Obituary: Diane Todd: Star of Broadway, West End - and PE

25 April 2010 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

Star of the West End and Broadway, singer/actor Diane Todd, who has died in London at the age of 72, had a strong South African connection which lasted almost half a century from her first visit here in the early '60s.

Already a world-renowned star, Todd came to South Africa in 1962 to sing the part of Eliza in My Fair Lady. Her arrival was considered a major news event, with cabinet ministers on hand to greet her at the airport and African Mirror cameras rolling.

While in the country, she met and married Doug Cullinan of the diamond family. Their marriage lasted, with more than its share of emotional turmoil, separation and reunion, until he died in 1975.

In 1984 she married Robin Dolton, whom she met in The Sound of Music cast. It was not a particularly happy union and his death some years later came in the throes of divorce proceedings.

Invited to sing in their productions by the Port Elizabeth amateur Gilbert and Sullivan society (she sang in their 1970 production of Die Fledermaus with Gé Korsten, among many other productions) she fell in love with the windy city, bought herself a Settler cottage in Central and stayed until she returned to London in 2007.

She sang in most of the great musicals of the era (My Fair Lady, Guys & Dolls, Kiss Me Kate, Daddy Long Legs, Stop the World I Want to Get Off and The Merry Widow among them) in all the major South African theatres and opera houses.

Her life began going downhill after she was charmed off her feet by a con man called Andrew Finlay in 2000. Only after becoming engaged to him did she discover what a complete fraud he was, with at least four wives across the country, bad debts, a criminal conviction and a history of mental instability.

Her last formal stage appearance was as the mother superior in the Port Elizabeth G&S production of The Sound of Music in 2002.

Described by the great actress Joan Brickhill as the most musical person she'd ever met, Todd was incandescent on stage. She glowed with energy and the audience couldn't get enough of her.

When the curtain came down for the last time, however, the vulnerability that was always just under the surface of her confident stage persona got the better of her.

Her unfulfilled longing for the recognition that had been hers in bucketloads but was now gone forever made her increasingly difficult to cope with. At one point the theatre in Port Elizabeth banned her from being around for some productions. She spent her remaining years in South Africa as a semi-recluse, walking her dogs and seeing the occasional friend.

Todd was born in Edinburgh on June 4, 1937. Her singing career began at the age of four when she entertained soldiers on leave from the war.

Her father, Eric Todd, was a trumpeter and she sang in his band. At nine she started voice training with Harold Miller, who also trained Julie Andrews.

She began her West End career at the age of 16 in A Girl Called Jo.

She played Eliza in the original production of My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1959 with Judy Garland, Peter Ustinov and Richard Burton in the front row.

She returned to England in 2007 to avail herself of the support given there to former actors.

Four months ago she was diagnosed with leukaemia.

She is survived by her daughter, Angelique.