Music: Still life in the divine Bette Middler

Bette Midler. Picture: PA

Bette Midler. Picture: PA

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NEXT July, Bette Midler will play a string of gigs across the UK, her first here since 1980 – the closest to the Capital is on Monday 13 at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow. But why has she been away so long? Was it something we said?

“No, no, no,” insists Midler, “I wanted to come, but I guess life interfered.”

To be fair, the artist, also known as The Divine Miss M – the title of her 1972 debut album – has been pretty busy.

As well as racking up a trio of Grammy Awards and selling more than 30 million records worldwide, she has proved her acting chops, starring in comedies like The First Wives Club and Hocus Pocus, not to mention the ultimate tearjerker Beaches, for which she also recorded her most famous ballad, Wind Beneath My Wings.

In terms of music and movie success, only Cher can really rival the Hawaii-born performer. More recently, Miss M has been back in the studio, recording It’s The Girls!, an album of girl group covers. It’s an idea that she jokes has been “floating around since 1871 or something”.

Featuring ladies-only tracks from the Thirties onwards, Midler says she wanted the production style to reflect the Sixties girl group heyday.

“It was rough back in those days. The music had an immediacy, because it wasn’t processed, and that’s part of the charm, selling the music to teenagers because they sounded like teenagers.”

So does the 69-year-old think her voice can cope with such a youthful sound?

“There are certain parts of my voice that sound very young. I never smoked like a real fiend, so I didn’t lose the top end of my voice. You can keep your high voice, but you have to look after yourself.

“I run on the treadmill. And it’s only for the pumps – I don’t care whether I’m thin or fat, but I care about whether the lungs are working to drive the voice.

“It’s like a car, you have to take care of it, clean those spark plugs, baby!” she adds, laughing.

Whatever Midler’s doing, it’s clearly working; it’s hard to believe that the slender, 5ft 1in singer is heading for her eighth decade. Right now, the universally adored star is focusing on her transatlantic tour.

“People here are real music fans. They like that I tell jokes on stage, they like the entertainment, but really they want a music show.

“And you Brits get the music hall element of it all. You have that old showbiz tradition. In the States, a lot of people think what I’m doing is brand new but it’s so very, very old. I’m grateful to come to a place where this all makes sense, without having to explain it.”

As usual for an artist of advanced years, rumour has it this will be Miss M’s farewell tour. Are the whispers true?

“I don’t know. Possibly,” she admits. “I don’t know how wise it is to go on forever. If the spirit is willing and the flesh is strong, then go for it, but if something is holding you back, you shouldn’t be chained to the idea that you can’t retire.

“There are people who come alive when they think about the possibilities of travelling in their retirement.”

She has a serious case of the travel bug, which makes it hard to imagine Midler returning to the stage after the summer.

A safe bet would be to snap up a ticket and catch The Divine Miss M while you can.

Bette Midler: It’s The Girls! is out now