Jane Birkin, one of the iconic figures of the swinging sixties, was found dead at her home in Paris on Sunday.
Her passing made headlines in France, where she had been accepted as a French singing star in her own right. Le Figaro splashed the news and added: “The most English of French singers dead at 76.”
Elsewhere she was labelled “France’s favourite Englishwoman.”
Jane Birkin shot to fame singing with Serge Gainsbourg the cult song Je t’aime moi non plus, with its breathless lyrics highly suggestive of a couple making love. The Pope of the time condemned the song and called for its banning, which, of course backfired and upped its profile.
Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg, and his ubiquitous cigarette, at home in Paris
Sadly, no-one remembers who the Pope was in 1969 but very few of us who were lucky enough to be young at the time have forgotten Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg and the sheer outrageousness of the song’s lyrics, and especially its rendering.
Gainsbourg had been planning to sing with Brigitte Bardot, and the song was revolutionary in its explicitness and also very interesting as a vessel that transported an attractive young English woman across the Channel, when the cultural journey had almost always been in the opposite direction.
Jane Birkin was living evidence that when an English woman is very pretty she is often transcendental in her beauty. Of course, nowadays one is hardly allowed to say such things. Gainsbourg would be horrified.
Paris held out its arms and embraced Jane Birkin and France made her its own, and it was in France that her long singing career blossomed. She had been a frequent visitor to Monaco and had performed in the Principality on several occasions solo and with her daughter by Gainsboutg, Charlotte. She had been due to sing in Beaulieu-sur-mer on July 7, but the concert was cancelled due to her deteriorating health.
Jane Birkin kept a charming and soft English accent throughout her long career. On Sunday the French Ministry of Culture said that France will mourn “an iconic francophone star.”
President Emmanuel Macron, also paid tribute to Birkin, saying she “embodied freedom and sang the most beautiful words in our language… Jane Birkin was a French icon. A complete artist, her voice was as gentle as her commitments were ardent. She bequeaths us a legacy of songs and images that will never leave us.”
Jane Birkin will be remembered fondly, as an accomplished performer and as a woman who lived her life to the full when great social changes were sweeping the western world. She played a significant and very charming part in that process.
This report has been published in the interests of editorial diversity, and any views expressed or implied do not necessarily reflect those of the publishers.
FILE PHOTO: Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg at Cannes in 1969