Petula Clark heads ‘Downtown’ 

Petula Clark is coming to San Francisco this weekend to sing her big hit songs, and it’s a pretty big deal.

"This will be the first time, as far as I can remember," she said in a recent phone interview from Wales, a stop on her current concert tour.

Although she clearly remembers being in the Bay Area, appearing in productions of the musicals "Blood Brothers" and "Sunset Boulevard," she admits she doesn’t always recall where she has performed.

It’s not that surprising. Her varied career began when she was a child in England in the 1940s. Many Americans don’t know that she was a singing, television and movie star in her native England — known as the "British Shirley Temple" — before "Downtown" hit it big in the United States in 1965.

Even decades later, she hasn’t tired of her huge pop tunes. "They’re basically very good songs. I don’t feel embarrassed singing them more than 40-odd years later," she says.

At the same time, the songs, in a way, put her in a "bit of a box." People have misconceptions about her created by the songs — that she’s always a cheery, little blond optimist.

"Let’s face it, I’m a bit like that," she says, but not all the time.

Her only break from show business was in the 1970s, after her huge success in America.

"I couldn’t do this yo-yo — or was it ping-pong? — thing anymore," she says.

She and her husband decided that their children needed to stay in one place, so they settled in Geneva, Switzerland (where she still maintains a residence), and she stopped performing. But it was weird and tedious, so she pulled together a band and went back on the road after a few years.

Later, she branched out into musical theater, even taking on Maria in "The Sound of Music" on London’s West End in the 1980s, long after Julie Andrews made it an iconic role.

"I really got talked into that one," she says. When the show’s creators told her they wanted a different kind of Maria, she believed them. "Everything was taken down a tone, it was an earthy performance. ... I put my stamp on it, let’s put it that way."

Asked about the possibility of a jukebox musical featuring her own famous songs, she doesn’t think it’s a half-bad idea: "‘Mamma Mia’ was clever, they’ve done one on Dusty," she muses.

It would have to have just the right touch and be written well and with originality. Maybe she would appear in it. "It could be really, really cheesy," she laughs.

Until then, she’s content to continue singing around the world. After all her years in the limelight, and having come close on occasion, she’s still looking forward to one thing: "Giving the perfect performance."

Petula Clark

Where: Herbst Theatre, Veterans Buidling, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $45 to $75

Contact: (415) 392-4400 or

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Leslie Katz

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