'Hell-or. Is me you look for?'

Margarita Pracatan sings Lionel Richie. Badly. That's how she became a star on 'The Clive James Show', and why she's about to hit the club circuit. Hard. By William Godwin

"I sing 'Hell-or', and 'La Bamba', and a few more, you know. And then people say you know people really like it, you wanna send another video? I say yes send another video, another song. And last year people they say, you know, they want to know something about you more, can you send a resume? So I send my resume and then after that they say, you know, they really want to know more about you, do you want to have it by satellite with Clive James? I say of course I want to do that, so they did that the last May, 1994. So they did the satellite, and everybody love it, so after that they say do you want to come here and do it, and I say yeah of course and I am here!"

Margarita Pracatan in conversation is not unlike Margarita Pracatan in song: you hear the words, but cannot be sure of the meaning. But one thing is sure, this woman sings like no other, and no other would probably dare to. Not so much tone deaf as tone abusive, Pracatan can kill a song softly or raucously, leaving the audience begging for no more and doubled up in the kind of pain that only laughter can bring. She arrived in Britain hurtling down the entertainment superhighway that was The Clive James Show; the homes of 7.5 million innocent bystanders have now been hit by this Cuban bolt of lightning who does the strangest things to some very well-known tunes.

Wild and vivacious, colourful, flamboyant, camp, and capable of some very "individual" singing, she was first introduced as one of James's satellite link-ups to that strange and warped world on the other side of the Atlantic. She sang Lionel Richie's "Hello", and with one foul blow had the population humming "Hell-or, is me you look for," in a cod Mexican accent. Now she is back as James's regular end-piece, each song sung making it harder and harder to define what constitutes music.

If Pracatan had not existed, Clive James, more in need than most of novelties to mix up his balding brand of format TV, would have had to invent her. As it was, a lady called Ingrid got in there first. "I guess one day I was playing piano in a party, and then this lady that name is Ingrid, so she a programme in television over there. She say, do you want to play the piano and sing one day on my programme? I say OK because we are drinking, you know. So she called me the next day, then I went and I play."

Following Ingrid's cultural coup, Margarita decided to get her own public access show, which has now been running for four years. It was here that Clive James spotted her. "People say, Margarita that is nice, so then I went to the public access to see if I can have my own programme. And then they accept it." When Margarita was initially prompted by a friend to send her tapes to James she was very relaxed about what this new horizon could offer her. "I didn't care, because I never think about nothing."

But she does. She has had to think about it all on her own for a long time. She has done all her own promotion, from printing her own flyers to arranging her own venues. "I've been doing my show from my own pocket. I pay everything, and I've been doing that all my life, nobody help me."

She realises that she is not a classical performer who will reach the top through skill and expertise, but rather through her appeal and wit. "I think the audience like me because I am different, and I got the guts to go in front of them and do things, you know, because sometime people they are very professional. I am very natural, like the audience I make part of my family."

James's interpretation of her family appeal has been to present her as a circus act. Her producers clearly feel she has more to offer than as an end-of-credits freak show. Watchmaker Productions have launched her on the self-promotional trail; there is talk of club performances and a fan club. That she is a natural for the Edinburgh Festival has also not passed them by: her shows on the Fringe have been heralded in her promotional material as "Bob Downes meets Jackie Stallone for an evening of triumphant cabaret". But she remains very grateful to Clive James and stresses that his plucking her out was the first time someone else had wanted to do anything for her. "I've been doing that all these years, and no one has said, come on we're going to do this seriously, you know, we're going to do something for you and I am happy that I have been with Clive James, he takes me seriously, and I am so happy that I want to do my hundred per cent, yes."

Margarita regards fame in much the same way as she regards sex: she may have had her 15 minutes, but it's what happens afterwards that counts. "It's only a hobby, you don't have to have sex, because sex will be like 10, 15 minutes. OK, you fool around maybe you got 30 minutes, maybe you do it one hour, maybe all night long, but the essence of sex is when it is stopped."

For now, Margarita is happy to enjoy the ride. She says she loves performing as much as she hopes the audience enjoys her performance. She has a special place in her heart for God, children, gay men and everybody at Saks 5th Avenue, but is open to receive and give love to everybody. "I think they like me because I talk to people like a human being. 'Come on! I am here, accept me.' I am here to have a good time. I like it to be a big party when I am with my audience, not like to be there to adore me, want me, I want to be reciprocated."

I'm not sure whether the Windsors will have booked their seats for the Festival yet, but they need have no fear. "I wish they would invite me there, I would love to go to see the Queen Elizabeth, and Diana, and the husband, to see Prince Charles. Oh that would be good. To be normal, don't be too much ceremony, to like a family reunion, a private party. And then to film it, and then put it on television, with their permission, that would be beautiful."

Only time will tell if Margarita Pracatan sparkles for as long as her diamonds, but at the moment her appeal is irresistible, even if it has nothing to do with sex. "I don't have sex," she confides. "I am celibate, I mean it, I am celibate." Then, pointing to her crotch, she says: "This thing is closed forever, I have a more good time, and have more energy. People say how come you're so happy all the time, I say it's because I have everything inside of me."

n Margarita Pracatan will be performing at The Palladium, Broughton Place, Edinburgh (venue 26) tomorrow (0131-556 6969)

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