In the summer of 1967, the singer, actress, radio and television host adopted the name of France Castel, when she became Miss Couche-Tard, as a hostess in the popular program Les couche- later, moderated by Jacques Normand and Roger Baulu.
Francine Bégin was born in Sherbrooke. Her father wanted her to bear the name of France in order to underline the treaty of the Liberation of France, while her godfather wanted her to be baptized Francine.
When we reached a compromise, she was baptized Francine, but we always called her France.
From Francine to France and from Bégin to Castel: damn it, she never bore the names inscribed on her baptistery!
You were eight children at home.
Excuse me, let me find a quieter place in the restaurant. Yes, we were five girls and three boys. My father, Antonio, was a failed artist, while my mother, Rita, a teacher who possessed a magnificent soprano voice, chose to be a wonderful mother who insisted that I foster my autonomy.
Why do you think your father was a failed artist?
Dad played several musical instruments and spoke several languages. In business, he lost all our property. In reality, he was a man with many talents, but he mastered none.
Your grandmother played an important role in your life.
Grandma adopted my mother because her parents died when she was very young. My grandmother always made sure to support our family in difficult times.
Your grandparents lived in Coaticook.
The fact that they lived in an English-speaking city allowed me to learn English.
Your grandfather was a pawnbroker.
He did good business and I often accompanied him on his collection rounds with his customers. Frequently, after his collections, we went to the cinema; however, we were entering through the back door.
You were mayor at the OTJ (Playground Work).
Imagine, I had been elected mayor of the OTJ in Sherbrooke. This allowed me to accompany the mayor in certain activities.
You liked fishing and tennis.
I really liked going fishing with my uncle, and even if I didn't play tennis, I loved going to see games.
What was your summer vacation like?
Dad didn't drive, so we visited different places with Grandpa behind the wheel. But the highlight of my vacation was a stay at my aunt's farm in Compton.
Did you think of making a career in the field of song?
No way. I loved to sing and for seven years I did music theory to play the piano. (She was humming the song Un P’tit Béguin to me on the phone)
Your father's financial problems have turned your life upside down.
Imagine, we had a cleaning lady at home, originally from Germany, which allowed me to speak a little German. We were an average family. Suddenly, we had to leave Sherbrooke, because my father had lost everything and we had to move to Montreal, in the Tétreaultville district.
You attended a convent in Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon.
My friend Johanne had enrolled in the convent, so I called on my grandmother to pay for my studies at the convent.
You played the role of the future Ramses II in The Ten Commandments.
We were performing The Ten Commandments at the convent. Imagine, they chose me to personify one of the important roles in the play.
You have already lived at the presbytery.
I had suffered a severe attack of appendicitis and the priest, a very generous man, offered my parents the possibility of me staying at the presbytery for my recovery.
Tell us about your first job.
To pay for my studies at the convent, I worked during the summer. My first job was in a creamery at the Center commercial Domaine, in the east end of Montreal, on Sherbrooke Street near Langelier.
Why didn't you keep your job?
After cleaning all the equipment, I had forgotten the most important aspect of my job. Which ? Make sure that the electrical outlets of the fridges are well connected. The next morning the ice cream was melted, and I was fired.
You then worked at the Saint-Joseph-de-Rosemont hospital.
I worked in the laundry area and the following year in the diabetic wards of the hospital.
You went to the dance hall of the Hotel Vannini, at Bout-de-l'Île, in Montreal.
I discovered that sometimes there was beautiful music, and other times violence. Besides, one evening, two guys fought to dance with me. It was flattering. Don't forget that I was not yet 20 years old.
Your first car.
A used Citroën, followed by a Mustang, then Jeeps.
Your mother accompanied you to amateur competitions.
The funny thing is that it was to please him. However, several times I won the contest. Moreover, it was during one of these competitions that Jean Simon noticed me and then invited me to participate in his television show Les Découvertes de Jean Simon.
René Lévesque is an exceptional man for you.
Mr. Lévesque left us with his unfinished dream. Like him, I did not realize all my dreams. He made me understand the importance of belonging to something.
You started your young career at Clairette.
My dear Rodger, I was young fast, and I grew old just as fast. I was the first Quebecer to sing at the Playboy club in Montreal, not forgetting the Cabaret de Fernand Gignac.
You have a beautiful family.
I have three wonderful, fulfilled children and six grandchildren who show me the world that awaits them. For 23 years now, I have shared my life with a man who has helped me live a stable relationship filled with love. Thank you Chawky Bichara for these wonderful years with you.