Beverley Knight is all heart and soul
EMMA LEE UK soul queen Beverley Knight returns to Norwich on Friday, fresh from appearing on the celebrity talent show Just the Two Of Us, before joining Take That on their reunion tour. She spoke to Emma Lee.
Beverley Knight is an interviewer's dream. the 32-year-old singer from Wolverhampton, who's been dubbed the UK's soul queen, is feisty, chatty and fun.
And she doesn't seem to mind that I've inadvertently gatecrashed a precious weekend at home with her family.
The daughter of Jamaican parents, she had a religious upbringing and her singing career began at church.
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Obviously fiercely proud of where she comes from, she's combining a trip home with a visit to a local school.
“I don't get to come back to Wolverhampton as much as I'd like,” she says. “If I could, I'd be back here every weekend. I'm working with a particular senior school on Monday at a presentation evening, so I've combined the two, which is good. This one isn't at my old school, but I do work with my old school a lot. Hopefully I inspire a few of them!
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“I've got great memories of home. It's actually still home. Although I live in London, when I say home, I'm thinking of Wolverhampton.
“It was such a great place to grow up. It was so multi-cultural - different creeds and religions - and is, by and large, pretty tolerant. There were a few incidents, but you get that everywhere. I'm glad I had so many experiences to draw on. And I love the warmth of the people here.
“But I've lost my accent though,” she laughs.
And trips back home are spent taking a breather and catching up with family and friends.
“When I come back I tend to spend most of my time with my family. It brings a big old smile to my face. All my mates who I grew up with are still around. We go out, have a laugh, maybe go shopping in Birmingham, go to restaurants and the cinema,” she says.
“I suppose my life in London might seem showbiz to other people. The other day I was singing for a whole bunch of radio people and Roger Daltry happened to be there too. My sister phoned up and said 'hey Bev, what ya doing?', so I told her and she was like 'eh?'. To me I was working and there to do a job and I got on with it, but to other people it seems glam and showbiz. But I go to the supermarket too like everyone else,” she laughs.
Beverley released her first album, the B-Funk in 1995, which received wide critical acclaim on its release.
In 1997 she signed with Parlophone and she's gone on to score three gold-selling albums and singles chart hits including Made It Back, Shoulda Woulda Coulda and Greatest Day. And she has three Mobo awards adorning her mantlepiece to boot.
But she is also a spokeswoman for charitable and political causes.
During her appearance on the BBC talent show Just The Two Of Us - more of which later - she supported the Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.
It's a subject close to her - she nursed her friend, Tyrone Jameson, before his death from an Aids-related illness and has worked for Gay Pride in Manchester and Christian Aid, travelling to Salvador to highlight the plight of children with HIV and Aids.
She also collaborated with drum 'n' bass star Roni Size on the track No More, which was written in response to the shootings of teenagers Letitia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis on New Year's Eve 2002, speaks up for home-grown talent and has even appeared on Newsnight.
But she says that her proudest moment so far (“so far. I want to be around for decades,” she says) is singing for and meeting Nelson Mandela.
“I don't tend to get nervous, but I did have butterflies in my stomach then.
“The most-read book in my world, apart from the Bible, which I grew up with, was the Long Walk to Freedom. He has such grace and humility,” she says.
She's also sung for Muhammad Ali and the G8 leaders and has appeared on stage with artists from Chaka Khan to Bryan Adams and on record with Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, Jools Holland and Courtney Pine among others. She also sang on the Band Aid 20 single.
Her latest release, out last month, is the best-of album, Voice - the Best of Beverley Knight.
She says that it's been released to mark the end of the first part of her career.
“It's over a decade - eleven and a half years - since I signed my very first deal with an independent record label. And it's chronicled me 'growing up' if you like.
“There's some songs which represent different stages of my career. Flava of the Old School was my first single. Made It Back I'm very proud of because I'd left my independent label and signed to EMI. Shoulda Woulda Coulda is a very special song because it marked a turning point in my career - I became a singer-songwriter and then Come As You Are because it was so different to what people expected. They all mean something to me.
“I'm a very different person now to who I was then - I was really a kid. I've got a body of work I feel I can be proud of. And people who don't know me from a can of beans can find out more,” she says.
And those who didn't know her from a can of beans probably do now, thanks to her appearance on the hit celebrity singing competition Just The Two Of Us.
She laughs at the memory.
“The BBC were determined they were going to have me on the show - I'm not sure why. Initially I resisted and said 'no' - I thought it would be something akin to Pop Idol and I really don't like that type of show.
“I'll get on to that later,” she promises.
“But then the timing couldn't have been better - it was on around the time my album was coming out and I was supporting the Terrence Higgins Trust, so I re-evaluated it and it made perfect sense to do it. I really wanted to win it for the Terrence Higgins Trust - unfortunately I didn't, but I really enjoyed doing it.”
And how did she get on with her partner, Nicky Campbell?
“Nicky got a hard time. I know he comes across on telly as perhaps not being the warmest person, but you can't come across like that when you're grilling people on Watchdog. I think the programme really warmed him up.
“I loved him. I got behind the public persona - and we still keep in contact - we've been saying we'll have to meet up but we haven't been able to so far. I've been busier than a busy thing!
“It takes a lot of guts for someone who isn't a singer to go on a show like that,” she says.
So what's Beverley got against Pop Idol?
“Well, the reason I'm not keen on shows like Pop Idol is that I think they promise kids the sun, moon and stars but ultimately deliver nothing but dust. Not everybody's going to be Will Young or Lemar or Kelly Clarkson - they would have been famous regardless of whether they were on the show because they have their own sparkle. They just have something about them. And I'm not sure that any of the people since have had that.
“It comes to something when people who are knocked out at the audition stages and can't actually sing.
“Then there's the promise of the recording contract - this in itself is a minefield. You can be signing yourself up to a whole lot of debt. You get an advance, but you have to pay that back once you sell records. If you don't sell them, then that's a problem. But you can't blame the kids for going on the show. My feeling is that this isn't the way to build a career in music. Like with Hear'Say - Myleene and Kym have done ok, but look at Suzanne, Danny and Noel.
“And relax,” she says, with a chuckle, as she clambers down off her soapbox.
Writing some new material is on the agenda - but before she heads back to the studio she's supporting Take That on their comeback tour.
“It's going to be brilliant,” she enthuses. “I'm so looking forward to it. It's a big nostalgia trip for me. I was a little bit of a fan. Now I look back, at the time I was more of a fan of their fit bodies,” she admits with a cheeky laugh.
“But Back for Good is a great song. I don't think that any boyband since has had the impact they have - Westlife or Boyzone or Blue. There was an energy that made them very special.”
And in preparation for the tour, she's doing a special warm-up date in Norwich.
“I like the audience in Norwich - it's a very receptive audience and there are lots of young people. UEA is a very dedicated music venue,” she says.
“This time next year there's going to be a new album of original stuff. And then I'll be back on tour. And you can bet I'll be back in Norwich,” she says, wishing me a nice weekend before popping off to round up some friends for a trip to the cinema.
tBeverley Knight plays the UEA, Norwich, on Friday, April 21. Box office: 01603 508050 or visit www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk
t Voice - The best of Beverley Knight is out now.