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Hello and welcome to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, the podcast that celebrates the things that haven't gone right.
This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better. I'm your host, author and journalist, Elizabeth Day, and every week I'll be asking a new interviewee what they've learned from failure.
Alexandra Burke is a singer, but not just any singer. After winning The X Factor in 2008, Burke became the first British female solo artist to have a million selling single.
Anyone who watched that series, and I certainly did, will remember Burke for both the staggering quality and tone of her voice, as well as her professionalism and ability to nail a dance routine.
She is arguably one of the best all around performers the show has ever produced. In the final she duets with Beyonce, who later described Burke as a superstar. Her debut album, Overcome, sold over 850000 copies, and she went on to earn three Brit Award nominations. More recently, Burke received rave reviews in the West End for her lead roles in the stage adaptations of the Bodyguard and Sister Act pandemic permitting.
She'll be touring the country in the theatrical version of My Best Friend's Wedding at the end of the year. She's also currently writing and recording her fourth studio album, but it hasn't always been easy. Her mother, Melissa Bell, who was one of the lead singers for Soul to Soul, died in 2017. Burke threw herself into work to cope with her grief, signing up for Strictly Come Dancing and eventually coming second. The rehearsal room has become my sanctuary, she said at the time.
It is a happy place where I force myself to leave my grief at the door. Last year, prompted by the wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the globe, Buck opened up about her own experiences of racism in the music industry, revealing she was once told to bleach her skin.
She refused. Her strength of mind and purpose has seen her navigate the sometimes choppy waters with grace. But the media has not always understood her. I've become quite vulnerable, she said in an interview in twenty eighteen.
And I realised vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
Alexandra Burke, you could not be speaking more my language. Welcome to Taffet or.
Wow. I mean, if you know, I just want to say thank you for that lovely introduction. Oh, it was really beautiful. Thank you very, very much. There's a lot that you've just said there that actually I've put in the back of my mind and I tend to forget about as time goes on. And you've just said a lot of things. I've gone, oh, wow. Yes. Just made me choke up a little bit.
So thank you.
Oh, Alexandra, Alison, it's such a delight. And actually, I really enjoyed researching that introduction because it reminded me so vividly of watching that X-Factor series. I remember the duet with Beyonce, obviously, but I also remember you performing the Christina Aguilera song Candyman Candyman and doing a I mean, doing this incredible dance routine and singing at.
Same time, and it still blows my mind, you know, it's funny you bring up that particular song, because that was the song I didn't want to sing and I remember being given the choice. It was Big Band Week. And they said, What you're doing, Candyman? I was like, have you heard the lyrics?
It's like, I don't want to sing this song.
I just remember Simon actually, because Cheryl was my mentor. But Simon kind of was overseeing every single act as well. And I just remember him saying to me, if you do this song, it can change your whole life because you sing and you dance. And I just want to put both together with a band because it's just is what you do. And I just thought, oh, if he believes in me, then I'll give it a shot.
And actually, it's one of my favorite performances. I mean, take away from performing with Beyonce, but standalone. That one definitely is, I've got to say, one of my performances and I still have the Alexander McQueen dress in my house and I only took it out the wardrobe the other day and looked at it and thought, I can't believe I have an Alexander McQueen original dress just in my house, just chilling upstairs. It's unbelievable. Do you have Beyonce's phone number?
I don't I don't know. But there are ways that I do contact her. And she is a very special, incredible, humble woman. Very.
Oh, that is so nice to hear. So are you still in touch with her? Yeah. Like when she comes over to the UK and she does her tours and stuff, I go to see her shows if I'm around and stuff like that. And when I was in the States as well, I'll never forget the time when I was recording in the studio and she just casually popped him with a glass of wine their hands and offered me one. I thought, Oh no, I'm not going to drink cos I'm singing.
But it was really sweet and I just got really flustered and nervous around her. But every time I've seen her since, she's always been so welcoming and has always made me feel like I'm just like a normal person, even though I'm her biggest fan and I really do a time when I see her because I start sweating and start getting really nervous and she takes no notice and she treats me like I'm just a human and it's great.
What was it like for you experiencing that level of sudden fame? Because that is the thing with The X Factor, although I know it wasn't an overnight success, but she'll come on to you later. It's perceived as an overnight success and you're suddenly under loads of pressure to do lots of very public things. What was that like for you?
Well, I was only 19 when I auditioned. I just turned 21. And I really have to thank my mum for the experience. She went through her soul to soul, to his why I was able to handle certain things. I consider myself as one of the lucky ones because I had a mum that was in the industry. So really, I had like one up on certain artists are starting out because I had a month that's gone through stuff and had told me if this happens and that happens, this is how you handle it, get thick skin, etc, take things with a pinch of salt, blah, blah, blah.
So I had a very great, really amazing support system. I still do. But back then it was just vital to have that. And I really do feel sorry for people who don't have those kind of people in their lives when they're starting out in the music industry because it can be intense and it is very intense. But I think for me, I was singing live of bands and in pubs and bar mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, you name it, from the age of nine.
So to have an audience in front of me was kind of normal for me. But to have the fame that came with it, I've never really enjoyed it. If I'm honest with you, because I'm such a private person, I enjoy being at home. I enjoy having family quality time, like quality time with my friends. I love just going along long walks. I love doing very normal things. And I'm very lucky to actually have a career and doing something that I love.
But the fame part of it, I've always been quite afraid to commit to really just be me because I'm being watched all the time.
So I've always been scared to just be myself and always felt like I had to be someone who I'm not at times, you know. And that's what scares me about fame, is that sometimes you can't truly feel your authentic self. And I definitely felt that when I was younger. But it's since definitely changed now that I'm in my thirties.
This is quite a weird thing to say to you. But many, many years ago, I was sitting in the Fulham branch of Starbucks in south west London, and I used to go to cafes to write my novels.
I also write books and I think I was writing my first novel.
And you came in and.
Yeah, and and you were immediately recognised by everyone in Starbucks and you handled that with such grace. I mean, I use that word in the introduction for a reason. And you were really you had lovely energy and you were really kind. And you said to everyone, thank you for the support. And then you went out with your latte or whatever.
You know, first of all, kudos to you for managing that, but also how difficult it must be to be that kind. Famous, where you can't just go into a cafe to get a coffee, but you have to think about everything. Well, you know what?
I'll be honest with you so you can probably tell by now. I love to talk and I love meeting new people. So when I meet people on the street or meet people whenever I just talk to people, people find me a little bit weird. And that's OK, because I will just talk to anyone. But it's just like I love people. So for me, that's probably I feel like I'm very lucky that I can just talk to anyone and my mum's taught me how to be that way.
But yes, you do have to think about things that were not like even to now. I mean, the only thing that's really saving me right now when I walk out in the street is the mask.
And then when I talk behind that mask, people go, oh, my God, are you are you that singer?
And I go, Yeah, I'm the singer. But which one do you think I am? And they went, Aleksandre. But this was just in test scores the other day, by the way. I'm just describing one time, but I mean and I just have a conversation with a random stranger and then I just like follow them on Instagram and sometimes they'll messaged me and I just touch. I'm really weird like that, guys. I'm really sorry, but I love people.
I love meeting new people. I think it's great.
I mean, I can feel your warmth coming through the airwaves and we're talking without seeing each other, but I definitely get that sense from you. But let's start with your failures, because they're very self-aware failures and they encompass so much of what I really want to talk to you about, actually. First of all, how difficult did you find it to come up with these failures?
Oh, very, very, very, very difficult. I remember when we got the email and I was told, oh, Alex, you've got like a couple of weeks to do your failures. And I thought, oh, courageous, this is great.
And then I didn't really think about it. And then when it got down to crunch time and I was writing them, I thought to myself, maybe I should write a little bit of information for you just to understand why I'm saying these failures. And so I started writing down how I felt. And I've just so you know, I've kept a journal since 1999, if not before. So I and I have all my diaries here. So I'm used to just like writing down my feelings.
And I haven't written in my journal in a couple of months, like I would say about six months, because actually I've been going through my own personal things. I just felt like I've not been able to be brave enough to write in my journal recently. And then when I was writing down these failures, it took me to a really weird place emotionally, a little bit mentally. And I had to stop and I had two friends in my house.
One of my friends is a support bubble and just helped me out with some things and so I can help my auntie out. And he came over to drop some shopping off and I sat with them and said to my friends and went, What's your failures in life? And I asked them and I felt to myself, I needed to talk about it. So I started talking about mine and it just brought me to tears. So I'm really praying. I don't cry now because I don't want to cry.
And I think, like you've always said in all of your interviews you've done with everyone, you've said it's about grief and it's about learning about yourself and how you can move forward. So these failures aren't a bad thing. But for some reason, it took me to a very emotional place. So if it takes me there to today, take me there today. But I'm feeling like it's quite a nice thing to talk about it.
Honestly, I feel like there is no more generous act than showing authentic emotion.
And so, yeah, if it does take us there, that's fine. And I'll cry too and say. And I'm sorry.
I'm sorry. Yes, totally. I'm sorry I took you to an emotional place, but I'm also extremely grateful and I think lockdown as well. You know, we're talking during the third lockdown and it just brings a lot of stuff up when especially as you are, you're used to travelling around and touring and going here, there and everywhere. And suddenly we're all in our own homes and we are left alone with the chatter of our internal minds. And that's a really difficult thing.
It's hard. And why did do last year when I actually stopped touring in February, I decided to take six months off for my own mental health that was only meant to last until August last year and then go back on tour. And I thought during that time, I'm going to work on me and work on the things that I know will make me happy. And one of them was getting a life coach. I've been speaking to my life coach once a week consistently.
I've stopped for the past couple of months because she's just had a baby, bless her heart. But she's been someone that actually has helped me tremendously throughout lockdown. I feel like she's made me a little bit stronger. And I'm just grateful that I took the courage to do therapy because I never thought that I could do it. And it's taken me some time since my mum passed to actually acknowledge grief and acknowledge my pain and acknowledge everything really well.
You're speaking someone who has fortnightly therapy, so I completely understand where you're coming from. Good for you for taking that choice. Your first failure.
It slightly breaks my heart to read it out loud, but your first failure is thinking that you're never good enough.
So tell us about that and what happens when you think that. Well, what's the first thing you remember thinking that thinking that you were never good enough, though apologize at all?
Oh, my gosh, sorry. I just. No, don't be sorry.
I completely understand. The way you wrote it to me is so raw because this is a failure or a self perceived failure that seems to spread its roots in so many areas of your life and what you've been through. And I wonder if part of it I mentioned earlier, like you won The X Factor and are one of the most amazing winners of any X Factor ever.
But you actually went up for a previous series, didn't you, and got through to the final stage. But then when I was six year old, Louis Walsh didn't take you through.
Now, I can't believe it. You always sleep together. But I suppose that's interesting. Did that make you feel that you weren't good enough and that then you had to put in extra effort?
I'll be honest with you, it all stems from my teenage years. I think it stems from going through that period. Actually, when I was on The X Factor at 16 was very tough because I wasn't my mom and I didn't have a relationship. So we weren't speaking for about two years, which was very tough for any young person to go through. And we just used to not really see eye to eye at times because my mom always wanted the best for me and she sacrificed a lot for her children.
And I went on to have what I thought at the time was a good relationship. It was a very bad and toxic and abusive relationship. And that's where it all really started from 16 years old. So going from that into X Factor to being told you're too young and this is not for you, and then still just grafting and doing every gig that I could possibly get when I was younger to working in pubs, clubs, etc., just to make some money.
And it wasn't a lot back then, but I just kept trying and to get the experience. It really does start from there and it feels like it's filtered into relationships as well. And when I say that I'm in love relationships where I've been through recently, a couple of relationships where when the break ups sadly happen and, you know, everything happens for a reason and I really live by that. But when the break up sadly happen, I won't say who it is.
But I've been told from an ex partner once sat me down and said, I just can't be with you because you are famous. You have too much attention around you. But thanks so much for letting me live rent free in your house. And I was like, oh, OK.
And that was a really long term relationship. And and that's just one example. And it just makes you think to yourself, what makes me think to myself? I just think, what am I good enough? Am I enough for someone?
Oh, my darling, you are you so are you are so more than enough.
And that's the issue is that when you are with someone who is less than who isn't worthy of you, that's where they'll go with it.
Because you are complete in and of yourself. You absolutely are. You have so much to give. And I find it so cruelly unfair that you haven't met someone who knows themselves well enough to support that and embrace you. But that's on them. Yeah.
And I do feel like I'm sounding really upset about is because I'm talking about and I feel like my head's gone in the past year, for example, with having a life coach, she's really helped me realize that I am deserving of love and that I can I can have and it will all happen at the right time.
And I'm a very spiritual person then I always say that God's time is the best timing and every relationship is there as an experience and a learning curve. And I've been so fortunate that I have amazing people around me to help me when I'm at my lowest.
And because all the time it feels like I'm having to put a facade on, like I'm having to put a mask on. And yet I'm OK all the time. And I've learnt recently that actually I can be honest with people and say that I'm not OK and say if I am or if I'm not and not feel ashamed of how I truly feel. And it's taken me to get to my thirties to really understand that. But I'm grateful for it. Very, very.
Alex, it's taken me until my forties. So you're already winning in that respect.
You know, so much of what you say rings a massive chord with me, because I think the a lot of my drive comes from an attempt to prove that I'm worthy of love. And it's a whole different podcast episode like where that comes from in my life.
But I think that that has made me someone who works extremely hard because I will keep trying to.
Oh, my God. Get that? Yeah, in that way, so far as if by magic. Yes, that's my that's my mother face timing me. Oh, wow. So sorry I've declined. OK, I didn't even hear.
But I think there's that level of it where you're trying to prove that you're worthy of attention and then with you, because I know that you're the eldest of is it four? You've got four siblings.
I'm the second from youngest. Oh, sorry. Yes, good research was on me here.
But I think also for you, that thing that you say about not having a relationship with your mother, I guess that at that particular point in your life, you had to grow up really fast and so quick.
Yeah. And that thing of having a facade must come from then.
It does. It really does. And you know what it's like. My mom gave me really good schooling when I was younger in the sense of taking things have been just so and not taking things too personally. And when I was much younger and, you know, like, it's difficult at times to be the strong person all the time and to be the one that provides and to look after people and stuff like that. And it takes its toll on you.
For me, I've got such a massive love for what I do that I don't stop thinking about music. I don't stop thinking about dreaming of touring and singing on stage and having a microphone in my hand. And music just means so much to me because of where it's come from. It's come from my mum, the woman that made me, and to see her success and to see her have four kids and to still have a career and travel the world like I wanted everything she had, if not more.
And this feeling when it comes into my music, I touched on it when I spoke about my experience in the music last year on Instagram, I was sat down and told you never going to be good enough because of your color. You're never going to sell a certain amount of records because, you know, you may not appeal to a certain audience. And I was told to bleach my skin. And you're never going to perform on the Brits because they wouldn't have a black artists perform performing the Brits.
The most you're going to do is just one X-Factor, and that's the biggest get for you. And all of that is bullshit. Excuse my French. It's just ridiculous because I was never brave enough to say that ten years ago when I was told that I sat there and thought, well, if that's the case, I'm just going to work really hard so that I can achieve everything. You've told me that I can't. And, you know, granted, yes, I haven't performed in the Brits before, but I've been nominated.
And that in itself is a huge honour. And all the little things about not selling music, well, that's rubbish, too, because they have sold. So all the little things that I was told. But you can't do this and you can't do that. Well, no, I have proved you wrong in some kind of way because I've worked really hard to try my best to achieve things I'm proud of. But if it wasn't for my family, if it wasn't for my mum in particular, for my amazing, beautiful friends and the team I currently have around me, I don't know where I'd be mentally.
If I'm honest with you, I don't know where I'd be because keep in that strong face and keeping that strong spirit up, don't get me wrong, I'm a very positive person, but it's very difficult to keep up when you are feeling at your lowest and also, you know, and being made to feel literally like you can't be yourself. Yes, you're too much of something in this way or that way. I find it so depressing and flabbergasting that this was only ten years ago that people were talking to you in these terms.
And I feel angry on your behalf. And you sound really mature and measured about it.
But do you think were you I'm guessing you weren't allowed to be angry, but where did you feel anger and where did it go? I think for me.
So it takes a lot to really pay me off. Like, you could really do a lot to me. And I would just sit there and go, OK, great, let doesn't yeah. Doesn't work. One my best friends, the lady who we basically lived together because of lockdown, she's with me right now, she's just put her foot in my face to try and annoy me and it's not working.
So, you know, it really doesn't work. But I think there was a point where I was angry and that be honest with you, it only occurred in the past year because I brought it up and it only occurred when the Black Lives Matter movement happened. And I felt myself angry around all of that, because, first of all, with everything surrounding George Floyd and everything that happened there, I thought of my brother, my dad, my nephews, my cousins, you know, I thought of them and that could have been them.
Then it stemmed into people direct messaging me and going, we know you've been through something and you've you're not telling us the truth. And I was getting hundreds of DM's of people saying, speak up, speak up, speak. Please, just tell us what went on with you. And I ignored them and I thought, I'm not speaking. Well, if I got to talk about. No, not at all.
And as the days went on, I found myself crying all the time, upset, just watching the news and getting really upset at the things I've gone through. And then things like. Talking to my brother, and it's sparking up all of those emotions again, and then one day I was on the call writing a song and I felt this urge, something spiritually happened to me. And I can't quite understand it, but I do to a degree. I felt like somebody was screaming in my ear going, speak up about your experiences, stop hiding away from it.
And if I felt it was my mom and I remember just being on that zoom on the computer when I'm really sorry, guys, I've got something to do. I've got to go and just close computer, ran upstairs, put my phone into the phone, hold a thing, put it on airplane mode and just started to speak for 15 minutes. I just went from it and it wasn't planned. I didn't have any notes. I didn't think about what I was doing.
There's a lot I didn't speak about. Even my brother said to me, you missed this out. And I said to him, that wasn't the point. The point of it was was for me to just release. And I really feel like the anger went when I released it. In that 15 minute video, I put my Instagram, the anger left me and it was a burden I didn't need to carry anymore. And since doing it, I felt at ease of myself.
I forgiven myself for holding onto it and not speaking up. I've forgiven myself for not speaking up sooner. And there's a lot of forgiveness in and around that video that I've just gone. Now I can move forward and be me. And if people don't like it tough, my mama always used to say to me, you can't be everyone's cup of tea in the moment. You tried to be you failed. I everyone's going to like you, you know.
Yeah. I love that for you. I love that look for you.
And I wanted to ask because you mentioned personal related but romantic relationships. Yeah. Do you feel able to be yourself in a romantic relationship? And I only ask you this from a place of my own experience, which is that I didn't feel able to be myself until everything imploded in my life when I was like thirty five and I got divorced and everything. But I think we're quite similar in this respect. And I wonder whether you spend a lot of time trying to please the other person in the relationship.
So this is the first time I've been asked this question and it's the first time ever answering this. The truth is there's probably only one relationship where I felt like I could be myself in my whole life. And that's when I was engaged, when I was with my ex partner. Josh is the only relationship I've been in where I felt like I could be myself. And I have not experienced that since because I'm always pleasing the other person and always making sure that they're OK and everything's OK for them.
I completely don't even know who I am because I'm not even thinking of me. And that's. Yes, wow. Yeah, yeah.
I think so many women, particularly of a certain age, are raised that way, not necessarily by their parents, but by society to be nice and kind and pliant and thoughtful, whereas boys are given more scope to experiment and be mischievous. And yes, one of my former guests, Glenanne Doyel, said this amazing thing that stuck with me, that young girls are taught to look outward for permission when actually they need to be looking inward for permission, approval for self-knowledge.
And I think it's a really hard thing to do. And you should not beat yourself up about it.
Yeah, because I've never been asked that before and never thought of that before. It's made my brain just think. And then I'm thinking of I've dated a couple of people in the public eye and actually the only relationship where I felt like I'd be myself is the only time I kept that relationship private. And because I kept it private, I could be me. The moment it's in the public eye. From my experiences so far, I've never felt like I could be myself.
And it's a shame because actually I love love.
I love love so much. I love to love, I love, I love, love. And I love the idea of marriage and kids and the whole dream. And I love it all. And I had this big old plan in my head that by thirty because Beyonce I did I'm going to do the same thing and have kids and make sure I'm married and make sure I'm settled.
I put so much pressure and I think a lot of women could probably relate to this, but I put so much pressure on myself to deliver that. And I wanted to do it for my mum. I wanted her to be there. I wanted her to see it, and it never happened. I don't have any sadness in and around it not happening because I know it will happen in the right time. But I do have sadness a little bit in the fact that I actually haven't been able to be my authentic self in majority of my relationships.
And that's quite a hard one to digest for me.
But it sounds like you're doing such amazing work on yourself that I really am. Yeah, honestly, I feel it like when you emerge from lockdown. I feel it will be like an Alexandra Burke where the two circles, the like the sphere of your public life and your private life will come together and overlap finally so that you can kind of be yourself in every sphere of your life. Honestly, I feel like the fact that you've had the courage to realize that that needs to happen is the biggest step you can take towards that.
I want to tell you something, and I won't name the show until we stop recording, but I basically filmed a show in October just gone, and I broke my ribs because of it. I've only just healed properly. I had a really sprained ankle. I came back home broken. All I can say is I came back from that show a lot stronger. And I really feel that that particular experience I had in that week completely changed everything for me.
So I think if you were speaking to me in September, this would be a very different conversation versus to where I am right now because of what I went through for a week. It literally was eight days, sorry. And my life was upside down in a great way.
And I would love to speak to you about it more when we're allowed to. OK, that's so interesting that it literally took your body being broken. Yes. For you to realize that your spirit was being broken. Yes.
My eyes opened up so much in that week that it's like I had an out of body experience. It was insane when I'd sit and think and talk about my family and close friends know what I'd done. But I think about and I go, my body was completely in pieces for me to realize that I deserved a lot more.
I wanted to ask you specifically about the language that the media uses, particularly when it comes to their portrayal of strong black women.
And I noticed something as I was again researching this interview, that some of the language felt really uncomfortable for me. Reading it now from a 20 21 lens, there's a lot written about almost overconfidence, tipping into being a diva. Finger clicking All of that felt to me really icky because it's loaded from my perspective anyway, which is one of ignorant white privilege.
But it seems quite loaded to me. It seems like they were trying to say or imply something slightly different. And I just wondered what you thought of that.
When it comes to me reading stuff about me in particular, I can only really dated back to when it really hit me was when I was doing Strictly Come Dancing and when I was reading certain stories about myself that I was being a diva, that I was throwing chairs across the room, that I'd hit my dance partner, that I was aggressive, that I was overconfident, that I was arrogant. I could not believe what I was reading week in, week out.
Now, don't get me wrong, the first couple of weeks were fine. Then as soon as it hit about a week, three week, two or three, it was week after week and it was literally let's just get Alex.
That's how it felt. And that's how everyone it strictly felt because we don't talk about it quite openly.
And I couldn't believe the lies. And this particular journalist actually knows me and I can't quite work out where it all went wrong for that person to write such absurd things about me.
And there's a thing with any woman, it doesn't matter your color, any woman being strong. You are perceived to be arrogant. You are perceived to be not relatable. No one likes you because you're strong. Now, the word diva really comes from a strong female singer. It's a strong singer. We call people like Mariah Carey diva because she's a strong singer. Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Deum Warwick, you know, Gladys Knight, you name them.
I'm quite an old school girls. I'm naming all the old school people, but they are divas and they're amazing because they're fantastic singers and they are powerhouses. Unfortunately, now the word diva and the meaning is someone who is not very nice and someone who gets overly confident or whatever that may be to whoever. And and that's the word that people associate with me. And I get it often. So I would be walking in the street and I'll give you one example of a young woman that stopped me in the street.
And she said, well, my daughter's a really big fan of yours. Do you mind if I get a picture of. My God, of course. Yeah. So we had a picture and I started speaking to our daughter and asking her how school's going and what her favorite subject was and stuff. And the mum turned to me and Tatman shot and went, I'm really sorry. I've just got to tell you something. And I said, What's that?
I thought you were going to be a bitch. Oh, sorry. She goes, Everything I've read about you is absolutely horrible. And I thought you were going to be an absolute complete and utter bitch to me, my daughter. And actually, you were nice.
And I just passed the. It is, and I've had a few times because I can count them, it's been so many times, different occasions where they've gone, call the press are really wrong about you, aren't they? Or they say little light, little comments like that. And I just stand there and I just go, well, you don't judge a book by its cover. And that's all I can say. And I just say, you can't really judge anyone until you've met them.
And and this is another thing that stems back to me, always trying to people, please, because I've always been bashing, you know, not always been bashing the press. Don't get me wrong, not everyone has done that to me. There have been lovely articles about me and people have interviewed me before and been really beautiful in the words they choose and stuff. So everything is not negative. I'm only speaking of the negative things, but the positive outweighs the negative hundred percent.
But when I get comments like that, I sit and think to myself, why is this? And it only really hit me when strictly happened. And really it took its toll on me. And I remember tweeting to this particular journalist and saying to him, please, can you just stop because you're destroying me mentally, you're destroying me emotionally. And I really just don't understand what you're getting your life from. And he replied back and said, I've got good sources.
I thought, no, but you're lying. You lie. I haven't thrown a chair. I haven't hit Gauke. I haven't done any of that. Where are you getting this from? And it still breaks me to this day because I'm like, why are people allowed to print these kind of things? Because it destroys people. And it did destroy me mentally, but it really, really hurt me. And I I'm not trying to play the pity party because I'm not.
But going through losing your mum, then trying to find an escape, which I didn't strictly on forever grateful for, to then go in through reading weekly, how horrible I am, how bad I treat people. When it wasn't the truth. Oh, I'm so sorry. So I just kills me because people should be held accountable for the hurt it caused on other people. They should be. And I felt helpless in the sense of there was nothing I could do about it.
It was my word against a national paper that I couldn't control.
Yeah, yeah. I'm so sorry that it's so, so tough. And I sincerely hope that, as I think it will this interview will write a lot of those horrible wrongs.
Well, I'm going to move on to your second failure now, which is also a really emotional one. And again, I just want to applaud you for going that.
You know, some people, Alex, has come up with a failed my driving test, but I know what we can do if you'd rather swap one out. But this one.
Well, this one actually links really beautifully to what you were expressing there, which is that you put work first and you felt that as a result, you lost valuable time with your mom.
Yes. Yes, man. I mean, there is no one that I really know that likes work as much as I do. It sounds really weird.
I love to work, whether it be 5:00 in the morning or 11:00 at night, I would just keep going.
And that's actually something that's not healthy. At the same time, I have been touring for the past five years. It's been non-stop, like it's because of these lockdowns and because of everything that's happened.
I've actually been able to put wallpaper on the walls in my house that I've lived in for nearly ten years. And that's how busy it's been that I've only just started unpacking boxes, been here ten years and only just about finishing this house. I've got one more room to do and it's still not finished, but that's because I've always worked and put it first. And as a result of putting work first, I've missed out on birthdays with my nieces and nephews, with my brothers and sisters, with my friends, with you know, I've sometimes make myself feel like I'm an awful friend because I've missed out on everything and sometimes I'm just too tired to even talk on the phone sometimes.
And so I sometimes have to take naps in the day because I know I've got a sing at four o'clock, so I've got to see my voice. And when you see your voice, you can't speak for an hour. And I'm just so strict with the gift that God's given me that I don't want anything to jeopardize it. You know, I want to make sure I can pay my house and pay my bills and look after my family and provide and when they need something, I want to be that person that can just be like, oh, it's fine, I'll handle it, I can do it.
And that sometimes hasn't served me well. When my mum fell sick, basically just all happened very suddenly and we weren't expecting her to spiral so suddenly as well. Like everything was fine one minute and the next it was just like it was two different people. My mum was the strong woman that could speak and then all of a sudden she had a stroke and it was more to it than that. But we've not really talked about it as a family out in the public.
So I can only keep information down to only what people really know out of respect to my family. But it was two different people. And when I said to my mom, I'm going to quit the tour I'm on at the time was Sister Act. And I had eight months left. And I sat her down and I said, and she was in hospital. I said, Mum, I've got nine months left and I'm going to quit. And you want to know what she said?
She said, quit. She said, sorry. First of all, I didn't raise a quitter. You better get your black arse on that stage tomorrow. And I said, sorry, watch, wait. Yep. You heard me. You better get that black backside on that stage tomorrow. People have paid to watch you. And I looked around when Jesus mum really went.
It's only nine months. Come on, let's just get the tour done with them. We'll have time and see what I done for those nine months that no one knows.
And you're the first person I'm telling I would perform. I'd have my phone on the stage with the stage manager. He'd have access to my phone and was giving me updates during every scene, every quick change about my mum and if she was OK and if anything was happening with her that I had to leave the show. And then I drive from wherever I was. Manchester, Sheffield, Nimet, sleep on the hospital floor back to London, see to my mum bought a blow up mattress bed, see to my mum with my family.
Stay the night.
Go back and do a show. Oh my God. Wherever I was in the country and I tell you it was like three, four hours drive and Royal Free Hospital. I haven't been back there since or in the area, but I cannot tell you how amazing they were. I cannot tell you how amazing the NHS nurses and doctors were when they told my mom, you have 72 hours to live. And she couldn't communicate with us. They sat us down and said that she gave us another eight months.
She gave us sort of a Christmas, she gave us another birthday each, she gave us Mother's Day, she gave us her birthday. And then on the last day, the last day of my show, I finished in Blackpool. I drove home, I was driving back, I get a call and you need to come to hospital now. So I bet the car get to the hospital. And she passes in my arms within 10 minutes of me being there.
So I lost. That was nine months.
I regret going on tour. I regret it so deeply because I have so much more time in my car and on the road than I did with my mom. That really burns me. Because I should have just gone with my gut. I shouldn't listen to myself, I should have just listened and told my mom, look, you're the priority and let me just quit the story, let me be with you. But instead, I listen to her what she wanted me to do, and she didn't want me to let anyone down.
She was very adamant that you can't let your fans down. Were the thing have been her thing since I was the X Factor is you cannot let your fans down. They are the reason why you are who you are. So they came first. And my mom, she wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I'd done what I could. I'd done my best. I drove from every show. I slept on the floor. I was there. I was there, done everything I could possibly do but put in work first.
That is something I now won't do at times. So when I know I need to give myself time back, I'm not very good yet. I'm still learning. But I will stop and maybe read a book or stop and meditate or stop and maybe do a yoga class and give myself some back or go for a dog walk or see my nieces and nephews not hold off till the next week because you just don't know what tomorrow is going to bring. If you can hold off work for a day, it's not going to hurt you.
And I've learned that. And it's it's really taken me a long time to stop putting work at the forefront, because basically what that does is it covers every emotion I'm going through. That's what it's doing. I'm hiding what I'm going through because I'm working so much and I truly regret doing that for the past twelve years. It's when in fact it's been twelve years. And I put work first, I put work before my family, work before relationships, work before everything so that I'm in a position to provide for others.
That's what I care about, is helping others. And when I say that, I mean my family. Yeah. Alex, I'm so choked up just listening to you talk about that. And I just want to say I'm so sorry for your loss, for your grief, for the trauma of that. I also wanted to thank you for sharing something so honest and beautiful. And if I may, when you said that I regret putting work first, it strikes me that you were putting what your mother wanted first.
Yes. And that that's another way of looking at it.
Yeah. Yeah. That actually that's probably the way I should worded because the automatic made me feel a little bit better. But you just say that because it is what she wanted. And I'm sitting here right now talking to you of a picture right in front of me because I'm in my studio, in my studio, basically have my mom everywhere because she's my my inspiration. So I'm staring at her as I speak to you. And it is what she wanted is what she wanted.
It was it what she asked of me. And I mean, do you do you think because I think, you know, I like you, I don't really believe in regrets in the sense that I do believe most things, if you give them enough time, teach you necessary lessons. But what I do regret sometimes is, as you say, the time like feeling that I haven't used time in quite the right way or wishing I had more time with someone who died.
But is there anything that you felt like you hadn't said to your mom? Is that part of the regret or do you actually feel like all that time you did spend with her, you said and off and you took. Yeah, she knew that I loved her. Oh, she knew.
Oh, my God. My mommy knew. She knew because. Oh, just thinking about the love I have for my mom makes it just puts the biggest smile on my face because there's no love that I've experienced like it like that love from my mom and me to my mom was unbreakable. And I think for me the regret is I lost two years when I was 16 because we didn't speak for two years. And yes, we resolved that and we became the best of friends.
And I really believe, if I'm honest with you, I really believe that God gave me the opportunity at such a young age to be able to give my mom the life she deserved. And when I say that, I mean down to the car she was driving. And I'm talking a couple of materialistic things. But this is coming from a woman who raised four kids as a single parent and toured with sort of mom, worked to put food on the table and clothes on our backs.
And when we grew up, we'd go to my mom for a little example. Mommy, we really want that new cap jumper that's out. And she'd go to the chapel market in Angel and buy a fake one because we couldn't afford the real one. She'd make sure we had what we want as kids. May have been some very close at times and she was never ashamed to say it. But my mom deserved everything. So she knew because I'd do anything for her, I'd do anything, anything she wanted, anything she asked for, money got.
And it brings me joy that I was in a position to be able to do that. So I'm very lucky. And that's why I say to myself, you know, I was twenty nine when my mom passed away and I'm so lucky to have had that strong role model in my life for twenty nine years and how I put things into perspective as I go. Sadly, some people lost their parents when they were young. I was lucky to have my mummy for twenty nine years.
That's a long, beautiful time. And what we shared and our memories and what we created together, money couldn't buy that. And as a family, all the things we were able to do together, it was magical. And that's why I really feel like God gave me a beautiful opportunity at a young age because he wanted me to give my mum something back because she gave us kids so much. So I live with that. And that makes me a bit happier and it makes me go.
Actually, she knew I loved her. She knew I'd do anything for her. And I often speak about my mum like she's still here just because she is all the time. She really is. Yeah. So and if you add in your talent and.
Yes, and it's funny because the older I'm getting is, the more I'm sounding like her vocally, like every time I sing, everyone talks about how much I sound like my mum.
And the last time I performed, like I basically started a foundation in my mum's honour in her name. And it's called the Elizabeth Foundation. And we raise money for underprivileged kids to attend Sylvere school because it's a school that my mum wanted to send me to so badly, but we couldn't afford to. So we've already put four kids through school and then the pandemic happened so we couldn't do last year. And then this year we're trying to do other things for kids through my mum's foundation.
But my mum believed in in the younger generation and wanted to make the younger generation big. And she always believed that there was potential with every child. So she started doing lessons and stuff. I built her studio in our house. She started doing vocal technique lessons, singing lessons in her own garage, which was a studio in the house that we have in isn't in. So what we've done as the foundation is we just carry that on the club.
And for anyone who doesn't know, Sylvia Young is a stage school, isn't it? That's yes. Is that the right time? Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a stage school and they are one of the best. And Sylvia Young herself is a remarkable woman. And it's just an honour to be able to get kids that wouldn't ever have the opportunity to go there, to be able to experience it. And one of the kids so far is his name.
We put him through the Summers scholarship. The foundation paid for everything.
And he got handpicked by Sylvia and he now attends that school full time. He got a scholarship, full time scholarship fund. It's it's amazing. So my mum's legacy is still living on because we're trying to help the younger generation fulfil their dreams and to become something within the arts. And it's beautiful because that's what my mum would have wanted.
Do you mind my asking, do you have a relationship with your dad? I do. I do. Thank God. I do. I do. It's only been the past twelve years. Just before I went back to my mum and dad were in the very good place and I remember sitting in. At 19, before it went live on live TV, and I said to him that I'm going to be on this show called The X Factor and I have every intention of being there for as long as I can be in there.
And if that's the case, I need you to be a part of this family again. And I need you, Mommy, to make up. I never will forget sitting there in my mom's kitchen and my mom kind of like arms folded, tutting and going off. Alex, really, it's never going to work. And me going, no, mom, I can make this work. And I remember sitting down with the kids and with my dad and I just said to him, and he won't mind me saying this because it's what's changed our relationship.
I remember saying the same to him that I don't need you anymore. 19 shenise. My older sister doesn't need you anymore, David. We don't need you anymore. My younger brother Aaron needs you. He's at the right age. You still need his father. And it would be great if we could work as a team and you could just be a dad that actually communicates. And I know you mom always argue, but we want you guys to be friends, so you need to do it before X Factor.
And he said, so when I hour three days, it looked at me like, OK, well, there we go. I'm going to step up to the plate. And he did. And he did. And we have a beautiful relationship. My mom and my dad had a great relationship in the last maybe five years of her life, maybe a bit more. It took some time because my mom was a very stubborn woman, Lisa, but she came around and I never forget the day when I sat in my living room.
I saw mom and dad talking going on. And that's about when they were in love in Jamaica, when they were younger and they were laughing. And I'll never forget that day because I remember going to myself. This nearly wasn't achieved. And I was just so pleased that when she went that they were on great terms. Beautiful terms. Mm. Yeah. All because of you.
Well done. You so much up to the plate Father. Your final failure really feeds into actually everything we've been talking about, which is your failure to put yourself first. And I wonder if that stems from a belief that it's a bit indulgent, almost like self care. We all think of kind of a bubble bath, but actually it goes deeper than that. But is that does why you've struggled with it?
Yeah, I've really struggled with it because of guilt. I'm such a giver and I love to give I like I said earlier, I love to love I love everything about talking to strangers, wanting to help people like my dream. And I know this sounds really stupid. And I used to say this to my mom when I was younger. She said, you know, what's your dream? Alex and I used to go, I just want to save the world.
I just want to save everyone. She slipped. I can't do that.
And I used you say to me, I can try, like, I could really try and like, you know, I'll be up even down to last night when I was watching the news and seeing about the free school meals straight away, I emailed ISN'T and Cancel. And I was like, how can my mom's foundation help and how can we provide tablets for children and how can we provide school meals and how can we pay for this? And I got the email back yet.
So they're going to get a call. But my point is the urge in me to want to help others is always there. The urgent need to want to help myself. Is not that it makes me feel guilty for even taking five minutes to myself and doing therapy and having my beautiful life coach, she's taught me about giving time to myself. And so when I was talking to her weekly, I used to say, well, this is me giving back because I've invested in myself to help myself mentally.
And you're helping me because you have it's more than that. You need to have a little less. So I've created a little top up list that when I'm feeling low, I have this that list and I'll just pick at something, whether it be a bubble bath or whether it be dancing around to my favorite tune or whether it be enjoying a lovely glass of red wine, which I can't do right now because I'm dry January and February and March or whatever that may be.
You know, I know like you said, it goes deeper than that, but I feel like I need to learn the power in saying no, the power in saying I'm really sorry.
I can't well, not even be apologetic for it. I've been told just by saying I can't do that. And when I can or if I can, I'll let you know. And those words don't fall naturally out of my mouth. So I'm learning to be kinder to myself, not judge myself so much, you know, be gentle with myself. And it's a learning curve that I haven't mastered it yet. I really haven't in the beginning stages of figuring it all out.
Really. Do you think what you're doing in some ways is learning how to parent yourself? Oh, so OK. Right, yes. I say, yes, because you know what, since my mom not being here, I've been so lost. She was the one that I would turn to for decisions, for advice. Shoulder to cry on. Everything and since her not being here, I have my auntie, but I don't want to burden her. I have my dad don't wish to burden him.
I have my siblings, I don't wish to burden them. I have my best friend sitting right next to me, I don't wish to burden the. So in a way, I'm just trying to figure out what our. Yeah, just trying to take each day, figure it out, like figure this thing called Life Hour without without my mom. And how have you managed to say no more, if indeed you have, because that is something that I completely understand is a struggle.
It's a struggle.
I think since doing the show I told you about in October, those become a little bit easier, to be honest with. You become a little bit easier here and to the point where I spoke to one of my friends really the other day on FaceTime. Love for our catch up, as you do. And she said to me, because I had filled up with about anything and she said, God, there's something really different about you. You seem way more together.
Your head seems clearer. And I said, Really? Yeah, that's I feel it shows something in you has switched where you're not tolerating certain things anymore. And then when it really has something has really switched and those eight days have made it easier for me to go. Now, I can't I'm sorry. I can't I can't do that because it's even not for me or something doesn't feel right. Or actually I can't, for example, be in this moment in this relationship right now because I'm worth more.
Yes. That's why I'm so excited. You know, that's yes. You're single by choice because you have acquired enough data about what you will now worth.
And the only person you're going to get into a relationship with next is going to be someone who meets you at your level because you're putting that out there now, because that's your owning your own power. And I'm so proud of you for doing that so much. And it feels good. And I know that I was saying I'm lost about my mom and I'm always going to be lost about that. I'm to an extent, but I felt a certain strength for the past three months that no one could take that from me.
And I'm working on myself with my life coach. I'm working on saying no, I'm working on myself health wise because I want my body to stop with me in my life now, like in my family, because it's hereditary or everything we've gone for. Every woman has died of kidney failure in our family. And I want it to start with me. I want it to stop.
I want to break that chain. And I'm determined to be the healthiest I can be, be as mentally strong as I can be and be happy and know my wife and know that I won't stand for anything less than greatness. I won't stand for anything less than happiness. I won't stand for anything less than joy, passion, love and being vulnerable. That's OK. And I'm allowed to be and I can show some weakness at times and not feel like it's shameful.
And you know what? When somebody wants to commit to me the way I will commit to them, because I give everything in the relationship with the next person that God brings to me, which may be two, five years from now, who knows? I'm happy to wait. I'm happy to wait because I want that trust. I want that love. I want everything that comes with a beautiful relationship. And yes, there'll be ups and downs and that's fine.
But when you're a team and your best friend, you can conquer life together.
I mean I want to go out with you so let's go do it. We can do this is all over with honestly. Like having heard you talk over the last hour, I cannot wait for your next album.
I just thought, oh you're clearly you're going to put a lot of this in that as you do. Yeah.
And that's going to be exciting to do. And I won't be afraid to open up and I won't be afraid to be myself. And you know what, talking to you, you've made me actually open my eyes up to a lot of things because sometimes you can think about these things and talk about it in your own head and not actually physically speak out loud and certain things that we've just addressed today. You've given me some strength, Elizabeth, so thank you.
Thank you, Alexandra.
But I cannot thank you enough for coming on How to Fail. Thank you for having me. Thank you. This episode of HEARTFUL is sponsored by Vishy Laboratories, whose product, Mineral Eighty-Nine, Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum, has been described very accurately as a glass of water for your skin. I don't know about you, but I have been reading for years about the benefits of hyaluronic acid on your skin and this is the product to use. Don't just take my word for it.
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