeks, and finally I listened to it. It really made the hairs on the back of my head stand out," Shirley recalls.

"I had not heard a song that did that to me for years and I thought I have to record it. I thought at the ripe old age of 70, the September of my years, I found this fantastic song." She also had to sing the line, "kiss my ass", in a cover of Pink's Get The Party Started, which she sang in a Marks & Spencer advert. "I was embarrassed about it at first, because those words don't come so freely to me, I don't use them. Except in The Living Tree, it's there again. And when I came to that line," she giggles, "in Get The Party Started, I giggled and the girls said, `Let's keep it in'."

Shirley thinks another risque song on the album - Can I Touch You There - might go down the same route as her first single, Burn My Candle.

"We're going to go to jail," she exclaims. "It's going to be banned, the BBC are going to ban that like they banned Burn My Candle - boom boom at both ends. And it was a big hit because BBC banned it. I was 18 or 19 at the time, and had no idea what I was singing about.

"Then, I wanted to know why it was banned, and when it was explained to me, I never sang the song the same again. And there's me thinking it was a real candle," she laughs.

Shirley, who was awarded Dame status in 2000, may have the title, but there are no airs and graces about her.

"I'm just Madame Bassey in Monte Carlo," she says simply.

"Nobody bothers me. It's wonderful that I can get away from it and have a so-called normal life, but the wanderlust I inherited from my merchant seaman father soon sets in, and I get restless."

* Dame Shirley's album, Get The Party Started is out now. The single of the same name is out on July 23.

PROFILE

Name: Shirley Veronica Bassey

Birth date: January 8, 1937

Significant other: Has been married and divorced twice, with three children - two daughters (one deceased) and an adopted son.

Career high: Becoming a Dame and being awarded France's top honour, the Legion d'honneur.

Career low: Hates stories about her personal life, especially her daughter's death.

Famous for: Her Bond themes - she is the only singer to have recorded more than one theme song.

Words of wisdom: "I love travelling. I think if I gave up singing tomorrow, I would still travel. I love living out of a suitcase."

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