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Adele: Someone like you

Adele is neither stick-thin, nor classically beautiful, refuses to tour and doesn't give interviews. So how has the woman born Adele Adkins in a London housing estate 25 years ago come to be the world's biggest recording artist, asks Jane Graham

Published 07/11/2015


Managers in the music industry must hate Adele. Except the ones who are making a packet off the back of her, of course. For years, they've been telling pop stars that success is impossible without the kind of graft that will destroy your relationships, alienate your family and probably lead to a number of psychological breakdowns.

You must be prepared for years of endless touring in countries thousands of miles from home, they'd say, especially if you fancy a cat's chance in hell of breaking the States.

You must show your face on every TV show that will have you, anywhere in the world, even if you have to deal with media and social media comments about how ugly/fat/untalented you are each time you do.

You have to keep being nice and accommodating to journalists who couldn't care less about your music, but are very keen on finding out if you have a dodgy relative/cheating partner/cellulite.

And it's probably best, if you're under 30, if you can stay single, at least publicly. Definitely avoid having children; it is not sexy and will dilute your career focus.

Many big names have heeded this sage advice, including U2, who spent half of their lives on the road. Oasis gave it a shot, until the ostensibly tough workaholic Noel Gallagher was broken by the stress of travelling across America and disappeared mid-tour to go off and have a quiet little collapse.

The list of rehab casualties and nervous breakdowns is long and varied; Robbie Williams, Cheryl Cole, Britney Spears, Susan Boyle, Eric Clapton, Sinead O'Connor. Success, goes the mantra, means sacrifice.

As the X Factor has taught aspiring artists to say, you have to want it more than anything, and you must be prepared to live by rules which will play havoc with every aspect of your personal life to get it.

Then along comes Adele. She is neither skinny, nor classically beautiful. She hates touring and, after a brief spell of trying the long-haul option (probably presented to her as the only option), decides she's not doing it; the odd live special will suffice.

She doesn't like doing interviews. When she starts selling millions of albums, she chooses to settle down, have a baby, and stay out of the limelight for a couple of years. During that time nothing is seen, or heard, of her.

She has sold an estimated 40 million albums and 50 million singles.

Adele released her new single, Hello, last week. She did one broadcast interview, on Radio 1. The video was viewed over 27.7 million times on YouTube in its first 24 hours, breaking the record for the number of views in a single day.

First week sales in the UK came to 330,000, making it the biggest-selling number one since 2012. It went straight to number one in the US and became the first song ever to sell a million downloads in a week.

It's unlikely Adele Adkins, the working-class London girl brought up by a struggling single mother, began her career with plans to destroy every myth about music industry success.

Even when she got into prestigious performing arts college The BRIT School (other alumni include Amy Winehouse, Jessie J and Leona Lewis) she initially intended to focus on A&R, spotting and developing new talent.

Her first album, 2008's 19 (named for her age when she wrote it), was successful enough to give her hope of a decent spell in the business; a number one in the UK, it narrowly missed the top 10 in America, but did earn her a couple of Grammys.

This despite her cancelling the US tour because she "couldn't bear to be without" her boyfriend.

She later regretted what she described as her "ungrateful" behaviour and put it down to the unhealthy amount she was drinking at the time.

But, though she clearly did have an issue with alcohol, in retrospect the cancellation seems typical of the kind of woman she is.

She is known to suffer bouts of homesickness. She is not ruthlessly ambitious enough to put herself through the misery of losing a year at home, with family, to live on the road. ("My career's not my life," she said recently, "it's my hobby.")

When we do hear her speak, she has all the pleasingly unpretentious frankness of Liam Gallagher; self-deprecating, funny and unapologetically sweary, she shows no signs of being media-trained.

When she turned down headlining 2011's Glastonbury and said she would never perform at festivals, or in arenas, as "the thought of an audience that big frightens the life out of me", journalists smiled knowingly, because they knew no one can escape playing the industry game for long.

They underestimated Adele's steel. Even when everyone else is dancing to the devil's tune, she will not be persuaded to join in.

Of course, it helps if you have genuine, serious talent. And Adele has it in buckets.

First, there's the voice; the soulful Dusty Springfield rasp, with the sass of Ella Fitzgerald and the control of Roberta Flack.

Then, there's the songs.

Unlike many pop "songwriters", who change a couple of lines in another writer's lyrics to claim co-authorship, she really does write her own tunes.

Like Taylor Swift's, they're almost all about boyfriends - the blind ecstasy of falling in love, the agony of being betrayed, the melancholy of missing someone.

Pharrell has called her a masterful songwriter; Stevie Nicks says she'll still be a star in 40 years, due to the quality of her work.

There may still be no finer example of song and voice in tandem than Adele's now-legendary live performance of Someone Like You at the 2011 Brits.

Among the big budget acrobatics and state-of-the-art pyrotechnics of acts like Take That and Rihanna, she simply stood in a soft, golden spotlight and sang about lost love with a voice that trembled like she still hadn't got over it. The beat of the auditorium's heart stopped for a moment and a thousand breaths were held. After that, there was nothing for Adele's star to do but shoot into the sky above everyone else's.

That performance and the almost-as-good repeat version at the MTV Music awards launched her second album, 21, into the stratosphere.

Despite Adele cancelling two major tours due to problems with her throat, 21 broke records all around the world. It's the fourth biggest-selling album of all time in the UK and earned her six Grammys in the US.

Stars like Madonna and Celine Dion queued up to beg to work with her. But the gym-fixated, career-centric Madonna isn't really her type.

At the peak of her powers, Adele announced she was pregnant and would be taking time out "to live a little". She settled down in London with charity CEO Simon Konecki and disappeared from media view. No tweets, no interviews, no pictures.

She popped up in October 2012 with the James Bond title track Skyfall (Brit, Grammy, Oscar, rapturous response, five million sales ... same old Adele story). It came out just in time to quell rumours that she would never record again.

Then all went quiet until just a few weeks ago, when Hello, the first single from her third album, 25, made its modest entrance into the collective consciousness on Radio 1 and record-breaking sales reminded everyone just what a colossal presence in popular culture she is. The new album is due out later this month.

She may feel, as she told Rolling Stone this month, like she's always waiting for someone to "send me back to Tottenham", but we all know what's going to happen.

Justin Bieber, One Direction, Ellie Goulding and Little Mix have all brought forward their releases to avoid a clash with the titanic Ms Adkins. She will rule the music world for at least the next year.

And one thing's for sure; she'll do it her way.

A life so far

Born: May 5, 1988, Tottenham. She and mum Penny, later settled in south London

Education: graduate of the London BRIT school.

Has a three-year-old son, Angelo, with partner, charity CEO Simon Konecki

Career: after two albums - 19 and 21 - is one of the most successful female solo singers ever. Her new album, 25, is out on November 20

She says: "I have a yearning for myself from, like, 10 years ago, when my only responsibility was writing songs for myself before anyone cared - and getting to school on time."

Belfast Telegraph

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