"The Monday Interview" in The Independent from 8 November 1997:


Wrapped up in her gift

Deborah Ross talks to Sarah Brightman

Sarah Brightman's had her hair cut off. It's now a short, Betty Rubble-style bob that goes straight to the ears then flicks-up with a bit of a woosh! Very perky. And she likes it a good deal, too. "I feel much more open, much more free," she says. "I had come to rely on my hair." You hid behind it, you mean? "Yes. It was the first thing people always noticed about me. They were always saying: 'Sarah, you have such beautiful, luscious hair.'" Lucky you! "Yes. But is was beginning to thin."

She is wearing quite a saucy little chocolate, lacy shift thingie under a black coat-dress. Her shoes are flat, black lace-ups. Overall, the effect is part goer, part schoolgirl. She isn't wearing any make-up and looks much the better for it. Quite childlike and pink-cheeked and normal-eyed. She is much sexier when she isn't trying to be sexy than when she is. Could we photograph her like this?

No, she says, she'd rather not. Her fans, she continues, would be horrified. They expect her to be glamorous and mascara-ed and saucer-eyed and big-haired. She'll be wearing wigs on stage. "My fans want me with my hair. They love the image. This is the thing about the work I do. A lot of it is to do with fantasy. I don't want to see pictures of Hollywood stars in their dressing gowns taking out the rubbish. It ruins the fantasy." Ask those who don't indulge in the fantasy what they think of Sarah Brightman and the picture that emerges is that she's a bit of a cunning man-trap with a (former) fright wig hair-do, an unnaturally high voice and something of a sticky-out, looney-eyed look, which may of may not be the price you pay for having had sexual relations with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Of course these are not nice things to say about anybody. But what do I say now I've met her? I say it's not hard to see why she arouses suspicion, frankly. By this, I don't mean she is unpleasant. Or thick. Or boring. She is actually quite intriguing in a New Age, out-with-the-fairies sort of way.

Her father committed suicide five years ago but that's OK, she says. "If he thought it was the right thing to do it was, and I've only ever had good feelings about it." He was a property developer who built up a successful company from nothing. He was, she says, a very intelligent man but quite introverted. If he expressed himself, he did so through his business. When he was found dead in a fume-filled Golf GTI, he'd been divorced from his wive, Paula, for five years, and his business was going down the tubes. It was the last that did him in, she reckons.

"He was a very intense man who might have had a lot of anger in him. He was very shy. He could listen and digest things but he couldn't ever come out and say what he thought.

"He was obsessed by his business. When everything he had worked for tumbled, the thought of getting it back was something he didn't want to deal with. Knowing him, he thought about it very carefully. He thought, if from now on I'm going to be a misery to myself and others there is no point in being here. He needed peace. He was tired. He did the right thing, and an incredibly brave thing. Priests are going to want to kill me, aren't they? But I can't in any way condemn him. When he died, I had no angst, only a good feeling. It wasn't horrible." Does she remember the last conversation they ever had? "Yes. He said: 'Sarah, please don't do any more pop records. Please do classical. It's what you do best.'"

It might seem like a cold response but perhaps she just won't allow herself angst because it would get in the way with too much of her Gift. She bangs on and on about being An Artist with A Great Gift. (Of course she is referring to her voice rather than to the £6m divorce settlement she got from Andrew.)

Her marriage to Andrew failed because of the Gift. He wanted a wife and babies. She wanted to tour and record then tour some more. "If you know you have A Great Gift, you have to follow it." She was teased a lot at school not because she was irritating, but because 'I was very gifted and there was jealousy'. Of course, I do not have the heart to tell her that when her Gift goes on my CD player the cats shoot right out of the cat flap and refuse to return. Cynics carp that if Sarah hadn't married Andrew she wouldn't have amounted to much. Preposterous, I know. And as she stresses: "What you have to remember is that I was already established before I met Andrew." As she was. After a fashion.

At 16 she was a member of Pan's People, the group of girl dancers that in their heyday had pranced around on Top of the Pops. At 17 she was in Hot Gossip, another group of girls that did exactly the same thing. At 18 -- in fishnet tights and a spangly leotard thing -- she got to Number Five in the charts with "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper". At 20, she auditioned for Cats and met Andrew. At 24 they married. At 26 she was starring as Christine in Phantom of the Opera, a role he'd written especially for her. Would she have gone from "Starship Trooper" to the West End without becoming Mrs Lloyd Webber? Yes, possibly.

Certainly, she has not done at all badly since her divorce from Andrew seven years ago. One year, she was the most successful touring act in the States after the Rolling Stones. Her latest single, "Time to say goodbye", topped the charts all over Europe and went platinum five times. She began a national tour last week which will be going on until October. So she has her fans, and earns very nicely in her own right.

Indeed, she has never touched a penny of Andrew's £6m and doesn't intend to. She has tried giving it back to him but "he refuses to take it". She is now thinking of giving it away to good causes. She doesn't consider she ever properly earned it, she says, and can't think what she might spend it on. "I don't want to lie on a beach in Mauritius for a year." Annoyingly, she seems to have some integrity.

Now 37, she lives quite modestly, mostly in Germany with her German record producer boyfriend of four years. It's his flat. The only property she now owns is a small place in London. No, she doesn't miss all the sumptuous homes she had when she was married to Andrew. "They were beautiful. He has beautiful taste, a real love for art and architecture and furniture. He's living out the life he loves. But I think if you have a lot of things they end up ruling you rather than you ruling them, even if you have people to look after them. It's not a responsibility I like." Does she have any extravagances? "Well, every now and then I buy an amazing piece of jewellery and put it in the bank." You don't wear it? "No." Are you bonkers? "No. It's like somebody who loves art. There are some things you have just got to have."

She was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the oldest of six children to Paula and Granville Brightman. Paula, who had been very keen on amateur dramatics prior to marriage and motherhood, took Sarah along to her first ballet class at three. No, insists Sarah, her mother wasn't pushy or frustrated or living vicariously through her. She loved ballet from day one. Her first ambition was to be a dancer. "My mother's a wonderful woman, and it's not just me that thinks so. People are always coming up to me and saying they've met my mother, isn't she lovely? We are very close. She's a very spiritual person, a deep-thinker, and very giving."

At 11, she was dispatched to a stage boarding school because, dance-wise, she'd done all she could locally. She hated it. She remembers her first night. "It was a small room with two bunks in it. I cried continually and went to the loo every hour. I just wanted to go home." Things didn't get much better. She found it hard to make friends and was teased a lot. "Because I was so gifted -- because I had a voice and was a good dancer -- there was a lot of jealousy." She ran away once but her father talked her into going back. "He said it's up to you. You can go to a normal school. Or you can go to this school and follow through what you want to do." She stuck to the boarding school. So even as a schoolgirl her personal unhappiness wasn't allowed to interfere with her ambition.

She was expected to join Royal Ballet, but failed the audition. She doesn't know why. "Everyone expected me to get in because of my Gift." She was devastated, yes, then ended up in Pan's People. Pan's People weren't much fun because it was after their Top of the Pops peak (they'd been replaced by Legs & Co) and it was just her and Babs and Dee-Dee going around the provinces doing rubbish dance routines. Hot Gossip was much better because "it was more interesting, and Arlene Phillips was fanatical about training." Having the his with Starship was great. "I was elated. I enjoyed the success very much. Any money I received I blew on cars and clothes. I didn't realise you had to pay tax." However, her second record flopped.

"That felt dreadful. And I was out of work quite a while. That's when I started taking things more seriously."

When she first met Andrew, he was married to someone else as, in fact, she was. But her first marriage, she says, doesn't merit talking about because it was a silly, impetuous thing. Anyway, she and Andrew both divorced and then married each other. Now, what you want to know, I suspect, is whether she married him just to give her career the Big Push it so desperately needed at that time.

No, I don't think so. I don't think she could ever be so cunning, at least not consciously. Was it love then? In a way, yes, it probably was.

I mean here was Sarah, a young thing with A Great Gift that needed recognising. And here was Andrew, one of the world's best-known, most successful composers, sitting up and taking notice, doing that recognising.

How could she be expected to resist? Why, even, would she want to resist? It must have felt heavenly. It was have felt like love. Trouble was, Sarah was rubbish as a wife.

"I can't be a wife. I'm not that sort of person. Wives have to compromise all the time. I knew I had a Gift and had to follow that Gift. I wrapped myself in cotton wool and did what I knew I had to do. I tried to do both, but couldn't make it work." Ultimately, they divorced on the grounds of his adultery with a woman called Madeleine, who became the third and latest Mrs Lloyd Webber. Madeleine did not have a Gift and liked horses and babies. Yes, Andrew wanted children with Sarah. "Andrew loves children." But Sarah didn't want any, and still doesn't. "I just don't have the yearning," she says. Plus, of course, they'd get in the way rather.

In conclusion what, I suppose, you most want to know is whether Sarah Brightman's just a two-bit dancer who Got Lucky or something rather more. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure.

Does her Gift leave her any space to have fun? "God, this is going to sound terrible, but nothing. I have my boyfriend and a couple of good friends and a little sister, who lives with me, but I don't have time for anything else. My work is my hobby. I love music. You do have to be fairly selfish when you have a Gift. You cannot afford to let too many outside things get in the way."

© The Independent, 8 September 1997.

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