Singing sensation Helen Shapiro, who topped the UK charts at the age of 15 in 1961, enjoys some surprising connections with Liverpool.
She fooled the music world into thinking she was engaged to Mojos’ guitarist Nicky Crouch in 1964 – then married Merseyside theatre producer Duncan Weldon three years later.
The Beatles were her backing act in early 1963 – and Lennon and McCartney even wrote a song for her.
Shapiro shared the Variety Club’s Most Promising Newcomer Award for 1961 with Liverpool actress Rita Tushingham, who’d just starred in the trail-blazing movie A Taste of Honey.
And she appeared as herself alongside Merseyside singer Billy Fury in his 1962 film Play It Cool.
Not only that, her success paved the way for a host of female artists, including Merseyside’s Cilla Black, Lulu, Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield.
The late 1950s and early 60s were a whirl for Shapiro – the girl with the belting voice from Bethnal Green who’d recorded two singles before she was 15!
In fact, her voice was so mature and powerful that her friends called her Foghorn. She was singing in a school band by the time she was 10, performing alongside future T. Rex star Marc Bolan.
In February 1961, Shapiro notched up her first UK Top Ten single with Don’t Treat Me Like a Child, written by Mike Hawker and John Schroeder and recorded at London’s Abbey Road studios.
It peaked at No. 3 to be followed by what is probably Shapiro’s most famous hit – Walkin’ Back to Happiness – again written by Hawker and Schroeder. It went to Number One in October 1961.
Both singles sold more than a million copies to give Shapiro two gold discs by the time she was 15. Her next release, Tell Me What He Said written by Jeff Barry, reached No. 2 in 1962.
The youngest female singer to top the charts, Shapiro released her final Top Ten single, Little Miss Lonely, in late 1962. It stayed at No. 8 for two weeks.
In the winter of 1962 and early 1963, Shapiro was supported on her UK tour by none other than the Beatles. Three of the band – John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – even sung with her on the TV pop programme Ready Steady Go.
It was during the tour that the Beatles first achieved national recognition with their second single Please Please Me in January 1963.
It topped the New Musical Express and Melody Maker charts, but wasn’t recorded as an official Number One as it only reached No. 2 on the Record Retailer chart.
Around this time, Lennon and McCartney wrote the song Misery for Shapiro, but her producer Norrie Paramor turned it down.
He was looking for new material for a country and western album for Shapiro to be recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, but didn’t think Misery was suitable.
Instead it was given to singer and entertainer Kenny Lynch, who became the first artist to cover a Lennon and McCartney song. Unfortunately, if failed to chart. Shapiro later said she never heard the song when it was first offered.
Shapiro’s Liverpool connections continued when she appeared in the 1962 Billy Fury movie Play It Cool. The plot involved struggling singer Fury visiting a variety of nightclubs where guest stars were performing.
The supposed engagement to Nicky Crouch, lead guitarist of Merseybeat band the Mojos, occurred in June 1964 when Shapiro was 17.
Shapiro and 20-year-old Crouch announced their betrothal at a surprise party in London’s Soho. Crouch had tied a piece of string round the singer’s finger claiming he hadn’t had time to buy an engagement ring.
The pair made a convincing couple – as our photo shows – but admitted it was all a hoax the following day.
A few months later, in October 1964, Shapiro became one of the first artists to perform behind the Iron Curtain when she jetted off to Warsaw with the Trebletones.
Shapiro was engaged – and married – for real to Southport-born theatre producer Duncan Weldon in 1967. Our photo shows couple breaking off their November honeymoon after one day so Shapiro could continue touring.
By then, Shapiro’s popularity had begun to wane and she started to focus on cabaret work. She was still only 21.
Shapiro later moved on to theatre, playing Nancy in the musical Oliver in London’s West End and Sally Bowles in Cabaret. From 1984 to 2001 she toured with jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton.
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