Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey (Part 5)

Ticket stub from a Shirley Bassey concert, London, 1980

Today, we present the fifth and final part of our series “Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey“. In this final installment, Dame Shirley overcomes a number of personal tragedies to continue sharing her wonderful gift with her fans around the world:

  • Dame Shirley‘s mother, Eliza Jane, passed away in 1981 at age 80, in Cardiff. After her mother’s death, Dame Shirley went into semi-retirement, doing limited recording and touring.
  • In 1985, her younger daughter, Samantha, died under tragic and mysterious circumstances, at age 21. Her body was found in the River Avon near BristolDame Shirley was devastated: She withdrew from the public spotlight and contemplated giving up singing for good.

    Shirley Bassey leaving the Co-op Chapel of Rest in Bristol, after Samantha’s funeral in 1985.

  • Dame Shirley, in past interviews, lamented that she did not spend enough time with her children while they were growing up. The demands of show business often kept her away from her children for extended periods of time.
  • Adding insult to injury, Dame Shirley then lost her voice. She worked with vocal coach, Helena Shenel, to restore it, even finding another octave. Prior to this, Dame Shirley‘s voice had never been formally trained.
  • After Samantha‘s death, Dame Shirley sold her homes in Switzerland and Sardinia, and moved to Marbella, Spain. She later moved to Monte Carlo, Monaco in 1991.

    Shirley Bassey at her home in Monte Carlo in 1999.

  • Despite being in semi-retirement, Dame Shirley continued to record, tour, and make television appearances. In 1997, at age 60, she released the song, “History Repeating“, written by the group “The Propellerheads“. It peaked at #1 on the UK Dance Chart, and at #10 on the USA Dance Chart.
  • On December 31, 1999, Dame Shirley was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by The Queen. She received the award accompanied by her daughter, Sharon, and her grandson, Luke.
  • In 2003, Dame Shirley was awarded France’s top honor, the Legion d’Honneur.
  • Daughter, Sharon, is a pediatric nurse. She settled in Reading, England, where she has lived for many years with her family. Dame Shirley and Sharon have a very close relationship.
  • Son, Mark, is a businessman living in Marbella, Spain. He runs a consulting firm specializing in real estate and event management.
  • Dame Shirley has five grandchildren: four grandsons through her daughter, Sharon (Luke, Sebastian, Nathan and Brett); and one granddaughter through her son, Mark (Tatjana).
  • Grandson, Luke, is a music producer and disc jockey. Granddaughter, Tatjana, is an aspiring singer and was a contestant on Britain’s X Factor in 2009.
  • Two of Dame Shirley‘s siblings are still living: Sister,  Eileen, and brother, Henry Jr., still live in the Cardiff area with their families.
  • Sister, Edith Grace, passed away in 1998 at age 70, in the USA.
  • Sister, Marina, passed away in 2003 at age 68, in Cardiff. Dame Shirley and Marina had a serious falling-out after Marina sold a negative story about her famous younger sister to the tabloids. The two never reconciled.
  • Sister, Iris, passed away in 2013, in Cardiff.
  • Dame Shirley has not remarried. Though she has dated, she is happily single and lives in Monte Carlo. She travels often and now performs mainly at fundraiser and gala events. She maintains additional homes in London and Palm Beach.
  • In 2003, Dame Shirley auctioned off many of her designer stage gowns at Christie’s, to raise funds for the Noah’s Ark Appealand to establish the Dame Shirley Bassey Scholarship for deserving students attending the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The auction raised over £250,000 (US$500,000).
  • Dame Shirley released two new albums: “Get The Party Started” in 2007, and “The Performance” in 2009. Both releases did very well on the UK Albums Chart, peaking at #6 and #20 respectively. “Get The Party Started” was dedicated to the memory of her daughter, Samantha.
  • Dame Shirley has a 50 year span of appearances on the UK Albums  Chart. No other singer in UK history can boast of such an achievement.

    Dame Shirley Bassey performing at the Diamond Jubilee Concert in front of Buckingham Palace in London, June 4, 2012. Photo from Reuters.

  • Dame Shirley performed at The Queen‘s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Concerts in 2002 and  2012 respectively. She continues to support a number of charities benefiting children in need, and cancer and AIDS research.
  • In 2013, Dame Shirley celebrates 60 years in show business. Throughout her career, she has sold over 150 million records worldwide.

Related Posts:
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 1
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 2
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 3
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 4

Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey (Part 4)

Shirley Bassey and Sergio Novak on their wedding day, August 13, 1968, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We continue with part four of our series, “Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey“. Today we will look at Dame Shirley Bassey‘s marriage to Italian businessman, Sergio Novak. Sergio, tall (6 feet 5 inches), handsome and three years Dame Shirley‘s senior, was originally from Trieste, in northeastern Italy. He was, by all accounts, a gentleman and a kind, loving husband. He was loved by her family, especially by her mother, Eliza Jane.

Sergio became Dame Shirley‘s manager; during his tenure he presided over the most successful period of her career:

  • Dame Shirley met Sergio Novak while on holiday in Venice, Italy, some time during the early sixties. Sergio was the assistant manager of the hotel where she was staying, the Hotel Excelsior Venice.  After an initial meeting, the two lost contact for several years.
  • Shirley Bassey and her husband, Sergio Novak, at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, in 1976.

    Dame Shirley and Sergio would reconnect in 1968. After a whirlwind romance, the two were married in the early morning hours of August 13, 1968, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dame Shirley‘s daughters, Sharon and Samantha, served as bridesmaids.

  • After the wedding, Sharon and Samantha adopted the Novak surname as their own.
  • Sergio began managing Dame Shirley‘s career in 1968. He renegotiated all her business contracts in her favor (including her recording contract with United Artists), which saw a great improvement in her finances. The couple moved to LuganoSwitzerland as tax exiles in 1969.
  • The couple’s new found happiness would not be without tragedy. Sergio and Dame Shirley were eager to have children of their own, and were thrilled by news of her pregnancy in 1969. Unfortunately, Dame Shirley suffered a miscarriage while on a tour of Australia. The couple were devastated.
  • Shirley Bassey with Sergio, daughter Samantha (left) and son Mark (right).

    Dame Shirley and Sergio would eventually adopt a son, Mark, born in 1966. He was her grand-nephew, the grandson of her older sister, Ella

  • In 1970, Dame Shirley released “Something” on United Artists. The album was a huge success, reaching #5 on the UK Albums Chart. It would go on to become the biggest-selling album of her career, spending 28 weeks in the Top 50.
  • More successful albums on United Artists would follow including: “Something Else” (1971), “I Capricorn” (1972), “And I Love You So” (1972), “Never Never Never” (1973),”Good, Bad But Beautiful” (1975), and “Love Life and Feelings” (1976).
  • Dame Shirley recorded her two more theme songs for the James Bond 007 franchise: “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1971, and “Moonraker” in 1979.
  • Shirley Bassey in 1972 during rehearsals for the joint British-German television special, “All About Shirley”.

    Dame Shirley‘s presence on television increased dramatically during the seventies. She would make a special appearance on the “Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show” in 1971. It proved to be a huge hit with UK viewers, making it one of the most memorable moments in British television history.

  • More television appearances would follow including: “All About Shirley” (1972), “The Shirley Bassey Show” (1976) and The Shirley Bassey Show  (1979). These specials were a huge hit among UK and European television audiences, earning top ratings.
  • A number of her concerts were filmed and televised: Royal Albert Hall – London (1973), Melbourne (1976) and Sydney (1978). Live recordings of others were released as LPs by United Artists.
  • Dame Shirley and Sergio maintained luxury homes in Switzerland and Sardinia. Their children attended the exclusive Swiss school, Institute Le Rosey, rumored to be the most expensive boarding school in the world.
  • By the end of the seventies, Dame Shirley would become  the UK’s top-selling female artist of all time. In 1977, she was awarded the BRIT award as the Best British Female Solo Artist in the previous 25 years.
  • In a number of interviews during the seventies, Dame Shirley described her life with Sergio as “happy” and “complete”. She admired him for how loving and disciplined he was, and how well her took care of her and the children. On the surface they seemed very happy and affectionate with each other. 
  • Shirley Bassey and husband Sergio Novak, at their home in Switzerland.

    Dame Shirley became a grandmother at the “ripe old age” of 42, when her daughter, Sharon, gave birth to a son, Luke, in 1979. 

  • Despite their successes together, somehow Dame Shirley and Sergio drifted apart. Perhaps it was the success and the demands of show business that the caused their personal relationship to flounder. The couple separated in 1979; their divorce was finalized in 1981.
  • Stay tuned for Part 5, where we will explore Dame Shirley‘s family from the eighties up to today; including a personal tragedy which almost caused her to give up singing for good.

Related Posts:
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 1
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 2
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 3
Roots: The Family of Shirley Bassey – Part 5