If you think Amy Winehouse is troubled, spare a thought for 1960s starlet Kathy Kirby.

The highest paid female singer of that decade, the glamorous blonde behind hits including Secret Love and Let Me Go Lover was hailed as "the golden girl of pop" and ranked alongside the likes of Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw and Lulu.

But when her Svengalian lover and manager Bert Ambrose died, her life began to unravel.

She spiralled into drug abuse and mental health problems, embarked upon several doomed love affairs and ended up bankrupt. She made her last public appearance in Blackpool in 1983, and Kathy - aunt of Sarah Russell, second wife of Sir Mark Thatcher and her sister Viscountess Rothermere - now lives as a destitute recluse in London.

"It's incredibly sad," says Graham Smith, the writer and producer of a new show about Kathy's rise and fall. "She was this blonde bombshell who seemed to have it all at her feet and it all went so wrong.

"She became a star at 16 so she never had a real life. She made all this money and Ambrose spent it. When he died, she fell apart because he had controlled her so much."

Graham first became fascinated by Kathy's story three years ago, when he was sent a manuscript by her last manager.

It was later published as the acclaimed biography Secrets, Loves and Lip Gloss - but Graham felt there was more to be said.

"I thought, there has to be a show in this," he says. "It's such a poignant story and she had so many great songs.

"Plus, the biography was a little bit lacking in some ways. There was as much off the page as on it and I thought there were more elements that needed to be told."

With no previous experience as a playwright, the journalist and PR used Kathy's music as a framework for a narrative about her life. "So many of her songs mirror times in Kathy's life, from the upbeat early tracks to songs like My Thanks To You, which we end with."

Kathy is played by 26-year-old Suzi Jari, last seen playing Dusty Springfield in 125th Street at London's Shaftesbury Theatre.

"She'd never heard of Kathy Kirby, but she just fell in love with the story and has worked very hard to get her vocals like Kathy's and bring her to life," says Graham.

"It's a tribute to Kathy's life and career but Suzi brings something of herself to it too - she's not just a sound-alike."

The show has sparked some controversy, with those closest to Kathy trying to get it banned. "They are not happy that the show has been made," he says. "I think they wanted to do it first. They can't disagree with the content because they haven't even seen it."

Kathy herself hasn't seen it - Graham says she is not well enough - but he says: "I think she would be delighted by it. There has been so much support and affection for her, and for her music. Not many living performers have tributes written for them while they are still alive."

  • Starts 7.45pm, tickets £14.50/ £12.50.

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