Lanning at Large… Tea with DUSTY SPRINGFIELD… not to mention Mum and Dad O’Brien
Dave Lanning meets Dusty Springfield and her parents in 1967
Just because Dusty Springfield is wearing a purple corduroy Carnaby Street cap and I am pouring tea down her mini-skirt doesn’t mean this is a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party…
Blame my inaccurate aim on her eyelids. Dusky, impeccably made-up, tinged with green, they’re fascinating. What does she put on them?
“Coal,” she replies.
Now I am pouring tea and the thought of the with-it Miss Springfield whacking a bit of nutty slack around her alluring peepers is enough to put any man off target with a teapot.
“That’s right,” says Dusty. “K-O-H-L kohl. It’s a metallic powder used in the East for darkening eyelids. Mix it with mascara and it works a treat. Lasts for ages, too… er, Dave, would you mind terribly pouring my tea into the cup, there’s a luv?”
Ahem, yes. I’ll leave the pouring to Mum — Dusty’s Mum — from now on. It’s Sunday, you see. One day of the week Dusty abandons the whirl of the top-pop world and her Knightsbridge flat. And comes home, to Chelsea, for tea.
There are scones, homemade sponge, a cheery fire. Dad — Mr. Gerald O’Brien, a tax consultant (he doesn’t handle the affairs of his family) puffs on a briar.
Mum — Mrs. Catherine O’Brien, puckish, petite, with incredibly twinkling eyes, buzzing about with chocolate biscuits.
They’re a close-knit, but far from overpowering family unit. The kids, Tom — a successful songwriter — and Dusty have gone their own ways. Changed their names to Springfield (Dusty has always been Dusty, it’s a nickname of no known derivation; Springfield originated when they were forming up as a group and actually rehearsed, in a field, in the spring, and put the two together because they couldn’t hit on anything else!)
They have their own flats, their own careers. But still, underneath, they’re the “O’B.s”
I’ve looked in to catch Dusty in a rare off-duty moment. Totally at ease. And maybe slip in a word about her appearance in The London Palladium Show on Sunday, too.
Now Dusty has a reputation for unpredictability. Has been known to throw crockery and cream gateaux about. And to weep openly when upset.
It all seems right out of character now. She’s home. She’s happy. And she says: “Honestly, I’m not nearly so scatty as I’m made out to be. At least, I don’t think I am.”
She’s short-sighted. Doesn’t try to hide it. Has broken three pairs of glasses in the past six weeks. “I keep sitting on them,” she says. “Never see them… um… because I’m not wearing glasses, I guess!”
She does like throwing things. “Cups,” she says, happily. I… er… edge away, taking my piece of the best O’Brien bone china with me.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she says. “I only go nutty once a year. Why? I love the sound effects. You see, I was brought up with a great appreciation of comedy; we always seemed to be laughing in this family. I was brought up on the Marx Brothers and The Goons. I’ve never got over the sound effects of either…”
That husky, smoky voice seems to drift away. “And those beautiful scenes of outrage. You know, the looks from bosomy ladies when a custard pie hit them slap in the face. Tremendous!
“That’s comedy art to me. The bursting of pomposity; the ruination of gentility. I’d love to throw a real custard pie…”
Such Goonish outbursts are rare. “Haven’t got the nerve to try them more than once every year,” adds Dusty.
With Dusty work comes first. She is the dedicated vocalist.
Not so hot at remembering lyrics, so writes out the words of her songs like “50 lines at school” to get them perfect. And actually has singing lessons before each performance — at least 15 minutes’ practising scales.
She’s 26, doesn’t smoke, can only be tempted to drink vodka drowned in cordial. Voted Britain’s top female vocalist in ’65 and ’66, and world top female singer in ’66. In show business, as a group singer and soloist, for 10 years. But still as fancy free as any teenager.
She owns little. A lot of clothes, perhaps. A fur coat (but it’s rabbit, not mink). No car. Did buy a house in Knightsbridge. Decided she wouldn’t spend enough time there to warrant the expense. So sold it almost immediately.
“And anyway, my home will always be here.”
It’s Mary Isobel Catherine O’Brien (her parents still call her Mary) feet up. Could be a Sunday scene anywhere.
I feel so much at home that it isn’t until I catch a glimpse of the television — a modest, 19in. job, tucked away in a corner —
that I recall … the Palladium. What about Sunday?
“Still not sure what I’m going to sing, Dave,” she says. “You know me — never plan ahead. I used to get excited and worked up about a Palladium show weeks beforehand.
“Now I won’t start doing my nut until at least Wednesday!”
Well, we’ve had our second cups. Finished the scones. Reached that quiet, peaceful most Sundayish of afternoon hours. Dusty is curling up on the curved grey settee, those remarkable eyelids drooping.
Sshh! I think Miss Springfield is dropping off. It’s all part of her Sunday afternoon at home, after all.