My first job was a singing residency at the St James Club, Mayfair in 1983, when I was 21. My father was the cocktail pianist in the restaurant and asked me to sing with him one evening. As a teenager, I would join him at weekend ‘jam’ sessions with other musicians and was well versed in the American songbook. The manager heard me singing and invited me to sing twice a week for £30 a night.
I was confident about singing but the celebrities who came in added a level of nervousness and excitement. Roger Moore and Andy Williams would be sitting with an aperitif. The most nerve-wracking occasion was when Barbra Streisand was booked in. She stood watching me sing and then applauded. I guess she was remembering the days when she was singing in small clubs in New York.
In my youth, I was more concerned with technique than interpreting lyrics or telling the story. I remember complaining to my dad that everyone was eating their dinner and not listening to me. He explained our job was to provide background music, not to give a performance and that if I wanted people to listen, I should relax and sing for myself, as if nobody else was watching.
I took that ‘note’ and after singing a few songs, was complimented by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, who were in the restaurant. They requested Send in the Clowns and the princess said she hoped to see me in the West End. My father didn’t realise he’d given me an acting lesson. Till then I’d always been giving a superficial performance.
My favourite singer is Judy Garland. Like Sinatra, she performed her songs with a truthfulness that connected with the audience. I recently performed a cabaret based on my memoir – drawing on everything I learned from performing, including that lesson from my father. The other thing he said is that the only person you should compete with is yourself, a real lesson in our social media age.
Training: English and Drama, BA (hons) Westfield College/Central School of Speech and Drama
Theatre includes: Shirleymander (Playground Theatre), Elf the Musical (the Lowry, Salford; Dominion Theatre, London), Ballroom (Waterloo East Theatre), Sunset Boulevard (Comedy Theatre, London), Me and My Girl (Adelphi, London), A Life Under Lights (Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel London)
TV includes: Doctor Who, Spitting Image
Agent: Ashley Vallance InterTalent Actors
Jessica Martin has recently published a memoir, visit jessicamartinofficial.com for more. She was talking to John Byrne