Ever since her death in 1999, most stories about Dusty Springfield have told of a tortured life, beset by battles with a range of dark demons. She was said to be an alcoholic and drug addict, who battled depression and never came to terms with her homosexuality.
Her closest friend and former manager, Vicki Wickham, knew Springfield for almost 40 years. She has only one response to the late singer’s image as a tragic diva.
Bullshit! Wickham exclaims. Ninety percent of the time, Dusty was a hoot, a lot of fun and as cheeky as hell -“ up for anything.
She was not confused about her sexuality -“ she knew she was gay. Tom her brother is gay. Most of those around her were gay. It was never an issue and never a problem.
Only when there were circumstances with work when she did not trust the people around her, then she became a diva in the worst sense of the word. There was also a period when she was tortured, but if you do too much drugs and drink, it will lead to paranoia time. But that was not her whole life.
Wickham was in Australia in recent weeks to help with the rehearsal period of the new musical, Dusty, which premieres in Melbourne on 12 January before a Sydney season beginning 23 March. Wickham is acting as official consultant, making sure the musical paints an authentic portrayal of the woman Wickham first met on the set of the Brit music show Ready, Steady, Go! in 1962.
Wickham, a distinguished London record and TV producer as well as co-composer of You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, also wrote the authorised Springfield biography Dancing With Demons in 2001, which detailed the personal life and career of the woman acclaimed as the greatest white soul singer of all time.
If there is one thing I am determined this musical will get across is what a great performer Dusty was -“ and I am sure Tamsin Carroll will do that in her performance. I also wanted to make sure they get her great sense of humour, which was wonderful and so dark. At times you would want to throttle Dusty, but then she would come through with something hilariously good. It was her saving grace.
In Dusty, Deni Hines plays Reno, a composite character of many of Springfield’s real-life lovers. They have treated it very well and it works, Wickham says. You can’t tell the story without telling the whole story.
She then adds a little sadly, I miss her, I really do. I would love to call her and tell her about this, but she is no longer there. But I am sure she knows what’s going on.
Because of the intimacies of their friendship, many have assumed Wickham was among the many lovers of Springfield’s life. But Wickham insists the pair were only ever great friends.
No, she really wasn’t my type, admits the 60-something Wickham, who has partnered original Lady Marmalade singer Nona Hendryx for 35 years. I am sure that’s why our friendship worked. It was like we grew up together and we became like family. And when you are gay, you find extended families.
Wickham also reveals that the British music scene of the early 1960s was not a great dark closet that two young lesbians like Dusty and her had to hide in. As she recalls, it was quite to the contrary.
It was such a great time as there were so many people who were gay, and those who weren’t were curious. Everyone at the time was trying everything and everyone was having a good time.
Within the music business, there were a lot of gay people and everyone knew who was what. The fact that Dusty was gay was not a big deal. It only was to the big world outside.
Springfield came out publicly in 1971 when she revealed she was perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl. Wickham, who managed Springfield in the later part of her career, admits she was not comfortable with the confession at the time.
I always thought she needed to shut up, she states frankly. Dusty was so famous and so big in England, and I thought it would have killed her career. It is not like it is now. I remember asking her, -˜How much more are you going to say?’ She replied, -˜No, that’s it. Let them think what they want.’