Talking Music: Mari Wilson Discusses Her Career And Playing Cornbury Festival – Part 1

The 15th Cornbury Festival takes place at the Great Tew Park, over this weekend, July 13-15. 
Among the weekend line-up are Alanis Morissette,  Mavis Staples, Amy MacDonald, Pixie Lott, PP Arnold, UB40, Squeeze, Caro Emerald, Deacon Blue, Jimmy Cliff, Marc Cohn, Andy Fairweather Low,  Danny & the Champions of the World and Mari Wilson and The New Wilsations. 
Mari Wilson stormed the UK charts in the early eighties. With her striking beehive hair style and fully choreographed twelve‐piece band The Wilsations, she appeared on television shows and scored radio airplay hits with her singles Cry Me A River and Just What I Always Wanted as well as performed sell-out concerts around the world.  

In 2016, Mari released her latest album Pop Deluxe which featured up to date reimagining’s of songs by artists such as Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Jacky.

Andy Howells spoke to Mari earlier this week about her career and appearing at Cornbury Festival. 

Do you enjoy performing at music festivals such as Cornbury? 

I love it. Whether you’re on in the afternoon or the evening, it’s just that thing about been outside. If you’re on during the day, the sun is shining and that’s one type of atmosphere and at night with the twinkling stars, that’s another kind of atmosphere. With the weather currently been as it is, it’s fantastic.  

Did you come from a musical family at all? 

Well my brother is a musician. He’s written songs for Cliff Richard and is 6 years older than me, so I kind of looked up to him and we used to harmonise together at home. There was a always a lot of singing, my Mum had a beautiful voice and my Dad could sing. We could all harmonise, we were like the Von Trapp’s! No, we weren’t really! (Laughs)

We didn’t have television 24-7, people entertained themselves more in those days! 

Singing star, Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on July 15, 2018.Singing star, Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on July 15, 2018.

Singing star, Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on July 15, 2018.

What led you to becoming a singer? 

Oh, two things! Firstly, Judy Garland, when I saw her on TV in the old films and then I saw her on Sunday Night at The London Palladium, I thought to put across a song and make you cry or laugh – how amazing to make people feel like that?

Then, I saw Shirley Bassey’s dresses, I thought, “I want to be a singer like Judy Garland but I want to dress like Shirley Bassey” so that’s how it kind of happened! Then I heard The Beatles and got into Motown,  Stax, the Bee Gees and Barry White,  

I used to go to grammar school and my headmistress, Miss Henderson, used to say “Your trouble is Mari, all you think about is pop music! You’re too excited!” I used to say “Yes, well, I don’t need to know about Henry VIII because I’m going to be on Top of The Pops “– I must have been horrible! (Laughs)

It turned out I was on Top of the Pops but it could very well have not happened. Fortunately, I didn’t need to be an expert on Henry VIII it worked out fine! 

How did you get into recording? 

Well I’d been doing backing vocals for people and working in studios. It’s funny, when you want to do something you mix with other people that do similar things. I was drawn towards been with musicians and just singing with anyone, not to get paid, I had a proper job in an office or something was just trying to break through. I met Tot Taylor (who wrote Just What I Always Wanted) in this South London studio and I recorded a few other songs. 

Now, there are millions of people making records. Back then, there weren’t that many people doing it. When you told people, you were a singer they’d go “how exciting!”, because there weren’t that many of us!  

Chart success came in 1982 with Just What I Always Wanted. Do you recall the events surrounding that? 

I was at a gig with Tot and there was this buzz going around about me. The gigs were getting more and more full. On the way there we were in the back of a mini cab and he said, “Do you know what?, I think this could get really big and take off!” 

When I was on Top of the Pops for the first time, I thought, “Yeah, this is what I had planned, this is what I told Miss Henderson, here I am” It was lovely! Top of the Pops was like a religion, it was like “I’ve made it now!” Actually, really making it is keeping going. It’s great because you get your foot on the ladder but you’ve got to try and stay there and that’s the challenge! 

You brought the Beehive hairstyle back into fashion for a bit too? 

It was interesting because I wasn’t doing old music but my look was retro. I’d always loved Lana Turner and The Ronettes. I had an older sister who used to have a Beehive. In the 60s, we used to share a bedroom and I’d watch her backcombing her hair and I’d go, “I’m going to look like that!” I thought it was a great look, it certainly got me noticed! 

Mari Wilson who reached the charts in 1982 with Just What I Always Wanted Plays Cornbury Festival on July 15, 2018Mari Wilson who reached the charts in 1982 with Just What I Always Wanted Plays Cornbury Festival on July 15, 2018

Mari Wilson who reached the charts in 1982 with Just What I Always Wanted Plays Cornbury Festival on July 15, 2018

There was quite a trend for the retro style in the early 60s wasn’t there? The Maisonettes and King Creole spring to mind. 

There was King Creole and the Coconuts with the Zoot suits and that kind of thing. It was all about glamour in the early 80s. We’d had the punk thing which was anti-glamour, then we all came along, The Human League, Culture Club and The Eurythmics and we were dressing up and it was great. That was what was great about been a pop star, you could look ridiculous, which was fine because you weren’t working in a bank. 

It was making music fun again too. 

Yes, it should be fun, when I look back the first time I got on stage and did a gig I thought its really good fun, that’s why I’m doing it. 

  • Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on Sunday July 15. For more details about Cornbury Festival visit

  • Read Part 2 of our interview with Mari Wilson tomorrow.