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The World at My Feet is a memoir by the singer Sandie Shaw and was published in 1991. Sandie Shaw is probably my favourite female singer of all time and shot to fame in the 1960s armed with an incredible voice, equally incredible cheekbones and a Vidal Sassoon bob. She had eight top ten singles and three number ones (she was only a teenager when she had her first one with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song There's Always Something There to Remind Me) and was the first entrant from the United Kingdom to win the Eurovision Song Contest with Puppet on a String. We Sandie Shaw fans tend to gloss over this particular song though and she hated it too (although I believe she has mellowed somewhat on her Eurovision experience in recent years). Despite her fame and vaguely exotic looks there always seemed to be something ordinary about Sandie Shaw that was very appealing. She was born in Dagenham and worked in a factory for a while and you could probably imagine her leaving an arena after a show and getting a bag of chips on the way home. Her fame was fleeting though. She married the fashion designer Jeff Banks and concentrated on family life, only recording sporadically (and without much success) in the seventies. When her marriage dissolved she was left penniless (Banks had gone skint apparently) and was a long way from the Swinging Sixties Singing Superstar of a decade or so before. However, in traditional (cliched) autobiography fashion, Shaw has 'bounced back'. She was encouraged to sing again in the eighties by a new generation of pop stars who grew up loving her songs, has married a film producer, and is now training to be a psychotherapist so she can use her own experiences of fickle fame to help creative people.
Sandie Shaw was born in Essex in 1947. She began her road to fame by singing in talent contests and was spotted by Adam Faith, who then introduced her to his manager and became her mentor. Shaw - good looking girl that she was - was rather suspicious of the attention at first but it proved genuine and they made her a star. She does suggest though that Faith was always a businessman first and probably would have sold his grandmother if he could have negotiated the right price. Shaw feels she should have made more money than she did. She says she felt rather gawky and awkward when she was a young teenager but it all changed when she got onto the stage and sang. Sandie Shaw of course was famous for singing in her barefeet ('the barefoot pop princess') and says this particular trademark was an accident of sorts. One day she was in the studio singing really well and her manager stopped her and pointed out she had no shoes on. She went to look for them but was told not to bother as she was singing so well without them. She decided to stick to barefoot singing for a number of reasons. 'It is more comfortable - I could never find shoes to fit my size seven-and-a-half's in Dagenham. It is one less thing to think about when getting an outfit together. I am extremely short-sighted and it helps me make my way around the stage without falling off the edge. Its symbolic potency is immense. It feels sexy.'
She became so successful that she recorded her songs in different languages for overseas market but she began to lose some of her street cred and sales when she was moved into more mainstream television shows and - of course - entered Eurovision. The memoir is an interesting insight at times to the pop and television world of the sixties. Shaw says fame became a bit of a whirl in the end and it's very difficult to come out at the other side and still be the same person or completely undamaged by the experience. She was actually implicated in a marriage break-up which threatened to have her stopped from entering Eurovision - not that she was that fussed at the time. Shaw says it was the badgering of Faith and her manager that made her enter and Puppet on a String (she felt) was not really her sort of song. However, her competitive instincts kicked in on the actual night and she was determined to do the best she could. Sandie whupped ass that night (she was probably the only one there who could actually sing!) even if the song wasn't the greatest thing she'd ever been asked to lend her spiffy vocal talents to.
The book jumps between the sixties and the present day quite a lot in quite an effective way although the sixties recollections are unavoidably more interesting. It's generally well written (apparently it wasn't ghosted or anything) but nothing amazing. Sandie Shaw is likeable though and tells her story with humour and candour. It's not completely devoid of pretentious passages and moments but then few autobiographies are. In the 1980s, Shaw was inspired to sing again by a current crop of pop stars who got in touch, including Heaven 17 and The Smiths. Morrissey and Johnny Marr wrote a letter saying how much they adored her and she ended up recording a version of Hand in Glove with them that got inside the top 30. They performed on Top of the Pops with the group barefoot and Shaw in a pair of stilettos as a joke. Although the material she recorded didn't set the world alight there were a few reminders of past glories, her amazing version of The Smiths' song Jean in particular. Shaw has probably made as many brief comebacks as Sugar Ray Leonard but says she did a lot in the sixties and it doesn't really bother her either way if she sings or doesn't now. Around the time was book came out she had just started studying psychodynamic counselling at Birkbeck College and was more interested in that.
The World at My Feet is nothing special but an interesting read at times with a nice smattering of pictures. It's a shade under 300 pages in my paperback copy and at the time of writing can be purchased used for next to nothing. It's not a classic memoir but fans will undoubtedly want to add it to the book shelf at some point.