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THE FIRST WORD; FRONTLINES.

Byline: Karen Price @karenmediawales

Many words spring to mind when you see the red sparkly backless gown on the cover of today's magazine: Expensive. Glamorous. Designer. Icon...

So it comes as little surprise to learn that it once belonged to Dame Shirley Bassey before it was auctioned off for charity.

Icon is a word which is bandied around a little too much during these celebrity-obsessed times - come on, can we seriously use such a term for reality TV stars or twerking pop singers? But the superstar from Tiger Bay is an icon in every sense of the 1word. Not only is she still at the top of her game, she also oozes the type of glamour that women decades younger than her would love to pull off.

That is why she's the focus of the Western Mail's first ever Icons Week which launches today with our cover story.

Kirstie McCrum's been speaking to industry insiders about her enduring appeal - turn to pages 4 to 7 to see what they say. And throughout next week, the newspaper will be carrying further features devoted to Ms Bassey.

In a strange way I have Dame Shirley to thank for helping me progress at the start of my career as a journalist.

As an 18-year-old journalism student at the then Cardiff Institute of Higher Education, I was runner-up in the annual Interview Feature Writing competition, winning my now battered and well-thumbed copy of Chambers Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms - and it was all down to my scribblings about Dame Shirley.

When she was starting out as a singer, my uncle had been a young theatre compere who would organise talent competitions in theatres and workingmen's clubs across South Wales.

In fact, one of his favourite anecdotes was how he once banned Tommy Scott and the Senators from one of the contests. While the reason for this now escapes me, Tommy Scott went on to become another singing superstar - Sir Tom Jones.

Anyway, I'd always been entertained by my uncle's tales of rubbing shoulders with some of today's biggest names when they were virtual unknowns so when I was given my student assignment to interview someone about their life, he was top of my list.

I remember practising my newly-learned shorthand skills as he chatted to me about the times he would spend drinking wine with Shirley at her Cardiff home.

After stardom beckoned for her, he would catch up with her during many of her concerts back in her home city which were by then, of course, sell-out affairs at venues like St David's Hall.

So I recalled his memories in my article - which was printed on two sides of A4 and is still filed away at my mum' house - and impressed my tutors so much with the stories (I think they thought I'd made them up) that I bagged the prize.

When I joined the Western Mail in 1999, Dame Shirley was one of the first celebrities I interviewed. It was the eve of the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony at the Millennium Stadium and she was rehearsing her duet with Bryn Terfel.

As I took a seat next to her pitchside, I remember feeling more than a little nervous - after all, there have been many reports of diva-like tantrums over the years. But while she may have been looking every inch the diva with her immaculate make-up and hair do, she was chatty and open.

Since then, I've interviewed her a number of times and I've seen many of her live performances.

Every time she takes to the stage she proves her credentials as an icon.

Several years ago she was the headline act at Bryn Terfel's Faenol Festival.

As is typical of an August Bank Holiday event in Wales, the heavens opened. And it wasn't just the crowd that got drenched. Wearing a shimmering yellow feather-edged gown, Dame Shirley couldn't avoid the rain either but despite the downpour, she kept on singing with a big smile on her face, much to her fans' delight.

When the Wales Millennium Centre opened its doors in 2004, she was an obvious choice as one of the five famous names from Wales to be honoured with an award at the opening gala in recognition of their work. A year later she returned to the venue, looking gorgeous in a red floor-length dress, to meet the Queen during the Royal Variety Performance.

While it's now more than half a century since she scored her first UK hit, Dame Shirley continues to reach out to new audiences, wowing Glastonbury (in bespoke diamond-encrusted wellies) and collaborating with new artists.

So for her enduring success and pure old-school glamour, what better choice than Dame Shirley as the subject of our first Icons Week.

Not only is she still at the top of her game, she also oozes the type of glamour that women decades younger than her would love to pull off

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Shirley Bassey singing in the rain at the Faenol Festival
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 26, 2013
Words:835
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