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Strictly star Sophie Ellis Bextor on dancing, family and the music business
Ever since she first burst onto the musical scene, Sophie Ellis-Bextor has held a reputation for being so darned cool.
The trait lost her points during her stint on Strictly because her Latin numbers simply weren’t fiery enough.
But as I find out during our interview she’s no ice queen. She simply has her head screwed on. And she’s a sound lass. She knows who she is. She admits she doesn’t want to do all that ‘in your face stuff that other female artists do’. And who can blame her?
Sophie’s a dichotomy. On one hand she is calmness and composure personified. On the other she’s kooky and left-of-field, citing Mary Poppins and Sindy dolls as her style icons.
And she’s mad keen on dancing.
Sophie is bringing her tour to the O2 in Bournemouth on April 13 and one of the first things she’s keen to tell Seven Days is that she wants the audience up and dancing too.
No doubt when she beats out her floor-fillers she will get her wish. Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) was her first single with DJ Spiller in 2000 and is still hailed as one of the best No 1 songs of all time. Murder on the Dance Floor did no harm in securing her profile on the disco scene. But gig-goers will experience what Sophie describes as an ‘eclectic evening’. “The first half of the show will focus on my new album, Wanderlust.”
This, her fifth studio album, turns its back on the disco stompers of yore in favour of a rather dreamy and string-heavy offering. “The album is about roaming and your sense of where you come from, and how you take home with you but you also have this desire to get out there and see the world,” says the singer who turns 35 this week.
Its 11 powerfully understated songs showcase a new maturity in Sophie, both lyrically and musically. “It’s different to my previous stuff. It’s not a dance album. It’s partly inspired by Eastern Europe. It’s folky yet British.”
The promo video to Wanderlust shows Sophie looking very at home on an English beach and she’s a self-confessed coast fan. “That video was shot at Southend. I just love British seaside culture,” she enthuses.
“When you are at the seaside you’re at a gateway to another place. It ties into the wanderlust thing. We are an island nation and we have that island nation mentality. I’m always on beaches – usually at Eastbourne, Southend, or Brighton, so not too far away from you in Bournemouth.” Has she ever been tempted to travel a little further west and lay her towel and flip flops upon a Dorset beach? Not as yet, but she has enjoyed the New Forest on more than one family holiday.
“We were there last year. Oh, and the year before actually!” she says.
Sophie visits the area with her husband, The Feeling bassist Richard Jones, and their three sons, Sonny, Kit and Ray.
“We went camping, enjoyed time in Lymington, and took day trips to the Isle of Wight.
“We love seeing all the wildlife and the horses in the New Forest. It’s beautiful.”
Spending time with friends and family is the thing Sophie admits makes her happiest, and the heart-shaped tattoo on her arm has the word ‘family’ etched within it.
She calls her parenting style ‘firm but fair’.
“I’m fairly relaxed as I want my boys to enjoy childhood but I pick and choose my battles wisely.
"If they want to go to the dentist in fancy dress then that’s OK, but I won’t let them watch TV when they are having their tea.
"I’m making the most of this time when they are small as they have this wonderful inbuilt eccentricity and excitement.”
Naturally, she enjoys her career, too, and insists there’s no other one she would like to try. “I picked music over and over. I went into it straight from school and I was in my first band at 20.”
That said, she loved her time on Strictly. “I’m glad I did it. I have lots of happy memories. Now it’s like looking back on a really good holiday.”
It also reminded everyone that she was around. Whether Sophie considered it or not, appearing on autumn’s most-watched TV programme each Saturday couldn’t have teed up Wanderlust any better – an album she considers to be a highlight of her career.
“I found making it really empowering. I felt like after ten years of making records, this is like the biggest present to myself. I’m really proud of it and I feel really excited.”
She admits another highlight of her career is the fact that she’s still in the music business now, “because that’s never a given”.
Is there anyone else she’d like to work with? “I don’t think so,” she muses. “After working alongside Ed Harcourt (who co-wrote, produced and arranged the album) I’m really satisfied.”
Looking back over the years, would she have done anything differently?
“You end up where you end up, even if you have made wrong decisions.
"I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything but I wouldn’t like to re-watch it. Crrrrringe!
"I’m a great believer in trusting your instincts. In a job like mine there is no right and wrong, just personal preference – what feels good in your tummy.
"I also think that saying no is just as important as saying yes. You have to be choosy sometimes.”
And choosy she was when she picked Bournemouth as one of just eight tour dates.
“Just enjoy the evening.
You’re going to be in safe hands,” she laughs.“It will be one of the most eclectic, bonkers shows anyone will see.”