By Sarah Hook
I wish to thank Paul for granting Woman of Repute permission to post this interview. I also wish to acknowledge and thank Sarah Hook for conducting the interview, and Pat Rhodes for her insightful responses.
Despite the death of Pat's mother only a matter of weeks ago, she has nonetheless taken the time to sit and talk to me about Dusty. She knew the deadline was important for [the March 2004 issue of] the Dusty Springfield Bulletin (DSB) marking Dusty's death five years ago. I am enormously grateful to her for doing this, when I'm sure she would have preferred to be left alone at such a painful time. Thank you Pat.
1. How did Dusty feel about being back, living and working in England [from 1989 until her death]?
She was delighted but she was very, very nervous. She didn't think that the British public were going to accept her back because she'd stayed away so long, and because she knew the stories of the troubles she'd had over there had obviously come back here. But she was hoping the public would accept her.
2. How did she cope with being in demand again in her 50's
I don't think she ever quite got used to it. She was always slightly in awe of the fact that her fans still wanted her back, and she was forever striving then to get better and better because she just didn't want to let them down. She never once forgot how important her fans were. Never.
3. After the success of "What Have I Done To Deserve This" and "In Private," how did Dusty envisage her career continuing? Would she have preferred to retire and live quietly?
She liked working but she was always very conscious of the fact that she wasn't quite sure where she was going. But she wanted to work. Sometimes in the old days she thought, "This is too much," and she'd take a rest. She was looking forward to doing more of the live concerts which she loved, because it was contact with the public. And Dusty loved contact with the public. That's what spurred her on. When she heard applause it was adrenaline. It was pure adrenaline to Dusty.
4. How much did you have to do for her?
Quite honestly, saying what I did for Dusty on a day-to-day basis is terribly difficult. It was anything and everything. Sometimes shopping. If I went over there and the house was in a mess and she was signing pictures, I'd say, "Dust, do you want me to run the hoover over the place?" She never asked. Sometimes she'd say, "My sweaters are in such a state. I don't know where they are." So I'd sit and colour code them--just anything, anything at all.
In all the years I worked for Dusty she never told me to do anything. She always asked me. Never once did she tell me. That was the secret of the 30 odd years relationship.
I dealt with correspondence for her and always went with her to look after her clothes, etc. for any personal appearances. Television, radio, all those sort of things. I went to Nashville with her [in 1994] for recording too, but I was her companion then as I'm not a bit musical!
5. Was she tidy?
She was scattered in her bedroom, and the kitchen too because of all the cat food. They came first, naturally. But in her main rooms it always looked immaculate. She had the most fantastic taste. She was so artistic. Any house that Dusty had she put her own artistic touch to and it always looked out of this world.
6. What changes did you notice in Dusty on her return [from the US in 1989]?
Strangely enough, because of what had happened in America, when she came back she had a quieter confidence in herself because of all she'd been through. It had been a great teacher. She'd learnt a lot. Maybe that's why she'd had to go through that. She could speak more easily to people, which she'd always had difficulty with.
7. What were Dusty's greatest dislikes?
Her pet hate was the smell of vinegar. If you had chips with Dusty you couldn't have vinegar on them. She didn't know why. She hated liars [and] anyone who was unkind, especially to animals. She also hated the falseness of show business, the people who would say, "Darling" and she knew they'd stab you in the back. She hated that. That's why she didn't socialise in those circles. She disliked insincerity.
8. What were Dusty's greatest likes?
Well, cats obviously. She loved horses too and horse racing.
9. Horse racing? Did she bet?
Yes, she would sit at home sometimes if she was doing nothing and have a flutter. She either went by the names or she'd study the form. Her other great thing was charities. She supported every cat charity going and all the other animal ones, but always under the name Mary O'Brien. She adopted a horse from the Redwings horse sanctuary called Alfred.
She also decided to adopt a granny through Help The Aged. She filled in the forms and sent them off. A short while later she rang me killing herself laughing saying, "I never get anything quite right. I've got a granddad . . . isn't it typical? I try to adopt a granny and I get a granddad. I never get things quite right!"
She went out for an evening with Celia Hammond (of the Celia Hammond Trust) collecting stray cats, to see what she did, and she couldn't believe it. She said Celia was a one-off with the wonderful work she did. Dusty was a great giver-that's why she never had any money!
10. What were her greatest interests?
Apart obviously from music, books. She was an avid reader-autobiographies, biographies. She loved American history and could tell you all about the Civil War. Also political books, she could answer most questions about politics here or in America. She really went into the political situation. She would sit up late at night watching CNN, and kept a close eye on the scene over there. She had a love for America as well as England.
No matter what you asked her, she could always give you the answer. My walking answering machine went when Dusty died, because if there was anything I needed to know I could pick up the phone and she'd have the answer. I always said she was like a sponge because she soaked up knowledge. One of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met. She loved architecture too, but I couldn't tell you what period, although she loved a lot of the Italian architecture in Venice. She always knew who the architect was of a building.
11. Dusty's ideal day?
She would get up late, have her coffee and something light to eat, and potter around the house in just her jeans and T shirt, fussing over the cat, going out in the garden with the cat, watching a bit of TV, reading a book, just generally relaxing. She would chat on the phone non-stop, chat to friends. She loved her garden but didn't know how to garden! She always had a gardener. She said she'd kill everything. She had no idea what was a weed and what was a plant! She just knew what looked nice.
12. The book by Vicki Wickham, Dancing with Demons. What did you think of it?
I don't know how accurate it was because I wasn't [in America when Dusty was living] there. I would say there was probably a lot of accuracy in it, but when Vicki rang me up and asked me what I thought of the book, I did say to her straight away, "I cannot be hypocritical". She said "No, I want your true thoughts," and I told her, "It's a complete betrayal of Dusty from people she thought were her friends."
Mind you, Dusty expected it. And she did expect it from Vicki. Dusty named several people and, I'm sorry, she did name Vicki. When she mentioned her name, I honestly thought she was being paranoid, because I never thought Vicki would ever say anything to hurt Dusty.
13. I wonder why Dusty thought Vicki would do that?
Because Dusty was much shrewder than people knew. And she did know who her real friends were and just who was capable of what.
14. Why do you think Vicki did it?
I think Vicki did it before anyone else could because she wanted to make some money from it.
15. No other reason?
No, not really, not really. Dusty was open and she told people what she'd done. She told people she'd had a problem with drugs and drink. She told people what she wanted them to know, and I don't think anyone else needed to have gone into the nasty nitty-gritty bit. The fans didn't want to know. But unfortunately, it's things like that that sell books. Which is why I'm sure Vicki did it for money.
Before Dusty died she said, "When I'm dead a lot of people are going to say things about me that you will find very hurtful. Just remember this, "When I'm dead, Pat, they can't hurt me." She knew that's what would upset me. That's what I had to say to myself in the end-they can't hurt Dusty, she's dead. I just found it so painful. I just couldn't believe it.
I've spent my life making sure nothing nasty was said about Dusty. I've tried to be supportive all my life and I always will. Dusty isn't here, but you will never hear me say a bad word about her because as far as I'm concerned, she was one of the kindest people I ever met. She was one of the best friends you could ever have and she didn't deserve it. Her problems in America stemmed from sheer loneliness
16. In that case, wasn't it rather misleading to state 'authorised' on the cover [of Dancing with Demons]?
It obviously wasn't authorised by Dusty, but if I remember correctly it was the executors who were asked. They were misled into thinking it would be something far different. I understand they were not pleased when they realised what had been done.
17. What was Dusty's greatest failing?
Her time keeping! Her lateness! You could never say hurry up, hurry up because she'd go to pieces! Her thing was, "I don't like ticking clocks because they remind you your life is going." So she didn't like time really. Many's the time I have been running out of the dressing room still doing her dress up because the intro had started playing and she wasn't ready! Which is why I ended up on stage with her one night! Her wig had got caught on my clothing and, if I'd let her go, it would have pulled it off!
18. What were her best characteristics?
Her warmth and kindness. Like dressing down on my wedding day. She bought an off-the-peg dress so that she wouldn't be noticed. I could have killed her though because I wanted her to be noticed!
19. What annoys you most to hear said about Dusty?
The fact that she was difficult to work with. She was not 'difficult' to work with, she was a perfectionist. All she asked was to be allowed to do her job well. When people were stopping her from doing her job well, that was when she was 'difficult' to work with. She knew the public was expecting a certain thing from her and she would go to great lengths to give them what they expected. She had the highest standards but never thought she achieved them.
She didn't read music so sometimes it was difficult with musicians to explain what she was trying to get. I can understand musicians sometimes thinking she was difficult, but she knew what she wanted but couldn't always explain it. People would say you can't have this and you can't have that and she knew it was absolutely imperative. Like speakers in a club. If they weren't positioned right so that people could hear, Dusty would go mad. That's why we always had to do a sound check. She didn't want one person walking out of that club and saying they couldn't hear. She used to say, "They've paid money to come in and listen to me." If that's being difficult, that's what made her what she was.
20. On a lighter note Pat, is there any truth in Lulu's claim that Dusty's arm movements evolved through writing her lyrics on them?
No, not on her arms. Dusty would sometimes get stuck on a lyric and she'd write it on her hand here (palm) and then she could see it. Don't forget, if she put it up her arms she wouldn't see it [because] she was so short-sighted. Lulu didn't know Dusty, neither did Cilla. None of them did.
21. How did Dusty cope with the knowledge she was terminally ill?
She handled it well. Sometimes she'd say, "Why now?" whilst she wanted to work and had the opportunity to work. But basically she felt, "Well, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen and I've just got to make the best of it." She said to me, "Well, there's no point in giving up smoking now is there?" She was very strong about it. She accepted it.
Linda McCartney and Paul were very good friends to her at that time. They were really kind to Dusty, they were excellent. They'd ring and they'd send presents like flowers and scarves-things to let her know they were thinking about her. I think that helped Dusty enormously.
22. The music Dusty chose for her funeral contained quite a patriotic element. Was this deliberate?
Yes. She was strongly patriotic.
23. Why did she choose "The Wind Beneath My Wings"?
She loved that song. Dusty loved Bette Midler's version. She thought Bette was excellent. The music was exactly what she wanted, but she didn't get everything she would have liked for her funeral. She said, "I want to stop the traffic in Henley!" which she did. And she had her beloved horses. The people in Henley were marvelous. They cordoned the whole place off and showed such respect on that day. But what she really wanted afterwards was a big marquee put up and Mexican bands playing so that everybody could have a good time. I don't know why, I wasn't an executor, but they said it was not possible. It was a pity because Dusty wanted to go out with a bang.
24. Let's finish on a happier note, Pat. Which are your all time favourite Dusty songs and why?
"Goin Back." When I first heard her sing this all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up! Beautiful . . . I could hardly speak. Carole King [who wrote the song] said nobody could have done it better.
"The Look of Love." No real reason except I have always loved that song. I've heard lots of different versions but Dusty's is for me Number One.
"Son Of A Preacher Man." I've always loved the song but I think I've got a soft spot for it because once it was in the film [Pulp Fiction) it brought people back to Dusty. A lot of new fans came from that. She thought Aretha [Franklin] sang it better, but then she always thought everyone sang better than her. But I liked Dusty's better.
"Spooky." It's just a lovely little song. It grows on you. I just love it and it's great because they use it on the Carlsberg advert.
"If You Go Away" and "Quiet Please, There's A Lady On Stage." They're both beautiful songs which tear me apart. She did "Quiet Please" at the Albert Hall and that was one of the best concerts she ever did.
"Roll Away"-because of Nashville, all the memories of being there. It's a haunting sort of song and very personal to me.
"In the Middle Of Nowhere." It reminds me of all the clubs we used to do up North with The Echoes. Happy times which I like to remember.
"In the Winter"-because it's so poignant.
25. And albums?
A Girl Called Dusty--because it was her first and I just love it.
Dusty In Memphis. It's a classic album and it'll still be around long after we've all gone. Lovely album.
26. What do you miss most about Dusty?
Oh dear, just her. She was part of my life and she was always there. I miss being able to pick up the phone to her, not being able to see her. Her voice. It took me two years before I could play any of her music. When Dusty died part of me died. She was just always there and then suddenly she wasn't.
Whilst I was with Pat she showed me a framed tract which Dusty bought in the 1960's and which she always had over her bed. Because it is so long I have reproduced the last two verses which, according to Pat, encapsulates Dusty's feelings entirely.
Love is universal, love is the movement of life.
I have loved a boy, a girl, my parents, art, nature.
All things in life I find beautiful. No human being
or society has the right to condemn any kind
of love I feel, or my way of expressing it . . . if I am sincere.
Sincerity being the honest realisation of myself,
and there is no hurt or pain intentionally
involved in my life or any life my life touches.
I want to become a truly loving spirit. Let my words,
if I must speak, become a restoration of the soul.
When speech is silent does a man project the great
depth of his sensitivity, when I touch you, kiss you
or hold you, I am saying a thousand words.
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