Kathy Kirby (born Kathleen O'Rourke; 20 October 1938 – 19 May 2011) was an English singer, reportedly the highest-paid female singer of her generation. She is best known for her cover version of Doris Day's "Secret Love" and for representing the United Kingdom in the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing in second place. Her physical appearance often drew comparisons with Marilyn Monroe. She peaked in popularity in the 1960s.
Kathy Kirby was born Kathleen O'Rourke on the 20th October 1940 in Ilford, Essex. Her singing career started soon after leaving school when, following a meeting with the bandleader Bert Ambrose at the Ilford Palais, she managed to secure a job singing with his orchestra. It was no mean feat for a girl of such tender years as the Ambrose orchestra, with hundreds of recordings under its belt, once laid claim to being Britain's best hotel band of the thirties and had enjoyed audiences that regularly included royalty. She remained with Ambrose's band for three years and he remained her manager and mentor until his death in 1971.
Kathy achieved national prominence in the U.K. as a resident singer, on the British TV series, "Stars and Garters" (1963). She adopted the look of a 'blonde bombshell', and was compared to Marilyn Monroe. Her looks, lip-gloss and her powerful, pitch-perfect voice became her trademarks. Signed to Decca records, she had several hit singles, Kathy had a hit called "(He's a) Big Man" in Vancouver's CFUN in January, 1963.
She scored her first UK Top 20 smash hit with Dance On, a chart topper by the British Group, The Shadows from earlier that year. Kathy's version also topped the single charts in Australia. An attempt to create similar waves by adding lyrics to another instrumental, this time the version by The Spotniks of the traditional "Hava Nagila" was less of a success, despite being given a similar Kirby treatment. Probably, she is most remembered for her dramatic re-working of the Doris Day song, 'Secret Love' which reached the UK Top 5. That year (1963), she won Top British Female Singer in the New Musical Express poll.
Further hit singles were provided in the form of a cover version of Teresa Brewer's "Let me go lover," as well as "You're the One," and 1965's British Eurovision Song Contest entry, "I Belong," which came a creditable second. For her performance, author and historian John Kennedy O'Connor describes "I Belong" as being far more representative of current musical tastes than other songs from the contest, but Kathy was beaten by the even more contemporary song from Luxembourg, written by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by France Gall. She also sang the theme tune of the BBC television series Adam Adamant Lives!. In 1965 she also scored a hit single in the U.S. with the song "The Way of Love."
Kirby's star faded in the late 1960s. She recorded twelve singles and an album between 1967 and 1973, but did they did not achieve her previous success. She continued to make television appearances, and her 1974 appearance on The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club TV variety show is available to watch on YouTube.
During the 1970s Kirby's singing career was eclipsed by a turbulent personal life, but she made occasional television appearances and performed a few live concerts on the "nostalgia circuit". On 31 December 1976, she performed her hit song "Secret Love" on BBC1's A Jubilee Of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen
Elizabeth II's impending Silver Jubilee. In December 1983 she gave one last concert in Blackpool, then retired from show business altogether.She did not perform in public after her retirement, but an amateur recording of Kirby singing the song "He", made in about 2005, is available online.
Interest in Kirby and her work continued long after she stopped performing, particularly among gay men, for whom she was something of an icon. In her last decade, she recorded short greetings for her official website. A biography was published in 2005, and there was a 2008 stage show about her life, written and produced by Graham Smith, called Secret Love. Smith re-wrote the show for the 2012 Haworth Festival, entitling it: Dance On: The Kathy Kirby Story.
Kirby was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was in poor physical and mental health for much of her life. Following her retirement, she lived in a series of apartments and hotels in West London, settling in an apartment in Emperor's Gate, South Kensington, surviving on state benefits and some royalties, and maintaining what has been called a "Garbo-esque" seclusion. Very shortly before her death, Kirby moved to Brinsworth House in Twickenham at the insistence of her niece, Sarah, Lady Thatcher, wife of Mark Thatcher. Another niece, Claudia, became Lady Rothermere after marrying Viscount Rothermere.
Kirby died on 19 May 2011, a few days after moving to Brinsworth House. According to a message posted by a relative on a fan website, Kirby suffered a heart attack. (Info edited mainly from Wikipedia)