Opportunity knocked for Welsh teenager Mary Hopkin when she won the ITV talent show and was catapulted to fame in Britain and across the rest of Europe.
She was born on 3 May 1950 in Pontardawe, in Wales. As a teenager she sang with a local band.
At 18, she took part in Opportunity knocks in 1968. She performed a version of The Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn!, a song she had previously recorded in Welsh, along with ten others, for the Cambrian label, based in her village.
Model Twiggy saw Mary on the show and recommended her to the Beatles’ Paul McCartney, who was setting up the Apple Records label. He liked her pure, high soprano vocals and offered her a contract and a song with which is still associated. Mary’s version of Those were the days, a traditional Russian melody with new lyrics, produced by McCartney, topped the UK charts for six weeks, the German charts for two weeks and was a massive hit worldwide, selling ten million copies within five weeks of its release in August 1968.
She also recorded the song in Italian as Quelli erano giorni, and beat competing versions by Sandie Shaw, Gigliola Cinquetti and Dalida. In Spanish the song became Que tiempo tan feliz, in French Le temps des fleurs and in German An jenem Tag.
In February 1969, she released her debut album, Post card, which Paul McCartney also produced. It included covers of three songs by Donovan, who also played on the album, and songs by George Martin and Harry Nilsson, amongst others, and made number three in the British album chart.
In Italy and Spain, she released Lontano dagli occhi, a song she had performed at the 1969 San Remo song festival in Italy, and took the song to number 18 in the Italian charts.
Her second British single was Goodbye, a McCartney composition which put her back in the UK charts, reaching number 2 in the spring of 1969.
She was teamed with Mickie Most, Lulu’s producer in the late 1960s, for her next single, Temma harbour, another top ten hit.
Then her agent put her forward for 1970’s Eurovision song contest. At first she refused, but after no small amount of emotional blackmail and the promise of quality songs, she relented. The chirpy Knock, knock, who’s there, which was picked by British viewers to represent them on the European stage, was at odds with Mary’s usual folk sound. Though she described it “appalling”, the jurors at the contest in Amsterdam disagreed and Mary finished second, behind Ireland’s Dana. Record buyers also liked it and it reached number two in the British charts, number three in the Netherlands and number 12 in Germany, for instance.
Her next single, Think about your children, written by British group Hot Chocolate, took her further along the path of pop and made Britain’s top 20.
She began appearing in seaside summer shows and pantomimes, though, ironically, in late 1971, she recorded what is considered her finest work, the folk-oriented album Earth song/ocean song.
But, after turning down Elton John’s Your song for being too sweet, her contract – and her self-confidence – ran out. She married producer Tony Visconti and concentrated on bringing up a family, though the pair scored a top ten Dutch hit with Summertime, summertime.
She recorded backing vocals for David Bowie, amongst others, and enjoyed a brief comeback in 1976 with If you love me, an English-language version of Edith Piaf’s Hymne à l’amour.
In 1980, she formed the group Sundance, which supported Doctor Hook on tour, but her enthusiasm was half-hearted and the group short-lived. In 1983, she teamed up with Peter Skellern and Julian Lloyd Webber to form another group, called Oasis. After a few singles and an album, Mary became ill and had to cancel a tour, which ended the group.
She now keeps busy, but maintains a low profile. She appeared on the Chieftains’ 1999 tour and in 2000, she recorded vocals for the Welsh band the Crocketts, notably on the single Chicken vs macho.
More recently she played a bit part in the independent film Very Annie Mary, alongside Australian actress Rachel Griffiths, in 2001, and and duetted with Dolly Parton on her 2005 CD Those were the days, which made number 35 in the UK charts.
In 2007 she issued a new solo album, Valentine, in late 2008 she released Recollections and in 2009 Now and then.