Roger Whittaker performing in 1971. Photograph: Radio Times/Getty Images
British singer, who retired in 2012, sold nearly 50m records worldwide after breakthrough in 1962
The folk singer-songwriter Roger Whittaker has died at the age of 87.
His greatest hits include Durham Town, The Last Farewell, New World in the Morning and his 1982 version of Wind Beneath My Wings. Worldwide, he sold nearly 50m records since the summer of 1962 when, aged 26, he began writing songs and singing in Welsh folk clubs while studying zoology, biochemistry and marine biology at the University of Bangor.
Whittaker had his first big breakthrough when he was asked to appear on an Ulster television show in Northern Ireland called This and That.
An extremely proficient whistler, his extraordinary composition Mexican Whistler later reached No 1 in three different European countries.
But it wasn’t until he released Durham Town (The Leavin’) that he got a Top 20 hit in the UK. The song’s success took him by surprise, according to comments published on his website. “I just didn’t have any faith in that song at all,” he is reported to have said. “Far from promoting the single in Britain, I went off to Finland for a cabaret season and television appearances.”
By the time he returned in November, Durham Town was rapidly ascending the British charts.
Whittaker was born in Nairobi to English parents in 1936, and the music of east Africa left a mark on his childhood. “In over 30 years of singing and playing musical sounds, the wonderful drumming, and those marvellous, infectious rhythms, have played a great part in everything I have ever written and sung,” he said.
Whittaker retired in 2012 and is survived by his wife, Natalie, whom he married nearly 60 years ago after three months’ courtship, and their five children: Emily, Lauren, Jessica, Guy, and Alexander.