News of the World (London, England)

7 March 1999

Lena's shoplift agony over 50p jelly packet - Exclusive

Anguish of head-up child star TRAGIC former child star Lena Zavaroni has told of her agony at being branded a shoplifter over a 50p packet of JELLY.

Little Lena-who won millions of TV viewers' hearts as a ten-year-old-was stopped by a burly security guard as she left a supermarket.

The ex-singer, now 35, was stunned as he took the jelly from her carrier bag and returned it to a shelf, claiming it had not been paid for.

Legend He had no idea who the frail, emaciated woman was. Lena, who lives in a council flat on Pounds 48.20-a-week state benefit, insists she did NOT pinch the jelly.

The pint-sized legend, who triumphed on Opportunity Knocks before succumbing to a slimming disease, explained: "I had two carrier bags inside my basket and dumped some items on top of them.

"The jelly must have gone inside one of the bags. It's easy to do. An old woman saw me and told the guard.

"I didn't steal anything. I've never shoplifted in my life. I'm not like that. "I'd be devastated if people thought I'd tried to steal. It would finish me. It's petty. They're not even prosecuting."

Lena's seventh-floor flat near the supermarket in Hoddesdon, Herts, is a far cry from the glittering venues she shared with stars like Frank Sinatra.

After her TV debut on Hughie Green's show in 1974, she sang for the Queen in the Royal Variety show aged 12 and made hit records like Ma (He's Making Eyes At Me).

But the freckle-faced, 4ft 8in Scot soon had anorexia nervosa and plunged to FOUR STONE . Her career crashed and her life slid from one disaster to another.

Lena's marriage to a computer executive lasted only 18 months and her mother died of an overdose. A fire destroyed all her showbiz mementoes.

Lena has never fully recovered from her illness. But her love for her once-adoring public has kept her going.

She was so desperate to explain the supermarket incident to fans that she turned to the News of the World.

And we are happy to help the sad star who brought joy to millions put the record straight.

IS your neighbour a star no longer in the limelight? Call us today or any day, 10am-6pm, on 0171 782 4444.

— Copyright News Group Newspapers Limited 1999, 2003.

News of the World (London, England)

7 March 1999

Sad Lena in shoplift agony over pack of jelly worth 50p - Exclusive

Troubled star hits new low TRAGIC former child star Lena Zavaroni has told of her agony at being branded a shoplifter over a 50p pack of JELLY.

Little Lena - who won millions of TV viewers' hearts as a ten-year-old - was stopped by a burly security guard as she left a supermarket.

The ex-singer, now 35, was stunned as he took the jelly from her carrier bag and returned it to a shelf, claiming it had not been paid for.

He had no idea who the frail, emaciated woman was.

Rothesay-born Lena, who lives in a council flat on Pounds 48.20-a-week state benefit, insists she did NOT pinch the jelly.

The pint-sized legend, who triumphed on Opportunity Knocks before succumbing to a slimming disease, this week approached the News of the World to tell her side of the story.

She explained: "I had two carrier bags inside my basket and dumped some items on top of them.

"The jelly must have gone inside one of the bags. It's easy to do.

"This old lady saw me and went to one of the security guards in the front of the shop and I was stopped.

"The old woman said, 'You've put jelly in your bag', and I said, 'What do you mean?' I looked down at the two carrier bags and I had it in there.

"I didn't steal anything. I've never shoplifted in my whole life. I'm not like that."

SHE ADDED: "I was just so shocked. I can't believe people will think I'm a thief. I'm not a person like that at all. "I'd be devastated if people thought I'd tried to steal. It would finish me.

"It's all so petty. They're not even prosecuting."

Lena's seventh-floor flat near the supermarket in Hoddesdon, Herts, is a far cry from the glittering venues she shared with stars like Frank Sinatra.

After her TV debut on Hughie Green's show in 1974, she sang for the Queen in the Royal Variety show aged 12 and made hit records like Ma (He's Making Eyes At Me).

She signed for the Stax soul label in America and shared a dressing room with Liza Minelli and Lucille Ball while on tour.

Back in Britain she appeared on TV with Morecombe and Wise, Des O'Connor, Bruce Forsyth - and even had her own show while studying at the Italia Conti stage school.

But even at the tender age of 13, the intense pressure of fame had started to take its toll.

On a tour of Japan - where her second hit Personality had gone straight to number one - she was mobbed by crazed fans who tried to wrench out locks of her hair.

After flying to America she was hailed as the next Barbara Streisand, sang with Frank Sinatra and appeared as the special guest on the Johnny Carson TV show.

BUT the chubby-cheeked schoolgirl decided she looked a bit fat and launched into a crash diet.

It soon became an obsession that destroyed her looks and career. The freckle-faced Scot developed anorexia nervosa and by the time she was 16 her weight had plunged to just FOUR STONE.

Lena's career crashed and her life careered from one disaster to another.

She married computer boss Peter Wiltshire when she was 25, but they split 18 months later.

The girl from the Isle of Bute had refused to eat in front of him and only nibbled tiny morsels of food hidden away in secret.

Her mum was then found dead from an overdose of valium and booze.

It was not known whether it was accidental or deliberate - but the body had lain for three days before being discovered.

The shock and anguish brought back Lena's eating problems with a vengeance.

Twelve months ago she lost treasured mementoes from her career when fire swept through her Hoddesdon flat.

Records, photos, and books were destroyed after a candle set light to her bedroom. The star was also rushed to hospital after taking an overdose of pills a few years ago and has never fully recovered.

Her mental state is still desperately fragile and close friends feel the shoplifting accusation could push her over the edge.

LAST night Lena said: "I'm not well and if people thought I had really done it, it would just finish me off.

"Doctors have said I'm suffering from clinical depression. If anything like that was believed, it would be the end of me. I just can't live with the idea of people thinking I am a thief."

Lena revealed she is now planning to go under the surgeon's knife in a bid to cure the depression which has dogged her for ten years.

She said: "I am going to have an operation. I would love to think about singing again, and I love to talk about the possibility of going back into showbiz. I just hope the op makes me well enough to try."

Lena last sang about five years ago when she plucked up the courage to sing some of her old songs in a pub in North London. Agent Ray Dexter said: "She is about to have an operation which is a crucial one on her brain.

"The shoplifting incident was brought on by her mental illness. It involved a very small item, a packet of jelly worth about 50p, and it was a simple mistake. She is no thief."

Her dad Victor said: "She is ill and very depressed. It may be that she is not with it. Anorexia makes you like that."

— Copyright News Group Newspapers Limited 1999, 2003.