If you’re looking for an examination of Bassey as an enduring gay icon or as the latest veteran performer to be rehabilitated by collaborations with younger, hipper artists (Propellerheads, Manics), this is not the book for you. The author only goes as far as 1967, perhaps with an eye to a second volume at some point in the future.
In many respects, therefore, Williams is writing about a kind of showbiz cabaret culture that hardly exists anymore. He charts Bassey’s rise to fame as a West End fixture in theatre revues and post-midnight supper clubs, populated by shady Soho underworld types (fisticuffs and gunfights crop up with alarming regularity) and old school spiv entrepreneurs all out to bag themselves a piece of the big-voiced girl from Tiger Bay.
Bassey emerges as a driven and ambitious personality, if a little naive and trusting at times (in at least three period newspaper interviews she describes herself as “not intelligent”), falling in love at the drop of a hat and desperate for a film career that’s always out of reach. The transition from struggling chorus girl to full-on moneyed diva makes an interesting sub-plot, as does her complicated family history, but it’s the evocative passages about a bygone world of old-school glamour that gives the book its momentum.