SPECIAL NOTE: I do not know this famous British singer but I love the interview and she is not shy to speak her mind about everything that once stood in her way to become who she is today…obviously a well respected black singer in UK! Enjoy her openness, a woman who has her own mind! Steve USA August 5, 2018 firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabrielle: ‘I’m coming back as a white male, honey’
The singer is back with her first album in 11 years. She talks about being caught up in a murder investigation, female oppression and finding happiness as she approaches 50
August 6, 2018 The Guardian
• Gabrielle roars into the room like a Formula One car at full throttle, and the 18 years since we last met pass in a flash. At the time, she was a big star with a big leather coat, big shades and an even bigger life story. Despite the No 1 records, the Brit awards and the fact she was ranked as one of the 50 wealthiest women in the UK, it wasn’t a life story for which many of us would readily swap.
At the height of her fame, she was caught up in a gruesome murder story. Her former boyfriend – the father of her elder child – beheaded his stepfather. Gabrielle was tarred by association. It was desperately unfair. What made it even more unfair was that we all loved Gabrielle. She was a south London working-class heroine who had succeeded against the odds. She didn’t have the biggest or best voice; she had an eye condition that she was so self-conscious of she covered it with a patch, shades or a streak of hair; she wasn’t your regular size-zero pop star. Yet she had a lovely, soulful voice, co-wrote her own songs, was loud and funny and gorgeous, and had so many issues that most of us could relate to her.
She sang songs of hope (her first single, Dreams, went to No 1), disappointment (Out of Reach) and defiance (Rise). In 2007, she took time out to focus on her two children. Now she is back with the classy Under My Skin, her first album in 11 years.
She sits down in her management’s office in central London, opens her mouth and doesn’t shut it until she has filled me in on the intervening years. There is the son who graduated with a first two years ago (“As a single-parent mother of colour I’m like: ‘Yeeeeeeah!’”). The daughter studying for GCSEs. Her miraculously improved eyesight that means she no longer needs to spend £500 a pop on lenses. The new collaborations with songwriter/producers Steve Chrisanthou (who worked with Corinne Bailey Rae) and Ian Barter (Amy Winehouse).
Gabrielle, who was born Louise Gabrielle Bobb, finally takes a breath. “Sorry. You know I’ve got more rabbit than Sainsbury’s. I swear, I’ve got worse over the years. I gotta slow myself down, haven’t I? I’m out of puff already.”
Today the leather coat and shades have gone, but other than that she is little changed. Her hair is shaved at the back, bobbed at the front, with a curtain of fringe pulled decisively over her right eye. Even now, she says, only her closest friends get to see it. A dead muscle in one eyelid caused it to droop, and a corrective operation left her with a shortened lid. “The idea of going out and showing my eye is like going out without my knickers on. It just wouldn’t happen.”
Her eyesight was terrible, but the condition, ptosis, caused more psychological problems than physical ones. Her eyelid would constantly flicker and the “witches and bitches” at school called her a “retard” and told her to stop winking at them. The in-crowd regarded her as prudish and disapproving “because I wasn’t bonking all these boys at a young age. And I’d be like: ‘Eeeeugh, eeeeugh, eeeeugh.’” As a young girl, she was often unhappy, at times even suicidal. But, she stresses, however bad things got, she was always a fighter, never a victim. “But I never fought like a girl. I grew up with three brothers. Who’s got time to pull hair? Come off it! I developed a thick skin and never went home and cried to my mum about it.”
She often talks about her Dominican-born mother, Patricia – the ballast and inspiration in her life. Patricia brought up Gabrielle and her three brothers single-handedly while holding down two jobs and qualifying as a social worker. Patricia also passed on her love of music. Gabrielle had her own 80s idols (Spandau Ballet, Wham, Haircut 100, Madonna), but then she discovered her mother’s collection and developed a love of soul and reggae (Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Bobby Womack, Dennis Brown). And it was music that kept her going.
One thing that brought her down was her size. Even now, she can’t stop dissing herself, although she looks fabulous. She holds her hands up to mine. “See, I’ve got big bird hands. I bet they’re bigger than yours.” Dead heat, actually. She sticks a boot in my face. “See, I’ve got huge feet. Nine and a halves. Not many shoes out there fit me.”
The young Gabrielle may have been self-conscious and angsty, but in some ways she was uninhibited. At school, she climbed on a table in the canteen to sing one of her own songs. When working in a supermarket, she sang over the Tannoy. She did A-levels, contemplated studying law, gave up on the idea and found herself singing in a Soho nightclub. She still felt like an outsider. “You’d have all these gorgeous girls in their skintight clothes and their long hair down to their arses, looking beautiful …” She stops to make something clear. “I’m a woman’s woman, by the way. If you’ve got a woman hating on another woman ’cos her skirt’s too short, it’s probably just ’cos she’s a mean bitch or ’cos her legs aren’t as good. I’m a fat bird, but I can still appreciate if a girl looks hot in skintight clothes.”
Patricia taught her that anything was possible. And, in some ways, she was determined to outdo her mother. “I always knew what I wanted. There are things I could tell you, but I don’t want to seem arrogant or above my station.” Tell me? “OK, for example, my mum had four children and she didn’t drive, and I remember saying: ‘I’m never going to have a kid unless I’ve got my own car and I’m never going to have a kid unless I’ve got money.’”
The one thing she still didn’t dare dream of was being a pop star. And yet, by the age of 24, in 1993, she was No 1 in the charts, singing: “Dreams can come true / Look at me babe I’m with you / You know you gotta have hope / You know you gotta be strong.” Two years later, she gave birth to her son, Jordan.
Then, in 1996, at the height of her success, Gabrielle’s life fell apart. Jordan’s father, Tony Antoniou, was charged with the murder of his stepfather. They were no longer a couple, but she was interviewed by the police. Although she was cleared of any involvement, it emerged that on a visit to see her and Jordan, Antoniou had disposed of the car used for the murder. In 1997, he was given a life sentence. There wasn’t a story written about Antoniou that, did not reference Gabrielle. She was traumatised and devastated. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t like talking about it. “It was nothing to do with me, apart from falling in love with somebody who went on to commit murder,” she says. But it didn’t always feel like that.
She lost faith in herself, in relationships – and in the press. “I was so depressed because of the attention it generated. Every time I read an article, it was always my name … his picture, but my name in the headline. Gabrielle. I was like clickbait. So you read this headline and think I’ve done it. As you get older, you realise you can’t be responsible for other people and their actions.” She admits it took a lot out of her. “I became a bit reclusive.”
She disappeared, then returned in 2000 with the aptly titled No 1 hit Rise. Back then, she was convinced there would never be another man in her life, and insisted that chocolate was better than sex. Does she still think that? “Yessssss!” she shrieks joyously. “I would still make that claim. Listen, I think sex is the most beautiful thing with someone who you love and who loves you. I’m an old bag now, so intimacy is the most amazing thing provided they’re the right person. But, in the meanwhile, with chocolate you can make it last longer by just having loads more of it.” Now she’s so high-pitched she sounds as if she’s been on the helium. “You really can! Hahahaha! I’m sorry!”
And is there a man in her life? “Well, that would be telling.” So tell. “Nananana.” She doesn’t want to tempt fate. ”Let’s just say I’m very happy with my life, and I put it out there that to feel good and to be in a great relationship comes from within you. If you’re feeling great and positive, when somebody comes along, it’s not them that makes you feel great, it’s just that they enhance what you’ve already got. ’Cos, trust me, if you’re looking to someone else to fill that void, honey, you’re going to be devastated when they leave. So you just need to fill that void with a bag of chips.” You would make a great agony aunt, I say. “Nah! I’m not PC. But like attracts like. If you feel like shit, you’re going to attract shit. And if you feel great, not many people are going to mess with you.”
Did men in the music industry mess with her? “No. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a couple of times when someone’s hands have ended up on my arse – and that couldn’t happen now. Maybe me not having the perfect body made me less desirable. If that’s the case, I’m fucking happy about that.”
She says she has been astonished that people have reacted with such horror to the stories that have emerged from the #MeToo movement. “Women have been harassed from the get-go. Religion still oppresses women, so why are people surprised? I’m not coming back as a woman ever. I love the idea of giving birth, I’ve been there, experienced that. But I’m coming back as a white male, honey, you know what I mean?”
She asks why we only hear about powerful women who have been abused, then answers the question herself. “I don’t want to be controversial, but the fact is that these movie stars made millions a long time time ago, and they kept quiet about it for so long. I don’t think they are the ones we need to be listening to. We need to be listening to the ones who don’t have millions behind their name. But they don’t sell papers.
“Don’t get me wrong, it shows that it doesn’t matter how much money you earn, if you’re a woman you can still be oppressed. But there’s no way I’m going to earn that kind of money and let a man step over me. I’m not going to have a man do that. Yeah, come with your dick, and it’s gonna go.” It’s going to go? “Honey, I’m cutting that off. It’s going to go. I’m going to snip it and I’m going to have fun doing it. Hahahaha! You know what I mean? We’re talking full-on gone.”
I ask if she enjoyed her success. Yes, she says, but at times she just felt like a product. “You’d do Tops of the Pops when you’re ill and you should be in bed. I didn’t have the power. Now my power is that I love what I’m doing, and I don’t have to say yes to everything.”
Gabrielle would love to have a hit with the comeback album, but she has no regrets about absenting herself from the industry. She always considered herself a mother first, and has taken huge pleasure in seeing her children grow up.
She talks about the music legends who have died prematurely in recent years – Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael. Perhaps it was the desperate striving for perfection, she says. “It’s the bloody stress that kills you. There’s that quest that you’ve always got to be the best, you’ve got to stay on it. Maybe I was never hungry enough, but I’m glad for me I was never of that mindset.”
Now she says she is embracing middle-age. “I’m 50 next year and can’t wait.” Hold on, I say, according to Wikipedia you’re only 48. “Nah. I was 49 in July. I’m probably the only woman who doesn’t misquote their age.” Why is she looking forward to her 50th? “It’s so liberating. I’m doing what I love doing, surrounded by the people I love.”
I am thinking about the way she referred to the gorgeous girls in their skintight clothes. Does she ever feel gorgeous? She grins. “When my hair and makeup’s good, I love it. I’m pleased with myself.”
I ask if she is proud of what she has achieved. “You know what? Secretly? Course I bloody well am!” And she’s not done yet. It all goes back to her mother, who taught her you can have everything if you are prepared to put the work in. “Most people I know were like: ‘Oh, my career, I can’t get pregnant, I can’t do this.’ Hell, I’m going to do what I want to do because I have a mum who has shown me that being a woman is not a hindrance. Some people say if you get lemons, you make lemonade. No, you try to make bloody champagne, darling. You know what I mean, honey?” She opens her mouth and rocks with giddy laughter.
Gabrielle’s new album, Under My Skin, is out on 17 August