True star who died of a broken heart

April 24, 2015 11:23 pm 14 comments Views: 84
Jackie Trent was distraught when her songwriting work was overlooked, while her ex-husban

Jackie Trent was distraught when her songwriting work was overlooked, while her ex-husband received accolades. Picture: Adam Head
Source: News Limited

AS the stars gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Neighbours last month few if any would have known that singer-songwriter Jackie Trent lay dying.

The woman whose lyrics are still heard around the world on the Neighbours theme was losing her long battle with illness.

There was no fanfare for Jackie Trent’s cremation. The only mourners were her devastated husband, Colin Gregory, and her two children, Michelle and Darren, from previous marriages.

It was a sad and inauspicious end for the once-famous and successful singer-songwriter, who early in her career had managed the seemingly impossible task of dislodging the Beatles from the top of the British charts.

Not only was Trent the lyricist on hits such as Don’t Sleep in the Subway and Colour My World, she also dated Elvis Presley, worked with Frank Sinatra and counted Sammy Davis Jr as a friend.

“Jackie was a true star,” her oldest friend, Margo Thatcher, recalls. “She was glamorous and talented. It’s no wonder so many people loved her.”

In her later life, Jackie had slipped into obscurity, retiring to the Spanish island of Menorca, battling ill health brought on by her addiction to alcohol and cigarettes.

Lurking, too, in the background was an expensive and heartbreaking legal battle with her ex-husband, Tony Hatch, over the rights to some of their many hits.

They had split in the most acrimonious fashion on Jackie’s 55th birthday, when her husband announced he was ending their 30 years of marriage and leaving her for a mutual friend he had secretly loved for many years.

British-born Trent was once the toast of the town in Sydney where she and Hatch made their life together for more than a decade in the 1980s.

There, Hatch and Trent were regular fixtures in the social pages performing at Carols by Candlelight, doing charity work for the Variety Club and enjoying late-night sessions around the piano with their friends Maria Venuti and Barry Crocker.

Jackie Trent with then-husband Tony Hatch in 1983.

Jackie Trent with then-husband Tony Hatch in 1983.

It was during their years in Australia that the couple were invited by another friend, producer Reg Grundy, to write a theme song for his new series tentatively titled Ramsay St.

Trent was later to reveal that it was her idea to rename the show Neighbours after arguing that Grundy’s original title sounded too similar to the British soap Coronation St.

Trent also claimed to have written those famous Neighbours lyrics while peeling the vegetables for dinner.

And then inviting their own neighbour, Crocker, over to record it for them and make TV history in the process.

This sort of star-studded anecdote was once commonplace for Trent, who spent her earliest years rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous in London and abroad.

Venuti says the couple were quickly accepted into their adopted home in Australia, winning over friends with their talent, generosity and love of a good time.

Maria remembers the couple fondly and still keeps in touch with Hatch.

“I wish it could have been a happier ending for her,” Venuti says.

“I liked her a lot. And I think it’s fair to say she never got the recognition she deserved.

“I like to think she will live on through the beautiful lyrics she wrote to those iconic songs.”

Neighbours theme writer Jackie Trent with entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.

Neighbours theme writer Jackie Trent with entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.

CERTAINLY, it stung Trent when, in 2013, Hatch was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York and she didn’t receive so much as an invitation.

Most of Hatch’s best-known music had been accompanied by lyrics written by Jackie Trent.

Together they had been a tour de force musically and were at the peak of their professional powers when they were performing together.

To outsiders they were Mr and Mrs Music. Hatch at the piano and Trent by his side belting out songs from a catalogue that numbered 400 or more.

After the split, Trent eventually found happiness again when she met Colin Gregory, a retired policeman, at Luton airport while they were both waiting for an early morning flight to Spain.

But the wounds of her marital split 10 years earlier continued to weigh heavily on her.

“Jackie was easily the most spontaneous warm and sincere person anyone could meet,” Mr Gregory recalls with great affection.

“Plenty of fans out there who met her around the world will testify to that. She loved everyone and, I think, she trusted everyone, sadly.

“She immediately gave me her heart, her life and her full commitment: can you believe that of a world icon?”

Giving up his life in the UK to settle in Spain with Trent, Mr Gregory made it his mission to help her get back on track, starting by taking legal action against Hatch over seven songs Trent long insisted they wrote together.

Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, right, with actor Philip Quast and singer Judi Connelli.

Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, right, with actor Philip Quast and singer Judi Connelli.

Hatch disputed Trent’s claims and the matter remains in court. Gregory says he will pursue the fight for Trent’s “professional reputation” even though she has gone.

Her husband admits that ultimately his love was not enough to save Trent from herself.

“Jackie died of a broken heart: aided and abetted by alcohol and cigarettes,” he said.

“Any why wouldn’t she, after what she’s endured, certainly over the past 20 years?”

In an exclusive excerpt from the memoirs Trent penned before her death and which are yet to be released, she describes her devastation at discovering Hatch was in love with her friend Maggie Clough, the woman he would later marry.

She writes of confronting her husband on the dance floor after noticing him spending “too much” time with Clough.

According to Trent, it ended there: “I just stood there on the dancefloor, like a piece of stone, while he walked away.”

The breaku-p took its toll on Trent’s health and she became so depressed that she once claimed it left her bedridden, blind and having to be handfed by her mother.

Even in her last weeks, Trent was emailing her old friend, Margo Thatcher, detailing her ongoing distress and anger over the breakup with Hatch.

Adding fuel to the fire was the ongoing legal battle over the credits to those seven songs.

“She never got over it,” Margo Thatcher said.

“She gave her best years to Tony. It was devastating. When they met, she was the star. He was just the guy at the piano.

“She had so much personality and talent. And she was so glamorous. She always looked immaculate. One look at her and you could see she was a star.”

Ms Thatcher, who met Trent when they were teenagers entertaining troops overseas in the 1950s, says Hatch had been a notorious womaniser throughout their marriage but Trent had turned a blind eye because she loved him.

She says the former couple were happy together but Hatch’s infidelities and their penchant for partying probably took its toll on the relationship.

Given the animosity between the pair, Ms Thatcher said she was stunned when she read, on Hatch’s Facebook page, that he had planned to attend Trent’s memorial in Menorca until he was warned by Mr Gregory to stay away.

Worse still, she couldn’t believe that he had planned to bring his wife, the woman for whom had left Trent all those years ago.

Ms Thatcher was so incensed by what she perceived to be Hatch’s insensitivity that she took him to task publicly on Facebook and was promptly unfriended.

Hatch has stayed silent on his relationship with Trent and the ongoing legal stoush, declining several requests to be interviewed for this article.

Entertainment reporter Peter Ford said blog posts that Trent posted in her final years revealed her heartache and the solace she had sought in drinking.

“It (the break-up) was a personal loss as well as a professional loss that came at a time when she was getting older and so the work opportunities had already begun to dry up,” Ford said.

“It’s ultimately a very sad story. The anniversary of Neighbours perhaps gave her death some gravitas because without that she had largely been forgotten.”

Originally published as True star who died of a broken heart

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