Born on the Isle of Bute, off the West coast of Scotland in November 1963, this little Scottish lass was destined to become one of the biggest singing sensations of the 1970's. And yet, despite all the success, she was also destined to face a life suffering from chronic Anorexia nervosa and bouts of severe depression because of the very career that brought all this success, and the ignorance of some of the adults and press surrounding her.
Lena began singing at 2 years of age, and by 6 was appearing in talent contests in the 'Winter Gardens' in Rothesay, winning so often that the producers eventually had to ask her not to come back! Record producer, Tommy Scott, who happened to be holidaying on the island, eventually spotted her in the summer of 1973.
Under the management of Dorothy Soloman, Lena was introduced to the British public, on the Thames TV programme, 'Opportunity Knocks' at the end of 1973. She was barely 10 years old, when she won the show for 5 consecutive weeks, being voted consistently by the viewers. Her fame peaked again, when in January 1974, she reached no.8 in the charts with her recording of 'Ma, He's Making Eyes At Me'. She became the youngest performer ever, to appear on Top of the Pops. Success became worldwide within the year, with extensive television appearances in Finland and the US (performing with a multitude of top celebrities), a tour of South Africa, and appearances in Japan, Germany, Holland and Austria.
When she was 13, Lena joined the 'Italia Conte' Stage School, where she met fellow child star, Bonnie Langford. They were to later star in a Television show together, entitled 'Lena and Bonnie'. By 1977, Lena Zavaroni was said to be Scotland's richest teenager, having chalked up a multitude of further appearances throughout the UK and on countless television shows.
By 1979, the strain began to reveal itself, when Lena's weight began to drop. Press comments of her developing shape, as being 'cuddly' did not escape her attention, nor did the attitudes of the people surrounding her...
"When they tried to fit me into those costumes, they would talk about my weight. I kept wondering how they expected me to fit into these dresses. I was a plump little girl and I was also developing into a woman. I wanted to be just right for them but I had to go to all these breakfasts, dinners and lunches...."
For her 16th birthday, Lena returned home, having spent the previous two months suffering with her nerves. On her birthday, she found herself in Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, complaining of stomach upsets and feeling listless. She would fall prey to anorexia on and off for the remaining 20 years of her life. Her family were to try everything they could think of, to try and help her, eventually moving down to London to be able to access the specialists in each field. But nothing was to help long term, and the illness took over her life completely. By 1984, Lena had hardly worked at all for 2 years, and it seemed that her career was over. By 1987 she announced that she was giving up show business.
In 1989, Lena married Peter Wiltshire, but the marriage sadly only lasted 18 months. Her mother, who had been drinking heavily, committed suicide around this time too, which could not have helped Lena's darkening depression. By 1993, making a rare television appearance, it had become impossible to hide the punishing affects that the illness had caused to her tiny 4'10" body. Her cousins, Martha and David encouraged her to come and live with them, and she was able to put on a little weight over the year she spent with them. They decided to get Lena some professional help that they had heard about in a television programme - and contacted Peggy Claude-Pierre who ran the Montrose Clinic in Canada. At this point, Lena weighed a mere 3 and a half stone, and this seemed to be her last hope.
The time at the clinic seemed to bring a little happiness to her life, and Lena quickly managed to put on weight reaching just under 6 stone, but she explained to Peggy that she was fearful that there was a neurological problem that the anorexia clinic could not cure. She referred to it as 'static' describing it as a veil of greyness and noise, where she couldn't feel a hug, or hear a kind word..."I feel as though I have given away my soul. I don't have it any more. I feel dead inside..."
When Lena returned home, she fell into her old ways. Living alone, claiming disability allowance and receiving help from the show business charity 'the Water Rats', she became obsessed with her 'static', and became convinced that the only hope she had, would involve neurosurgery. Eventually a surgeon at the 'University Hospital of Cardiff' agreed to give her a Leucotomy, a controversial operation that was only carried out in extreme cases of depression. She had said that she could not live with the increasing torment and suffering that came with the illness...
The surgery, wh