America Takes a Highland Fling with a New Queen of the Pop Jungle, Scotland's Sheena Easton
Sheena's image problem at home is simply that she happened to evolve in the most glaringly public fashion: The BBC made her the subject of a documentary exposing the carefully orchestrated transformation of a raw talent. Sheena was seen first as a student in Glasgow, singing sporadic $40-a-night gigs with a band called Something Else. The BBC cameras then recorded a programmed metamorphosis from pub chrysalis to pop butterfly. Her shoulder-length hair was bobbed. Her makeup was adjusted to accentuate already meltingly hypnotic hazel eyes. Jeans and sweaters were exchanged for slinky designer costumes. "It wasn't that my taste changed," she says. "It's just that before I didn't even buy Vogue because the 75 pence could have bought my lunch." Before long she had been signed by Deke Arlon, Britain's answer to Col. Tom Parker, and had released her first single, the aptly titled Modern Girl, which eventually steamed into the U.K. Top 10.
"It's easy to believe Sheena was molded and prepackaged," concedes Arlon, 36, "until you meet her. She is iron-willed and professional to the tip of her toes." Even after Easton's SRO tour of England last year and a command performance for the Queen Mother and Prince Charles at the annual Royal Variety Show last November, one British critic sneered at her "oozing antiseptic, girl-next-door glamor songs that taxi drivers and milkmen whistle."
Easton, a wee lass who stands just under five feet and weighs but 7½ stone (105 pounds), clouds over at that sort of review and the mention of manipulation. "It's an insult," she fumes. "I'm not naive. I have advisers that I trust. But I keep tabs on whatever is happening around me. And when I go out onstage, there's only me."
Born Sheena Shirley Orr, Easton grew up in Bellshill, near Glasgow, the last of six children of a steel-worker. She was stagestruck at 4 after singing Early One Morning at her parents' anniversary party. Her father died of cancer when she was 10, and her mother went to work in an electronics factory. Sheena, who did her part as a shopgirl on weekends, says, "I wasn't spoiled in material things, but I was in everything else, being the youngest."
At 17, she earned a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. She was training to be a drama teacher, though her real aim was to become a professional entertainer. "I didn't know how," she says, "but I knew I would make it." She at first emulated Streisand—"a singer who really has standards," she confesses—"until it finally dawned on me that I didn't want to be a clone. I wanted to be able to hold my own with just a piano in Albert Hall. But you have to have confidence to take all the knocks that come your way."
One of her few knocks was a marriage to actor-singer Sandi Easton which lasted eight months. They split in 1979 after Sheena had graduated from the academy; the mutual-consent divorce is expected to be final by the end of 1981.
"When I want a romantic life, I've got it," she says, though her career has left little space for a steady beau lately. For the last year Sheena has lived in South London in a rented flat with two platonic friends: a female teacher and a male actor. She spends odd moments off the road "nattering with friends, watching Monty Python, tidying my room." Come autumn she will be relocating to a larger apartment of her own in posh Hampstead.
Easton has distant movie ambitions and fantasizes about remaking Gone with the Wind with a Rhett Butler her size, Dustin Hoffman. "Instead of the old ending," she says, "Rhett would say, 'Frankly, Scarlett, I do give a damn.' And then he'd sweep me up into the bedroom." But for now she's content, if not infatuated, with her crowded concert schedule—a U.S. tour is due this fall. "When I do a wee bit of bitch-in'," she muses, "I say to myself, 'Who's forcing you?' "