The first man to represent the UK twice at Eurovision has died at the age of 80.
Ronnie Carroll, who was born Ronald Cleghorn, was born in Belfast in 1934 and, as a young man, worked in variety theatre which is where he met the future wife, That Was The Week That Was host, Millicent Martin whom he married in 1959.
In the mid-fifties he changed his name and was signed to Philips records by producer Johnny Franz who had seen him performing at the Metropolitan Hotel on London’s Edgware Road. He had his first UK hit with Walk Hand In Hand, a song first recorded earlier the same year by Denny Vaughan and later covered by Tony Martin, Andy Williams and Australian singer Jimmy Parkinson. Gerry & the Pacemakers also attempted it and reached number 29 in 1965.
In 1960 he was given the song Girl With A Curl which he recorded and entered the Song For Europe selection but lost out to Teddy Johnson’s brother Bryan who went on to represent us with Looking High High High which came second.
Two years later he went a stage further and represented the UK proper with the song Ring-A-Ding Girl which came fourth and the following year he did it again with Say Wonderful Things which, again, came fourth. Ring-A-Ding Girl stalled at number 46 on the UK singles chart, but the follow up, the Paul Evans-penned Roses Are Red (My Love) gave him his biggest hit reaching number three. His final chart appearance was with Say Wonderful Things which peaked at number six. Johnny Logan may have won Eurovision twice but Ronnie is the only person to represent the UK in two consecutive years.
It was the lack of decent material and the arrival of the Beatles that halted his career. He made a brief appearance in the 1965 film Man In The Dark in which he played a musician called Ronnie and then moved on to playing the cruise ships including the QE2. He was also friends with Princess Margaret and made fairly regular trips to Buckingham Palace. He used to host parties at his pad in London which were often attended by Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and Alma Cogan. He also got the pick of the girls. He recalled in the interview with The Guardian in 2008, “It might seem hard to believe but in the old days screaming girls would climb onto trains as I was pulling into stations and they’d come in droves for me backstage. I had as much sex as any man could wish for. When I shared a flat with a mate in Gower Street we sometimes had whole chorus lines sleeping round. I remember a woman in St Helens – she wasn’t the prettiest of things, but you don’t have much choice in St Helens – and I was asking and asking to make love with her and she just kept saying, ‘No, I might get pregnant. No, I might catch something.’ Then eventually she said, ‘Oh, all right then. On one condition – that you sing A Blossom Fell first.”
He divorced Millicent in 1965 and not long after married the Olympic Sprinter June Paul. In 1972, the pair emigrated with their children to Grenada and opened a nightclub, but a political revolution scuppered their plans, and they returned to Britain in deep financial trouble. To make ends meet he occasionally performed in clubs and holiday camps, sometimes in far-east countries but eventually abandoned singing and launched a hot sausage stall in London’s Camden Market. In the eighties he helped run the Everyman Cinema and Jazz Club in Hampstead.
In later years he moved into the world of politics which, with his great sense of humour, seemed to send up politics rather than seriously challenge it. Being a Hampstead resident for years, in 1997 he decided to stand for Parliament on a ‘Home Rule for Hampstead’ ticket at the General Election. As it turned out he posed little threat to the existing member, another showbiz star, Glenda Jackson. He returned to politics in 2004 as the public face of the obscure Rainbow Connection party.
With his political career having little impact he returned to singing and in 2005 he released a new album of covers called Back on Song backed by a little known band called Lebab. That made little impact too and so, yet again returned to politics and in 2015 was due to stand as an independent in the election in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.
In 2014 Ronnie learned that he had cancer and moved into a London hospice. He passed away on Monday 13th April surrounded by family and friends after a nine-month battle with the disease.
His friend George Weiss, who, in 2004, made headlines himself when it was revealed in the Daily Telegraph that he had been granted the freehold of a three-storey mews house in Hampstead after squatting there for 20 years, said last night: “It was very peaceful at the end and Ronnie’s own music was playing in the room.”
George had put the house on the market for £850,000 and said he would use the money to set up an independent record label and promote a single he has recorded with Carroll, but sadly came to nothing. To read the George Weiss story click here.