Man is only great when he acts from passion.

Benjamin Disraeli

Helen Shapiro - Biography

Helen Kate Shapiro (born 28 September 1946) is an English singer and actress. She is best known for her 1960s UK chart toppers, "You Don't Know" and "Walkin' Back to Happiness".


Early life

Shapiro was born at Bethnal Green Hospital in the East End district of Bethnal Green, London. Her early childhood was spent in a Clapton council house in the London borough of Hackney, where she attended Clapton Park Comprehensive School until Christmas 1961. She is the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants and her parents, who were piece-workers in the garment industry, attended Lea Bridge Road Synagogue. The family moved from Clapton to the Victoria Park area of Hackney, on the Parkside Estate, when she was nine. "It was, and remains, a beautiful place," she said in a 2006 interview.

Although too poor to own a record player, Shapiro's parents encouraged music in their home (Helen had to borrow a neighbour's player to hear her first single). Shapiro played banjolele as a child and sang with her brother Ron occasionally in his youth club jazz group. She had a deep timbre to her voice, unusual in a girl not yet in her teens: school friends gave her the nickname "Foghorn".

At the age of ten, Shapiro was a singer with "Susie and the Hula Hoops," a school band which included Marc Bolan (then using his real name of Mark Feld) as guitarist. At 13 she started singing lessons at The Maurice Burman School Of Modern Pop Singing, based in London's Baker Street, after the school produced singing star Alma Cogan. "I had always wanted to be a singer. I had no desire to slavishly follow Alma's style, but chose the school merely because of Alma's success", she said in a 1962 interview. Burman's connections eventually led her to a young Columbia Records A&R man named John Schroeder, who recorded a demo of Shapiro singing "Birth of the Blues".


In 1961, at the age of fourteen, she had a UK #3 hit with her first single, "Don't Treat Me Like A Child" and two number one hits in the UK "You Don't Know". "Walkin' Back to Happiness" did not top the UK chart until 19 October 1961, by which time Shapiro had reached 15, on 26 September. She had a #2 in 1962 with "Tell Me What He Said", achieving her first four single releases in the top three of the UK Singles Chart. Most of her recording sessions were at EMI's studios at Abbey Road in north west London. Her mature voice made her an overnight sensation, as well as the youngest female chart topper in the UK. At a mere 14 years and 316 days old when "You Don't Know" hit the top, she was nevertheless a year older than Frankie Lymon had been when "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" hit the UK number one slot in 1956.

Shapiro's final UK Top Ten hit single was with the ballad "Little Miss Lonely", which peaked at #8 for two weeks in 1962.

Before she was sixteen years old, Shapiro had been voted Britain's "Top Female Singer". The Beatles' first national tour of Britain, in the late winter/early spring of 1963, was her supporting act. During the course of the tour, the Beatles had their first hit single and John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song "Misery" for her, but Shapiro did not record the composition. In 1995, during a This is Your Life highlighting her life and career, Shapiro revealed, "It was actually turned down on my behalf before I ever heard it, actually. I never got to hear it or give an opinion. It's a shame, really."

By the time she was in her late teens, her career as a pop singer was on the wane. With the new wave of beat music and newer female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw and Lulu, Shapiro appeared old-fashioned and emblematic of the bee-hived, pre-Beatles, circa-50's era. As her pop career declined, Shapiro turned to cabaret appearances, touring the workingmen's clubs of the North East of England. Her final cabaret show took place at Peterlee's Senate Club on 6 May 1972, where she announced she was giving up touring as she was "travel-weary" and had had enough of "living out of a suitcase". She later branched out as a performer in stage musicals, jazz (jazz being her first love musically), and more recently gospel music. She played the role of Nancy in Lionel Bart's musical, Oliver! in London's West End and appeared in British television soap operas; in particular, Albion Market, where she played one of the main characters up to the time it was taken off air in August 1986.

Recent activities

She is married to John Judd, an actor with numerous roles in British television and cinema, and lives in Kent.

Her autobiography, published in 1993, was entitled Walking Back to Happiness.

She is also mentioned in the BBC Television, science fiction comedy series Red Dwarf, because of her beehive hairstyle.


  • Shapiro lip synched her then-current single, "Look Who It Is", with three of The Beatles - John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison - on the British television programme, Ready Steady Go!.
  • In 1962, Shapiro took the lead female role in Richard Lester's movie It's Trad, Dad!, which co-starred early 60s hitmaker Craig Douglas.
  • On 31 December 1969, Shapiro appeared on the BBC/ZDF co-production Pop Go The Sixties, singing "Walkin' Back To Happiness".
  • To celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, Shapiro performed "Walkin' Back To Happiness" on A Jubilee Of Music on BBC1, on 31 December 1976.
  • Shapiro appeared in the pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre in 1983, and during her stay in the area, made a number of guest appearances at Bury Hebrew Congregation, Bury.


Chart singles

Year Title Peak chart postions
UK US Aus.
1961 "Don't Treat Me Like A Child" 3
"You Don't Know" 1
"Walkin' Back To Happiness" 1 100
1962 "Tell Me What He Said" 2
"Let's Talk About Love" 23
"Little Miss Lonely" 8
"Keep Away From Other Girls" 40
1963 "Queen For Tonight" 33
"Woe Is Me" 35
"Look Who It Is" 47
"No Trespassing" / "Not Responsible" 1
1964 "Fever" 38
1967 "Stop And You Will Become Aware"



  • 'Tops' With Me (Columbia) 1962 (SSX 1397/SCX 3428) - Number 2 UK
  • Helen's Sixteen (Columbia) 1963 (SSX 1494/SCX 3470)
  • Helen in Nashville (Columbia) 1963 (SSX 1567)
  • Helen Hit's Out! (Columbia) 1964 (SSX 1661/SCX 3533)
  • 12 Hits and a Miss Helen Shapiro (EMI Encore) 1965 (ENC 209)

All the above albums were released in (stereo) and (mono) apart from Helen in Nashville, and 12 Hits and a Miss Helen Shapiro These are her main albums from the peak of her popularity in the early 1960s from Abbey Road Studios.

Compilation albums

  • The Very Best of Helen Shapiro (EMI) 1974
  • Straighten Up and Fly Right (Oval) 1983
  • The Very Best of Helen Shapiro (EMI) 2007

See also

  • List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
  • List of British Jewish entertainers
  • List of people from Hackney
  • List of artists who reached number one on the Australian singles chart
  • List of Columbia Graphophone Company artists

External links

The article is about these people: Helen Shapiro

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