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July 12, 2002

New albums

Claire Sweeney, from Brookside to Bacharach
by Lisa Verrico

IF THE Big Brother housemates want to end up doing more than presenting a cable TV quiz they should have studied Claire Sweeney before they went in. When the Brookside actress appeared on the celebrity edition last spring, few people knew who she was. She was a nice girl with a regular soap slot, but she was no Anna Friel or Martine McCutcheon. 
A year on, Sweeney is everywhere. In M&S she’s on the wall in underwear. Pass by a bookies and she’s on posters for Lotto. She has hosted a Saturday night TV show and sung in Chicago. Last week, she was named Forces Sweetheart and now she has her first album out, called Claire (Telstar). 

How did she do it? By being nice and normal. In Big Brother she didn’t crack up or crack jokes. She wasn’t interesting enough to win, but nor was she too irritating. And she was clever. Her dream was to land a West End musical, so when she could, she sang. She tried the same trick before — as Celine Dion in Celebrity Stars in their Eyes, which she won. But Big Brother was different. The public fell for her nice nature, and now she’s set to be the new Jane McDonald. 

She is not as mumsy as McDonald, but in spirit they’re sisters. She attended stage schools from childhood, first in her home town of Liverpool, then the Italia Conti in London. She appeared in The Sound of Music aged eight and in Oliver at 11. After school she sang with Jimmy Tarbuck in Southport, then did cabaret all over the country with the likes of Norman Wisdom, Ken Dodd and Tom O’Connor. 

The next step was cruise ships; she was top of the P&O ferries acts. Then Brookside for six years, playing a mother who killed her violent husband, became a lesbian, ran a nightclub and ended up selling sweets in a petrol station. 

Sweeney may be young compared to McDonald, but she probably shares the same fans.Which means she could sell millions. The set list reads like her cruise ship days: standards by Bacharach & David (The Look of Love, This Girl’s in Love With You), Noël Coward (Someday I’ll Find You), The Doors (Light My Fire) The Bee Gees (Run to Me), Celine Dion’s theme from Titanic, Streisand’s Evergreen and Paul Simon’s Scarborough Fair. 

Sweeney starts, however, with a song written for her by Wendy Page and Jim Marr, the duo behind Martine McCutcheon’s My Perfect Moment. It’s a ghastly ballad about dreams coming true and she sings it like she’s Elaine Paige. Sweeney would love to be Paige and the rest of the album is her giving it her best shot, aided by full orchestra. 

And she doesn’t do badly. My Heart Will Go On is less offensive than Dion’s, there’s a surprisingly sexy Look of Love, she could be a Scouse Shirley Bassey on Light My Fire and a poppier Dolly Parton on My Baby Loves Me. There are a few car-crash tracks — her attempt at Queen’s Too Much Love Will Kill You, featuring Brian May on guitar and the Coward cover — but full marks for effort. Until the backlash begins, she’s too nice to criticise.