Aug 2011Chelsea MonthlyFeaturedMagazineTV

A Very British Diva


Americans are well known for their divas but there is a certain ‘je ne ce quois’ about the way we the Brits do it and Shirley Bassey is the perfect example of a true diva who certainly ticks all the boxes. The legendary singer is the focus of a brand new British drama. Set against the backdrop of mixed-race Britain from the Thirties to the Sixties, the 60-minute film is an intimate look at the life of Dame Shirley Bassey – one of Britain’s national treasures and one of the world’s most enduring and successful divas.

Bassey’s rise from poverty to international stardom is no ordinary rags to riches story. Born in Tiger Bay in Cardiff, Shirley was one of eight children from a poor family. Spotted by an astute manager as a teenager, she soon had a hit song under her belt and was firmly on the road to stardom. But beneath the wealth, diamonds and furs, her life would swing between triumph and tragedy.

The supporting cast includes Lesley Sharp (The Shadow Line, Scott & Bailey, Afterlife) as Eliza Bassey, Shirley’s tenacious mother; Charlie Creed-Miles (Five Days, Injustice, King Arthur) as Mike Sullivan, her domineering manager; and Henry Lloyd-Hughes (The Inbetweeners, The Milibands) as Kenneth Hume, her soon-to-be personal manager and future husband.

Ruth Negga says: “I’m thrilled to be cast in the role of Shirley Bassey and it’s an absolute honour to be playing her in such an intimate story of her life.”

Maxine Watson, the BBC Executive Producer, says: “Dame Shirley Bassey is iconic – she transcends age, race and class. The big voice and vocal style are unmistakable, but it took so much more than that to take her from Tiger Bay to world class headliner. Hers is a classic story of overcoming poverty through personal sacrifice and I’m thrilled that we have such a fantastic cast to bring this story to life.”

Shirley Bassey: A Very British Diva is part of BBC Two’s Mixed Race Season, broadcast later this autumn. With a collection of revealing new programmes, the season provides a window into the varied lives of mixed-race people living in the UK and helps us understand what the increase in mixed-race people means for the way we live in Britain today.

Shirley Bassey: A Very British Diva was commissioned by Charlotte Moore, the BBC Commissioning Editor for Documentaries and the BBC Executive Producers are Maxine Watson and Eleanor Moran. The drama is made by Prospect Cymru, the Welsh arm of DCD Media. It is written by Shelagh Stephenson, produced by Kath Lannon, directed by Colin Teague and executive produced by Charles Thompson.