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A degree of independence.

Byline: Philip Key

NO ONE could ever describe Sheila Ferguson as the shy, retiring type. Meeting her is something akin to standing in a hurricane-force storm - and then some.

She likes leg-revealing outfits, talks like an express train and just never lets up. She simply exudes showbusiness.

We talk in one of the numerous hotel rooms where she is spending her time these days touring with the musical Oh! What a Night. The show arrives at Liverpool's Empire next week for a two-week run.

Sheila is still best-known as one of the Three Degrees, the American singing group which so attracted Prince Charles back in the 1970s.

Today the fiftyish singer is a mother, living in an English castle and with at least one cook book to her name. But she has not changed. She remains one of those supercharged personalities who can leave you feeling quite breathless after an encounter.

Oh! What A Night set in a 1970s club has already toured to Liverpool once before with Kid Creole in the leading role.

He has been replaced by an American singer who goes under the glorious name of Tee Jaye, and Ferguson has been brought in to add her own brand of glamour.

``I have taken what was a small role of Roxie and it is being embellished,'' she explains. ``It's not big enough for Sheila Ferguson yet as I am larger than life!''

It seems Ferguson - she also talks of herself in the third person - is not leaving it like that. She is determined that the role will give her special star presence and is having it rewritten with herself doing some of the rewriting.

``It's great to be working in a show where they actually listen to my ideas and I can co-write my scenes and things like that. It's really inspirational.

``Kim Gavin has directed it and everyone should know Kim Gavin, he's THE director of choreography at the moment from Pop Idol to Blur and Blue. ``All the dancing in the show as you can imagine is outrageously wonderful. Every number looks like a grand MGM production.''

Gavin, she declares, took her aside after her appearance in the show at Birmingham to tell she has brought a new dimension to the show. ``What I have brought to it is soul.''

There are rumours that the production may be going to the West End, she reports. ``If that's the case it really needs to re-jigged so the part is ideal for me. It's got to be perfect because I am a perfectionist, you know what I'm saying?''

But don't her fellow performers think she is just a little pushy? I suggest. ``They understand, the balance has to be adjusted. A woman can't come in and take over a man's role, it just doesn't work. The woman I am playing was one of the least important in the original so it needs embellishment.

``Between you and me, the public won't notice any of this. At the moment they might say they didn't see enough of her although she makes up for it at the end. That's not good enough for me.

``I never like to cheat my public. If I am selling a show then dammit, I'm selling the show. Otherwise let someone else sell it.

``I have my integrity. People are coming to the show and they are increasingly wanting to see more of her. That issue has got to be addressed. I would not want to take over and find no-one noticed!

``But directors and producers are always loath to change anything if they know it works. Their attitude is if it ain't broke, don't change it. My attitude is you can always better anything and I think that's the director Kim's attitude as well. You know, I have some outrageous ideas.''

She appeared in a previous musical Soul Train and was not happy with what happened to her in the early days of that show. ``I was darkly lit and standing back in the chorus. The public would not stand for it and after two years I got a solo song Misty Blue and it totally changed the show around.

``Had they listened to me and done that at the beginning they would not have wasted all that time. I have learned my lesson and will not repeat it again. If the balance is not right it has to be adjusted now. I won't stay around - I will move on.''

She does not mind being on the road. ``There is a lot of time in hotel rooms and that is not such a bad thing. It gives me time to work on my website - - and I am just doing the merchandising page, putting prices on things.''

Merchandising? ``It's things like posters, champagne, CD holders, pens, T-shirts, things like that.'' All carry her image and name. ``There's nothing in there that I would not buy,'' she avers. ``I don't like junk so everything on it will be designer stuff.''

Ferguson arrived in Britain nearly 30 years ago and settled in 1983, buying the castle-cumhouse which Edward VII built for Lily Langtry.

``I live in the village of Bray and it's great, right on the Thames. I have got Michael Parkinson on one side and Rolf Harris on the other. We don't bother each other because everybody's working!''

Her sons are now at university and Ferguson is recently divorced. ``And I'm NOT seeing anyone!'' she tells me before I ask. ``I am footloose and fancy free.

``I am telling you that as someone wrote in a newspaper that I was seeing Cyril Regis. They saw us together at a cricket match but I did just see him that one afternoon. You know how the press take things and magnify it. So that's why I'm telling you the truth.''

It's been an adjustment to make after 18 years of marriage,'' she admits although officially it had lasted longer. ``It took four years to get divorced and separate the properties, pay barristers and I am just finishing that off. The boys are at university and everybody is happy. I am also writing a film script.

``I have been offered a lot of money to write my autobiography but I am not ready yet. I am just entering the third chapter - that's the Three Degrees, marriage and now freedom - and this looks like it is going to be the best part. So I am going to wait until I have done what I am getting ready to do like the film.''

L Oh! What a Night is at the Liverpool Empire October 29 - November 9.


STAR QUALITY: Whatever role Sheila Ferguson takes she clearly makes it her own
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 25, 2002
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