She won Eurovision with Puppet On A String. But now she admits that her love life could have wrecked her career.
By Glenys Roberts | Dec 2010
With her glossy bobbed hair and her habit of singing barefoot, she was the image of the Swinging Sixties. The original Essex girl made good (having once worked in the Ford factory in Dagenham), Sandie Shaw rocketed to fame aged only 17.
She wore a fur coat even at the height of summer, drove a white Mercedes and had a birthday cake topped with her famous bare feet cast in ice cream.
Sandie’s fame was built on the success of winning the coveted Eurovision Song Contest for the first time ever for Britain with her song — which she hated — Puppet On A String.
But Sandie, now 63,  has revealed for the first time that this remarkable triumph almost never happened. For an extra-marital dalliance with a television boss almost caused the BBC to withdraw her from the contest at the last moment, fearing a backlash of disapproval at her behaviour.
‘The BBC wanted to fire me because I had a divorce scandal at the time which had come out just before the contest,’ said Sandie, who has since been married three times. ‘I was involved in someone else’s divorce and they didn’t think it was the right image. It was incredibly unpleasant.’
These days, such lurid details of a pop star’s private life often act only to enhance someone’s celebrity. But back in the Sixties, although people thought they had become liberated by the social revolution that was under way, there was still a moral code of sorts. A whiff of scandal could ruin an up-and-coming star’s career.
Sandie Shaw started singing at the age of six for an aunt whom she would entertain with a spirited rendition of American Fifties’ singer Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers. As she tells it now, she was a late developer who always felt gawky and ugly — until one day she stepped on stage.
Initially prompted by her aunt to enter an Ilford Palais talent contest (dressed in kick-pleat short skirt which flattered her long legs), by the time Sandie was 16 she had moved up the ladder to perform on the same bill in London as rock group The Hollies and pop star Adam Faith. By the time she was 17 she had three No 1 hits, including There’s Always Something There To Remind Me and Long Live Love.
Sandie fully enjoyed her fame. With her angular cheekbones and classic Vidal Sassoon haircut, she became known as the ‘barefoot pop princess’ — the girl everyone wanted to look like.
Then, came the scandal.
Threat: Sandy was named as co-respondent in the marriage break-up of TV executive Douglas Murdoch and wife Veronica Sands
Unmarried Sandie was named as co-respondent in the break-up of the marriage of television executive Douglas Murdoch and his model wife Veronica Sands — a Jean Shrimpton lookalike.
Murdoch worked on the popular music programme Ready Steady Go! on which Sandie appeared regularly.
At their divorce hearing in 1966, the court was told that while the Murdochs were living apart during a trial separation two years earlier, Veronica had visited her husband a couple of times at their flat and found Sandie Shaw in residence. On one of these meetings, Sandie was wearing nothing but a nightgown.
Though still 18, Sandie was no shrinking violet. Veronica’s barrister accused her of harassing Mrs Murdoch and told the court: ‘She caused an affray, and a row in the neighbourhood, broke a door down, caused considerable embarrassment . . .and used foul language till the early hours of the morning or late at night.’
Even though Sandie Shaw denied adultery, the judge, who was not the least bit impressed by her pop star status, found she was the key reason for the breakdown of the Murdochs’ marriage. He described her as ‘a spoilt child who would do anything to gain her own ends’.
Bullied: Sandie Shaw with pop star Adam Faith who she considered her mentor and says pushed her to enter the Eurovision Song Contest
The fallout was immediate. The Lux soap brand dropped her from its television adverts.
This could have spelled the end to her meteoric career, and even her manager thought she would be shunned — forced to sing in small cabaret venues.
It was against this background that she was one of the shortlisted acts to be chosen by the public to represent Britain in the 1967 Eurovision Contest, the annual event that has been attracting huge continent-wide television audiences since its inauguration in 1956.
BBC bosses believed she was this country’s best chance of a first win — if only her scandalous personal life could be kept under control.
Sandie was voted by the public to be this country’s entrant after she performed five songs on a TV show hosted by Rolf Harris, with Puppet On A String the most popular one. But today, Sandie says she was bullied into agreeing to enter by her draconian manager Eve Taylor, and Adam Faith, whom she regarded as her mentor.
And she revealed this week on Desert Island Discs that although she has always hated Puppet On A String, her competitive streak meant that when she performed it in Vienna in front of the watching European millions, she gave her all — bringing the house down. She secured 47 votes, while her nearest competitors, France and Ireland, could manage only 20 apiece.
High-profile match: Sandie Shaw in 1969 with her then husband, clothes designer Jeff Banks
Shaw’s reception was ecstatic. She became the toast of the nation, yet was so exhausted by all the emotional turmoil in the run-up to the contest that she refused to celebrate.
Locked out of her hotel room by mistake, she lay down in the corridor in her signature fur coat and went to sleep clutching a bottle of champagne. She didn’t even have a drink because she couldn’t get the cork out of the bottle.
But back home, Shaw was a national sweetheart. She married another high-profile Sixties’ figure, the clothes designer Jeff Banks. By now, she was so famous that she hid from fans on her wedding day by wearing a red wig. She also kept the ceremony in Greenwich secret by signing the register in her real name, Sandra Ann Goodrich.
The newlyweds lived in a huge house on the outskirts of London and had a daughter, Grace. Sandie started her own clothing brand, and, having made her name by singing without shoes, enjoyed going into the shoe business.
But it was the start of an unsettled period when the pop princess who once could do no wrong seemed to suffer for her fame.