Born over a fish and chip shop owned by her grandmother in Molesworth Street, Rochdale, Lancashire, she made her first stage appearance as a child in 1905. Her two sisters, Edith and Betty, and brother, Tommy, all went on to appear on stage, but Gracie was the most successful. Her professional debut in variety took place at the Rochdale Hippodrome theatre in 1910 and she soon gave up her job in the local cotton mill.
She met comedian Archie Pitt and they began working together. Pitt would come to serve as her manager and the two married in 1923. Their first revue in 1915 was called Yes I think so and the two continued to tour Britain together until 1922 in the revue Mr Tower of London. Her career rapidly accelerated from this point with straight dramatic performances and the beginning of a recording career.
One of her most successful productions was at the Alhambra Theatre in 1925. The show, booked by Sir Oswald Stoll, was a major success and toured for ten years. She made the first of ten appearances in Royal Variety Performances in 1928, gaining a devoted following with a mixture of self-deprecating jokes, comic songs and monologues, as well as cheerful "depression-era" songs all presented in a "no-airs-and-graces" northern, working class style. Fields had a great rapport with her audience, which helped her become one of Britain's highest paid performers, playing to sold out theatres across the country.
Her most famous song, which became her theme, "Sally," was worked into the title of her first cinema film, Sally in Our Alley (1931), which was a major box office hit. She went on to make several films initially in Britain and later in the United States (for which she was paid a record fee of US$200,000 for four films), despite never enjoying the process of performing without a live audience. The late 1930s saw her popularity peak and she was given many honours: the Order of Officer Sister of St. John of Jerusalem (for charity work), the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) (for services to entertainment) in 1938, and the Freedom of the Borough of Rochdale.
In 1939, however, she became seriously ill with cervical cancer. The public sent over 250,000 goodwill messages and she retired to her villa on Capri to recover. After she recovered, she recorded a very special 78 record simply called 'Gracie's Thanks' in which she thanks the public for the many cards and letters she received whilst in hospital, and she
also sings a new track called 'I Love The Moon.' Her voice never falters. -She recorded this song only twice more. Once in a live broadcast and once on her final album 'The Golden Years.'
World War II was declared whilst she was recovering and Fields travelled to France to entertain the troops. In 1940 she married film director Monty Banks, following her divorce from Pitt. However because Banks remained an Italian citizen and would have been interned in the United Kingdom, she was forced to leave Britain for North America during the war. Although she continued to spend much of her time entertaining troops and otherwise supporting the war effort outside Britain, this led to a fall-off in her popularity at home where she was portrayed by the press as a traitor and deserter. Nevertheless, she performed many times for Allied troops, travelling as far as the islands of New Guinea, where she received an enthusiastic response from Australian personnel.
After the war, Fields continued her career on a less active basis. She began performing in Britain again in 1948 and starred at the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations. She proved popular once more, without ever regaining the status she achieved in the 1930s. She continued recording, but made no more films, moving more towards light classical music as popular tastes changed.
Although there is some doubt that her British citizenship was ever re-granted after the war(she lost it due to her marriage), she did a great deal of charity work, and established a permanent home on the Isle of Capri, Italy. Monty Banks died in 1950. Fields was married again, to Boris Alperovici, two years later. After that she began to work even less but still sold out theatres even into her seventies.
In 1978, she opened the Gracie Fields Theatre in Rochdale, Lancashire, it is located next to Oulder Hill Community School She made a final appearance at the Royal Variety Show at the age of 80; it was her last performance.