Mary Hopkin, just 16, sat at home and practised her guitar when other girls were out with boys at the local coffee bar in the South Wales town of Pontardawe. Occasionally she sang in folk clubs for £5 a night and dreamed of one day becoming a pop star. They were dreams that no one but Mary believed would come true, but in the autumn of 1968 they did. Six months later the shy blonde with three O-levels was a £15,000 a week celebrity whose record pushed the Beatles from the top of the pop charts...
Singing a simple song and accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, the girl from the valleys had managed to get onto a TV talent show — much to the astonishment of everyone in Pontardawe, who had previously thought she was wasting her time and should concentrate on becoming a hairdresser. Among the TV viewers was Twiggy, the model who did for fashion what the Beatles did for pop music. Afterwards she phoned Paul McCartney and said: "There's this girl with a lovely pure voice. I think you should hear her." McCartney did more than that. A week later he signed Mary Hopkin as the first girl singer to be launched on the Beatles' new Apple record label. Later she was to remember: "I didn't come to London thinking it would all be great. Everything happened so quickly I didn't really have time to realise what was happening. If it hadn't worked out I would just have gone home and continued practising the guitar.
"On the other hand I don't think I could ever again have been happy in an ordinary job." She didn't need one. Her first disc, a simple folk tune produced by Paul McCartney, raced to the top of the charts and stayed there for six weeks. With her first record, Those Were The Days, Mary Hopkin, just 17, had hit the golden jackpot. It took her from a terraced house overlooking a coal-tip to a suite at the Savoy Hotel, fan-mail of over 500 letters a day, star billing on a US peak-time TV show — and an income of £15,000 a week. Paul McCartney who at one time joked that he intended to marry Mary, guided her career from the beginning. "It's easy to get hurt in this business," he said. "I hope Mary won't. She doesn't deserve to. She's a nice kid. And Mary said: "I have complete trust in Paul. He understands me and is very patient in the recording studio. He didn't seem to mind that Those Were The Days pushed his Hey Jude from the number one spot. In fact he said he was delighted."
The hits continued for Mary Hopkin. She represented Britain in the 1970 Eurovision song contest — her entry Knock, Knock,Who's There? reached second place, watched by 200 million viewers. But she never managed to match the internation l success of Those Were The Days. She starred at the London Palladium after only a year in show-business, and toured Europe the USA and Australia. But another number one hit eluded her.
By now she had found that pop stardom was not a fairytale existence but a hard and cynical slog. "My family and friends couldn't believe that most of the time I was frightened and insecure," she remembers. "They couldn't understand how anyone living a glamorous life and earning huge amounts of money could fail to be happy. When I talked about giving it all up they just thought I was crazy." But by then Mary had realised there was more to life than fame and fortune. She had met a young record-producer named Tony Visconti and from that moment everything changed. He sensed the insecurity that lurked in the heart of the blonde with the smiling face. "He knew that success would eventually destroy me," Mary remembers. They got married and Mary, with Tony's support, gradually bowed out of the pop scene. When their son Delaney came along, she reported that life was "absolutely idyllic". "I hit the big time long before I was ready for it. I never had time to develop my real personality. Love and marriage did that for me. I don't regret being a pop star ... but I wouldn't want to do it all again!" Today at 43, Mary Hopkin is married to record-producer Tony Visconti and happily settled into family life. She occasionally does concerts and cabaret but doesn't regret that she is no longer a pop superstar. "I eventually hated the ballyhoo and big business which surrounded my public image," she remembers. "I still sing when I want to and make an occasional record but nothing is going to turn me into a 'personality' again."
Does she miss being in the big money any more? "We hardly ever think about it. We're not badly off, of course, and I have occasionally thought about going back to work, but Tony has persuaded me that I would hate it — and he's right."