Kathleen O'Rourke was born in Ilford Essex in 1940. Kathleen won her first talent contest, aged three, and had all the makings of an opera singer but the young old soprano decided she wanted to be a professional singer, aged 12. Kathleen loved singing and was a member of her convent school choir. Soon after leaving school the 16 year old got her first professional engagement with Bert Ambrose and his orchestra. She was in good company for that was where Vera Lynn had started.
Kathleen stayed with then band for three years during which time Bert became her mentor, then later, her manager. Kathy Kirby sang with other bands before eventually becoming a solo cabaret and recording artist. Her voice was impeccable but her looks were also incredible and the Marilyn Monroe/ Diana Doors look-a-like was a natural for television.
In 1963 ITV (UK) launched “Stars and Garters” which was a variety show set in an English pub. The program was produced by Elkan Allan who had previously been behind the very successful Ready Steady Go. Kathy was the lip pouting female singer and earned the nickname “wet lips,” because of the sparkling lip gloss she wore. She instantly became a household name in the UK as did compeer Ray Martine, and fellow crooners Tommy Bruce, Clinton Ford and Vince Hill. Her pitch perfect voice was ideal for a vocal version of The Shadow’s Dance on (1963), and gave her a UK and Australian hit.
A follow up single, 'Hava Nagila' was less of a success but when her cover version of a Doris Day’s hit, 'Secret Love' (taken from Calamity Jane) was released it took the record buying public by storm and the single rocketed up the 1963 charts.
A year later she was back with chart success and another cover version, this time, Teresa Brewer's ' Let me go lover'.
Kathy represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 and sang 'I Belong. ‘She came second.
Kathy toured and participated in the famous pop package tours of the UK in the 60s, she also had two TV series for the BBC, Kathy Kirby Sings (1965 and 1967). In 1965 she had her first US hit with 'The Way of Love' but ironically the song did less well in the UK predominantly due to the success of the Mersey Sound.
In 1967 Kathy left Decca Records and moved to EMI’s Columbia label. She remained there until 1973. Sadly after her friend Bert Ambrose died (1971), Kathy’s singing career collapsed and by the end of the decade she was bankrupt. Kathy’s fall was meteoric and she went from earning millions to become homeless, friendless and penniless. The woman was at one time sleeping rough on the streets. Eventually she was able to get herself together and attempted a comeback in the early 80s enjoying the patronage of nostalgia fans but then decided to retire from show business in 1983. The former Golden Girl of British Pop lived a quiet life in London shunning all publicity until her demise in 2011.
Worth a listen
Dance On (1963)
Secret Love (1963)
Let Me Go Lover (1964)
You’re The One (1964)
Don’t Walk Away (1964)
I Belong (1965)
The Way Of Love (1965)
Adam Adament (1966)
Please Help Me I’m Falling (1969)
Wheel Of Fortune (1970)
Tommy Bruce and The Bruisers
Fanlight Fanny (1962)
Roses of Picardy (1966)