Sharleen Spiteri on life, love and loss... as she prepares to step on the Cork Opera House stage

As she prepares to play Cork Opera House with her band Texas, singer Sharleen Spiteri tells NICOLA DEPUIS about getting older, the death of her parents, and why she wants an Irish passport
Sharleen Spiteri on life, love and loss... as she prepares to step on the Cork Opera House stage

ENDURING APPEAL: Sharleen Spiteri’s tour marks the 30th anniversary of Texas’s debut album Southside.

SHARLEEN Spiteri, the dulcet-toned lead singer of Scottish band, Texas, is a dream to interview. So much so that the grateful Glaswegian begins our conversation by thanking me for taking the time to interview her.

To be so humble after 40 million record sales, three UK No.1 albums, 30 years in the industry, and a career in which she collaborated with actor Alan Rickman, German gothic-metal band Rammstein and American hip-hop group The Wu-Tang Clan, attests to how grounded and friendly the former hairdresser is.

But Sharleen doesn’t suffer fools gladly either, as indicated in her infamous run-ins with both Paris Hilton and Liz Hurley. When I ask later in the conversation about the photos of her with Harry Styles at a recent concert, I get a wee glimpse of this much-deserved fire: “Oh my god, I only met Harry Styles at the gig. I didn’t go with him!” she replies, not too impressed with this line of questioning, and rightly so.

At 54, Sharleen is loving the freedom of getting older. 

“It’s very liberating. I kinda think as you get older, you get freer, because you don’t actually give a sh*t. There were a couple of years when I had made myself a year older by absolute mistake. 

"I don’t even know how I managed to do it. I had to ask myself - do I like getting older that much that I made myself a year older? It’s mad. I want to be one of those mad old ladies with spectacles saying ‘get out of my bloody way’.”

But, she adds, being older doesn’t automatically make you a woman. 

“When you’re younger, you’ve not worked out that there’s women and there’s girls yet,” she explains. “And when you’ve worked out that difference, that ah ha moment, you realise someone’s that way because she’s not actually a woman, she’s a girl. You realise she’s always going to be like that, even as a grown up. She’s always going to be a girl. Whereas I just adore real women.”

Sharleen Spiteri.
Sharleen Spiteri.

One ‘real’ woman Sharleen adored was her mother, Vilma, a seamstress and window-dresser, who died a week before the first Scottish Covid lockdown in 2020. 

“No-one prepares you for the loss of your mother,” says Sharleen, her voice slowing down as she remembers. “It’s like literally a part of your body missing.”

Sharleen attributes her openness today to Vilma. 

“My Dad was proper old school, but my mum spoke about everything from sex to death when we were kids. My sister and I were brought up that way and we’re very, very open. I think it’s probably the biggest gift you can give to children.”

Sharleen is grateful to pass on that openness to her 19-year-old daughter, Misty Kyd. 

“My daughter talks to me about everything,” admits Sharleen. “I don’t need to know all the details, but I need to know if she’s at a certain place in her life, that she’s safe, that she’s good with it, that she’s coping with it, and that she’s happy. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, but she knows that she can talk to me freely.”

This familial openness allowed Vilma to speak freely to Sharleen and her sister Corinne about her funeral wishes before she passed. 

“She said ‘I don’t want to go but I am, and it is the way it is’. It was like a masterclass in dying gracefully.” 

In choosing the casket for the cremation, Sharleen recalls a moment of humour that helped her cope with her grief.

"I remembered a friend of mine many, many years ago... when her casket came in, it was a willow casket, and I remember thinking how feminine and gentle it was, rather than a big box that was oppressive and scary and whatever. So when my sister and I went to the undertakers, I said ‘We were thinking of getting my mum a nice willow casket, do you do them?’ I said to my sister, ‘I think mum would like that because she was a bit claustrophobic’. And this guy there said ‘Well, it’s not going to make much difference to her, is it?’ The two of us looked at each other and broke out laughing.”

The light relief didn’t end there, as the undertaker returned with a catalogue of caskets to choose from. 

“We get to the first page and I start chuckling,” says Sharleen. 

“My sister looks at me and I point it out to her - it looked like a Fortnum & Mason hamper. I bought my mum and dad a Fortnum & Mason hamper every Christmas. I wasn’t going to bury my mum in one! And of course that was it. Myself and my sister lost our sh*t.

“Those moments of real darkness ...the only way to cope, to get through it, is to laugh. ’Cause I know my mom would have been laughing her head off at the situation.”

Sharleen also lost her father just days before Christmas. 

"He had Parkinson’s. I couldn’t see him because of Covid and that was just awful. It’s a brutal illness. It takes everything, it steals all the pride and the self-worth, and the ability to lead a normal life.”

She believes having so much time to spend with her family during the pandemic was essential in helping her heal. 

“I don’t know how I would have fared if I had gone out touring and this, that and the next thing.”

She been finding music cathartic. 

“I feel very lucky as a musician to sing, to be able to let out that pent-up energy; whether it’s anger, aggression, pain, heartbreak, love, joy. It’s like releasing a valve and it all comes out in a song.” 

But nothing has helped her more than spending time with her beloved Welsh terrier Sox. 

"When I lost my mom, as much as I love my husband (Bryn Williams, aged 44, head chef and owner of London restaurant, Odette’s) and I love my daughter, my dog was my biggest comfort. She didn’t leave my side. She was just wonderful.”

Texas will soon embark on a UK & Ireland tour celebrating 30 years of their debut album, Southside, from which the radio favourite I Don’t Want A Lover was released in 1989.

Kicking off the tour in Cork, Sharleen says she needs an Irish passport more than anything. 

“I’m desperate to get my grandmother’s birth certificate, so I can get a friggin’ Irish passport,” she says, referring to her maternal grandmother, who she believes is from Ireland. 

"As a musician, I’m ashamed we’ve left the EU and can no longer travel freely. Before, a young band could break into Europe by just chucking everything in a van and fu**ing off for a year. You can’t do that now.”

Before she goes, I ask Sharleen what makes her happy these days: "I absolutely love listening to Angel Radio. The presenters are all pensioners, and I love it.” 

She gleefully sings the jingle ‘Angel Radio...the home of pure nostalgia’, and her voice is like velvet. 

“It’s like a real comfort. Apart from that, If I can dig holes in the garden with my dog, I’m as happy as a pig in sh*t.”

Texas play the Cork Opera House tonight, February 9.

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