Sarah Brightman deserves her fame and fortune, she tells Tony Clayton-Lea, but she cannot figure out how she earned the vilification of the British tabloids.
"I'm a very talented person, I know that. I'm a very gifted person. I have a lot of imagination. I work hard. I feel I have the attributes within myself to have achieved what I have done. There has been no luck, no miracles. The only miracle has been this voice."
Languishing in the limbo of popular stardom and tabloid fodder, Sarah Brightman - the most successful classical crossover female artist of all time and, judging by the above quote, probably the least modest - is slowly but surely winning the battle to be recognised in her own right, rather than as someone who was once married to one of the richest men in Britain.
There is something singularly guileless and childlike about Brightman. She says childhood was the happiest time of her life, quiet and free, with no pressure, yet she admits, soon after, that she is an incredibly driven person. She says she has no time for all the fuss that surrounds her star status, yet balks at having her photo taken ("We have a policy on photos," she says sweetly through a crisp smile) without her personal hair and make-up stylist in attendance.
Born in 1960, Sarah is the eldest of six children. She speaks with uncluttered ease, her Hertfordshire vowels perfectly enunciated. Her cherubic face is framed by a mass of curly tresses, and she's dressed in regulation combat-leisure-wear. She might not look like a multi-millionairess (according to Hello magazine, Sarah hasn't touched any of the (pounds) 6 million divorce settlement she received from Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1990), but she has the bearing of a person who doesn't shop in the local Spar.
After training as a ballet dancer, Brightman first came to public notice in her teenage years initially in the Top of the Pops dancing group Pan's People. Victims of the incipient video age, Pan's People quickly became a remnant of the Golden Age of Top of the Pops. Sarah was subsequently head-hunted by Arlene Phillips for the troupe's racier replacement, Hot Gossip. Through a confluence of music industry shenanigans, none of which she says she liked, Sarah scored her first hit single in 1978 - I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper. A follow-up single six months later, the sprightly Adventures of the Love Crusader, failed to make the UK Top 50. Long hours and a demanding workload were starting to take their toll, and shortly after the hits dried up Sarah, married at this stage to Andrew Graham-Stewart (who managed Tangerine Dream and, later, Magazine) was out of work.
While work wasn't readily available, auditions for musicals were. Sarah went along to several, including Cats. It was at this point she met Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was a pivotal moment in both their lives. She had already separated from her first husband, and her effect on Lloyd Webber was such that he left his wife (also called Sarah - which one supposes meant, at very least, that the monogrammed handkerchiefs and pillow cases didn't have to be thrown out). Under the microscope of the media, the marriage was more public than most.
Aggravated by the tabloid media who reported on her every move and mistake throughout her six-year marriage to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah talks about media intrusion with more bewilderment than bitterness. "The press make their own world around you, their own story. It was a wonderful thing for them to build me up, but then they broke me down. If I think about the six years I was with Andrew, there was always a story about me in the papers. It was an obvious thing, really, to critically have a go at me and my voice. Had there been none of that, though, and I'd gone for auditions for Cats and Phantom of the Opera, I would have got those parts, because I was right for those particular roles. That, coupled with the marriage and the money, very much went against me. Also, because I was young, I did a lot of experimenting as I went along. I was, of course, making mistakes. It was a difficult time."
Sarah admits to losing her sense of personality within the Lloyd Webber marriage, and has said that the public perception of her was as a "party-going socialite". Did she ever feel overshadowed or stifled, in a creative sense, during her marriage to him?
"It was such a creative time," Sarah enthuses. "Everything was happening very fast. He was writing, I was singing. He was inspired, and I was inspired. I didn't really have time to think about it. I didn't really have time to read things about it, either. I got a sense of things, which made me quite nervous at times. But, no, we were running all the time then, doing things. It was fun, but also a lot of pressure."
With one notable, traumatic exception, the 1990s have been particularly good for Sarah. In 1992, her father committed suicide, a fact mentioned quite matter-of-factly in response to a relatively throwaway question.
"At the time, I thought I was getting over it," she says, "but that kind of death doesn't leave you. It isn't necessarily a negative thing. I've actually felt quite warm since it happened, although for five days I was quite numb. Then I was left with a warmth and a lot of hope. I felt I could drop everything I ever thought was important, and go ahead with my life. Everything was important and precious, yet nothing was. It makes you think in a completely different way, and puts things into perspective. It was a strange experience."
One could say the same about having a conversation with Sarah Brightman. Grounded but cosseted, and as sweet as cherry pie (with a coating of frosted sugar), she says, without a trace of irony, that she doesn't know what being a star is.
"I don't think about it much. I hate it, really. With theatre, I like it, respect it, and enjoy it from time to time, but I never particularly liked being part of all the things that went around it. I didn't like the gossip and the intrigues and the drama within it. I was quite disturbed by it. I loved doing the performing, and loved the rehearsals. But the whole thing around it - I'm just not that kind of person at all."
And what of her audience? Brightman is not a bona fide or recognisable pop star (she walked through the busy foyer of her hotel uninterrupted by autograph hunters and, it has to be said, fans) yet she's popular enough to sell millions of her records world-wide. Her fan-base might not be hip or young, but it's out there - the silent majority which takes succour from her voice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's songs.
"I don't know who my audience is," she says. "People have said there is an integrity about me, and I think there is. I don't try to follow a trend. I have my own little path, and although I delve into things, I stay with what I am. I'm quite natural with it. Maybe people feel comfortable with that and they trust it, so they buy it. They'll come and see me in concert. I think I always do a good job in that area."
Sarah Brightman performs at The Point on May 18th and 19th.
Tickets are now on sale from Ticketmaster, 01 4569569, and other outlets
© Copyright 1999 The Irish Times
6 February 1999, CITY EDITION
Thanks to Colin M. for sending me this article.
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