From a Roman Road council estate to the international stage, Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker remembers her East End community that kept her dancing feet on the ground
When Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 she became the subject of nationwide adoration overnight.
The fourth British act ever to win Eurovision, Baker and her bandmates were suddenly recognised for their brightly-coloured costumes and memorable dance routine which saw the female singers’ skirts ripped off to reveal mini-skirts beneath.
But rather than live it up and travel the world as you might expect of 27-year-old Baker, she just wanted to get back home to celebrate with her family on the Roman.
Born in the living room of her parent’s council flat in Ayrton Gould House, Baker says it was her East End family, friends and neighbours that kept her grounded during her rapid rise to fame. Though she publically goes by her stage name, Cheryl Baker, her friends and family still refer to her by her birth name, Rita Crudgington.
‘When I won Eurovision all of the people living in the flats around Ayrton Gould House opened their windows and came out on their balconies and were shouting and singing,’ she says: ‘the sense of community really showed itself then.
‘I still lived in a council flat with my mum and dad during those glory days. I had golden discs on my wall and was being picked up in limousines but I still lived at home. I know it’s a cliche, but it really helped keep my feet on the ground.’
A typical East End upbringing, Baker attended Bonner Primary School and Morpeth Secondary in Globe Town. On Saturdays, she worked in G Kelly’s Pie and Mash: the branch that has since closed down on Bethnal Green Road.
Keeping in close contact with her childhood friends, she says they still call each other the ‘School Girls,’ and has nothing but fond memories of growing up on the Roman.
‘Everyone lived in Council flats so no one felt left out,’ she recalls: ‘the area was so heavily bombed during the war, so they built loads of new tower blocks in the post-war period. My parents thought it was fantastic when they moved into a flat with an indoor toilet and a proper bath.’
With Ayrton Gould House looking onto Meath Gardens, and Vicky Park just around the corner, Baker said she never missed not having a garden as a child, though now that is what she values most about having a house of her own.
‘When I first moved out and bought my house I opened my front door to my first ever front garden and swore I would never live in a flat again,’ says Baker: ‘I have nothing but fantastic memories and dear, dear friends from Ayrton Gould House but I just love being able to hang my clothes on the washing line and feel the grass between my toes.’
Though she now lives in West Peckham, Kent, when asked if she still considers herself a Cockney, Baker responds: ‘Of course I am! I was born on Roman Road.’
Baker recently starred in a special episode of East Enders for this year’s Eurovision song contest which she describes as a real ‘pinch-me moment.’
‘It was fantastic to stand in Albert Square and sit in The Vic, but it’s nothing like the real East End I remember,’ she laughs.
‘Out of all of the cast, I was probably one of the only ones who is actually from the East End.’
Though her accent has been toned down by years of working in show business, Baker remains proud of her Cockney roots.
When she first joined Bucks Fizz in 1981 Baker says she refused to have elocution lessons because it would’ve felt like she was ashamed of where she comes from.
‘Just like people from Scotland have Scottish accents and people from Ireland have Irish accents, people from East London have East London accents so I don’t see why the East London accent should be derided,’ she says.
Going down the Roman to buy her costumes on a Saturday, Baker always knew she wanted to be a singer. But she never believed it would happen to her.
While her sister was running Sheila Anthony women’s clothing shop on Roman Road, Baker trained to be a secretary and spent five years riding the number eight bus from Old Ford to her office in Liverpool Street.
She even worked in Edgeware Road for a time and the trusty number eight would carry her all the way home.
At the age of 21, however, she decided to pursue singing as a career. Baker thought she would end up gigging in East End pubs for the rest of her life, but to her surprise, she was accepted into her first band, Coco, and started touring the country almost straight away.
‘I was a poor girl from the East End with no advantages in the industry, I never had singing lessons or went to stage school so I never thought it would happen to me.
‘I had to work the circuit to earn my stripes, but I’m proof that anyone can do it,’ she says.
Though Baker rarely comes back to the East End, she recently returned for a friend’s birthday party at Bethnal Green’s Working Men’s Club, making sure to stop off for a beigel – ‘not a bagel’ – on the corner of Brick Lane.
Baker used to drink in the Weavers Arms in Globe Town and laments the closing down of so many local pubs: ‘But aside from the pub culture much of Roman Road still looks the same to me,’ she says.
‘You’ve still got Massingham Chemists and Whistles Boutique. The market might not be as good these days but at least it’s still there.’
Considering her dreams of becoming a singer, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Baker didn’t thrive behind the counter at G Kelly’s: ‘I’m the type of girl who hates getting sand under her nails at the beach let alone clearing up other people’s leftover dinner,’ she laughs.
But like every true East Ender, pie and mash is still her favourite meal. And her own specific take on it?
‘I can eat the jelly but not the eels,’ smiles Baker: ‘With pepper and vinegar and a slice of dry bread. Just like I used to with my mum.’
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like our piece about Leanne Black from G Kelly.
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