Pop music’s Marilyn Monroe look-alike was born Kathleen O’Rourke in Ilford, Essex on 20th October 1940. The beautiful strawberry blonde was educated at a local convent school where she was a member of the choir. She won a talent contest at the age of three, began singing lessons at the age of nine and, between the ages of 10 and 13, trained as an opera singer.
12 she became interested in pop music and when she was 16 Bert Ambrose
and his radio orchestra appeared at the Ilford Palais de Dance where she
was allowed to sing one number with the band. Ambrose then offered her
a job as a professional singer and she was with his orchestra for three
years, until it disbanded. Ambrose then became her manager. By the time
she was 18 she was appearing at the Flamingo Room in Madrid and in 1958
was singing with the Danny Bryce Orchestra at the Lyceum, London in addition
to appearing in Cabaret in venues such as the Astor, the Blue Angel and
Kathy made her Pye Records debut with ‘Love Can Be’ and, during the next two years, had five chart entries with ‘Dance On’, ‘Secret Love’, ‘Let Me Go Lover’, ‘You’re The One’ and ‘I Belong'.
She made her television debut in 1960 in ‘Cool for Cats’ and in May 1963 auditioned successfully for ‘Stars and Garters’, becoming a regular on the series. She performed in shows such as ‘Big Night Out’ and ‘Sunday Night At The London Palladium', and also appeared on Royal Command Performances.
In 1965, the girl who was now nicknamed ‘The Golden Girl of Pop’ signed for an 18 week BBC TV series which was so successful she was immediately offered a second series. She also represented Britain in Eurovision with ‘I Belong', which was voted into the No.2 position.
During the decade, Kathy had no less than three television series: ‘Kathy Kirby Sings’, ‘The Kathy Kirby Show’ and ‘Here Comes Kathy’. She also sang the theme tune to the series ‘Adam Adamant Lives.’
was voted Top British Female Singer in a New Musical Express poll and
even had a brief entry in the US chart with ‘The Way of Love'. She also
toured with artists such as Cliff Richard and Duane Eddy.
Following the death of her manager and mentor, Ambrose, in 1971 her career seemed to go to pieces. She failed to honour existing contracts and developed a reputation for being temperamental and unreliable. Ill fortune plagued the beautiful star and she became bankrupt, owing £30,000 to the Inland Revenue. She married journalist Fred Pye in 1975, but it was an unhappy affair which ended in divorce.
In 1979 Kathy was arrested on a charge of deceiving a London hotel of £304 and remanded on bail on condition of attending a mental hospital. The court order was dropped in April of that year when she was found innocent and all charges were dropped, but such publicity tends to stick. Kathy hit the headlines again when she was found to be living in a London apartment with a lesbian, Laraine McKay, who proposed marriage to her. McKay was later arrested on a deception charge and sent to Holloway Prison.
same year Kathy was singing between each game at a bingo hall in Kent.
“It may not be much of a start, but I had to begin somewhere again and it couldn’t have been better. I know the mistakes I have made in the past, but I don’t think it will ever happen again”.
In1980 she sold her story to a Sunday newspaper in a three-week series, in which she ended with the words,
” I am not going to write off my career. The stage is in the bloodstream. If I am no longer the glossy-lipped Golden Girl of Pop, I have still got one asset left – that’s my voice. Someone, somewhere will surely give me that one chance I need”.
Following ‘the wilderness years’, during which she was also hospitalised, Kathy managed a qualified comeback on the nostalgia circuit with her 1996 CD compilation ‘The Very Best of Kathy Kirby’ doing brisk business in the foyers.
In 2005 her biography ‘Secrets, Loves and Lip Gloss’ was published and these days she shuns publicity and lives quietly in Kensington, London. Sadly, the beautiful singer with the exceptional voice ended her career some years ago.
Also see the excellent tribute site Kathy Kirby - Dance On!