Alesha Dixon: 'Children remind you what is really important in life'
Britain's Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon tells Gabrielle Fagan how she copes with fame and what she wants in life for her little girl
When it comes to slipping in and out of roles, Alesha Dixon is a maestro. She glides effortlessly from being a glamorous, poised judge on Britain's Got Talent, to a soulful performer on her latest pop album, and on the day we meet is just plain down-to-earth and giggly as she chats with a crowd who've flocked to see her unveil the huge Disney Junior Christmas tree at St Pancras Station, London.
"When you have as much variety in your life as I do, it keeps it really interesting and I'm grateful for that," explains the bubbly 37-year-old, who oozes boundless energy and enthusiasm. "My default position is quite a joyful one."
That joy has undoubtedly been heightened since she became a mother - she has a two-year-old-daughter, Azura, with her partner Azuka Ononye, who she met when he was her backing singer as she launched her solo career in 2006. It's a happy ending for the star who married rapper MC Harvey in 2005, but was left heartbroken when a year later it emerged he had been having an affair and the couple split.
"My friends say I'm the only person they know who is ageing backwards. I think it's because I'm happy. Giving birth to Azura was life-changing," says Dixon.
"She's gorgeous and we have such fun together. Children remind you about what's important in life, and being a mother has opened my eyes to so many things and widened my perspective."
Her latest role, voicing the character of Winnie, the antique tiger in Disney Junior's Doc McStuffins, certainly appeals to her toddler and will be screened in February.
"I play a tiger suffering from asthma. It was my first voice-over and I loved every minute of it. It made it even more fun because Azura and I watch the programme - she knows the theme tune and we sing along to it together. I don't know what she will make of hearing my voice on the show," she says with a beam.
"Spending time with my daughter is so special because, like all busy mums, I have to juggle my time. Of course, there are days when it would be lovely to stay at home and just cuddle up and play with her, but, at the same time, I absolutely love my work and these days I also do it because I need to support Azura."
Dixon, who grew up in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, experienced a tough childhood. Her parents split when she was four and between the ages of eight to 10 she saw her mother suffer abuse from a live-in partner. She lends her support to campaigns and charities that raise awareness and support for victims of domestic violence.
"Fame is a by-product of what I do as an entertainer and I love to use the platform it gives me in a positive way. I think I have a responsibility to do that," she says.
While she admits that the instability she experienced growing up dented her confidence, it also served to fire her drive to succeed. In the late Nineties she was in R&B girlband, Mis-Teeq and two years after the group disbanded in 2007 she found nationwide fame after winning Strictly Come Dancing. She joined the show as a judge in 2009 and left three years later to join Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and David Walliams on BGT's judging panel.
"I always had drive, motivation and a vision that one day I'd get into the music business, even though when I was a kid it felt so far away from my world it might as well have been Mars," she says.
"But I did it and I'm 100% more confident than I used to be. When I was a teenager the unknown was quite scary, but as you get older you realise that not knowing what's around the next corner is part of the fun of life, and you stop feeling so anxious.
"One of the experiences I've really drawn strength from is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for Comic Relief six years ago. It was exhausting, cold and painful at times, but when I'd done it I thought, 'wow, if I can climb this, I can do anything'.
"If ever times get tough nowadays, I always think back to that moment and think, 'keep going girl, you can do it, remember that mountain'."
Ten years on from her split with Mis-Teeq, she's released her fourth solo album, Do It For Love, and has named one of the tracks Azura (which means blue sky), after her daughter.
"Writing songs is a way of expressing my feelings. I believe that songs are almost pre-written in your subconscious and when you get into a recording studio and hear a piece of music, it helps you get words out that sometimes you didn't even know were there. If you're connected to your soul, what needs to be said will always find a way out."
Dixon's schedule seems to get ever busier - next year she rejoins the Britain's Got Talent panel, she hopes to do more voice-overs, and harbours ambitions to act.
"I do have a more serious side to me which I'd like people to see more of. I've presented two documentaries, one on domestic violence, and would like to do more things which are hard-hitting and a little bit edgier."
Petite and 5' 6", she's rarely seen without her trademark skyscraper high heels, but remains resolute that fame will never change her.
"What keeps me grounded? Well, definitely not these heels - I don't think I could go much higher," she says, hooting with laughter.
"I've never believed being famous makes you better than anyone else and inside I don't think I've changed at all. I'm still just me, but what happens is other people's perceptions can change. It's all too easy to read about people and form a judgement.
"But I don't have time to think about that. I'm just focused on my family and bringing up my little girl and never take for granted all the opportunities that have come my way. There are so many things I want to teach Azura - appreciating the gift of life, living in the present, and being a loving, compassionate person."
- Alesha Dixon's episode of Doc McStuffins will appear on the Disney Junior channel in February 2016.