Annie Lennox: ‘To create change we need to take more steps than just singing’
Annie Lennox has announced her first solo UK show in a decade next March. The former Eurythmics singer talks to Charlotte Cripps about taking her cue from Nelson Mandela and being an ambassador for global feminism.
Annie Lennox is to perform hits including Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and her own personal favourite, Here Comes The Rain Again, at a one-night only event at Sadler’s Wells in March.
Titled Annie Lennox — An Evening of Music and Conversation, the former Eurythmics singer will also share “thoughts, memories and reflections” on her life and career, in aid of her the charity she founded, The Circle.
“It’s very interesting reflecting at this point in my life,” says Lennox, now 62.
Much has happened to Lennox since she left Aberdeen for London at the age of 17. “I live with so many changes, not only with my career and life, but so many external things, global shifts. When I first started there was no such thing as a mobile phone or computer.
“I have a feeling that there is more change for me to come, but I don’t know what that is. I’ve learnt enough to know there are no guarantees in life, except death. It’s a good place to come from as you maximise the moment.”
The Sadler’s Wells gig will be the first time in more than a decade the singer has performed a stand-alone show in the UK. It is part of her mission in her latest role as a “global feminist”, rather than to promote an album, to raise money for The Circle, which through dialogue and active engagement, hopes to bring transformation to women and girls worldwide.
Lennox, who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide and has won more Brit Awards than any other female artist in history, was a prolific songwriter, both with Dave Stewart as part of the Eurythmics and as a solo artist. But since she has been a passionate advocate for women and children, she has found that she simply stopped writing songs.
“It’s a strange thing — writing songs was the main focus of my life but I don’t feel like I want to write songs anymore,” she says.
“Are there any songs that have actually inspired people into action?” asks Lennox. “People write and sing about injustice. Music does shed a light on emotions and injustices, yet at the same time, when it comes to actual change, we must take more steps than just singing.”
Her reflections on her life and career for the charity event highlights how different she is now from the naïve 22-year-old starting out in The Tourists with Stewart, in 1977. The pair went onto international stardom in the synth-pop duo Eurythmics.
“At the very beginning when Dave and I were trying to make this music together in the Eurythmics, at the core of it all was this urge to create something of value and meaning that people would connect to and that would affect them,” she says.
But everything changed in 2003 when Lennox met Nelson Mandela in South Africa to take part in a launch concert for his HIV/Aids Foundation, 46664.
Lennox, who came from a working-class background in Aberdeen, recalls her parents’ “doom-laden prophecy” that if she didn’t stick it at school, she would “end up in a factory”. She was an artistic, rather than academic, child.
“I had a sense of purpose but it was against the will of what other people were telling me. I was a whimsical dreamer, against the harsh, grey climate of Aberdeen. I would look at the horizon and think there is something beyond that, but I didn’t know what.”
A piano teacher noticed she had a “musical gift’ when she was seven; later, in the Seventies, she won a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
She studied the flute, piano and harpsichord, but was “terribly unhappy” there. “Being a classical musician is not an easy life — it’s exceedingly competitive. It wasn’t for me.”
At 19 she dropped out of the Royal Academy and had what she calls “my a-ha moment”. “Oh, I know what I want to do. I want to be a singer,” she says. “But I didn’t have a clue how to do it.
“A female artist was a rarified creature in those days. I used to get asked, ‘What does it feel like being a female in music?’ I didn’t know what they were talking about. I said, I don’t know. I’m just me. But I will be honest with you, it was a boom.”
Lennox and Stewart’s partnership, both professionally and romantically, catapulted them to stardom in the Eighties.
“The Eurythmics was like being in Lord of the Rings — these two compatriots get together and off they go into the world of the great unknown, and there are monsters, giants, some wonderful things and then all of a sudden you go off into some dark place, so many betrayals and let-downs.”
Lennox can remember vividly the moment that they first reached number one in America with their breakthrough hit, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), in 1983.
“I was in bed one morning in a hotel in San Francisco on a Eurythmics tour. I was very nervous... then I got this phone call to say we were number one in the Billboard charts in America.
“Everything felt vulnerable and strange,” says Lennox. “It was like beyond the walls of this room, is a world out there. We had been asking for this and now the doors are wide open to us, I was going from anonymity to full exposure. I remember walking down the street and realising that everybody knew I was walking down the street. I’m a really quiet person and I felt vulnerable.”
However Lennox has never looked back from that moment. “But I continue to go shopping in supermarkets and walk down the road as normal. I have a lot of touching encounters with strangers when they do ‘the swivel-round’. I’m an older lady now, so I look like me, but it’s not the woman with the red head buzz cut. They wonder, is that me? Sometimes they are overcome by emotion when they realise it is.”
She no longer has any plans to make any more music.
After meeting Mandela, in 2004, she became a passionate advocate for women and children, particularly those effected by HIV/Aids in Africa. “Through various campaigns including Comic Relief and Oxfam, I saw extreme poverty in developing countries and my life changed forever,” says Lennox.
One of her greatest inspirations has been Mandela. “When you meet somebody who has faced extraordinary trials beyond normal human endurance, because he stood for human rights, liberty and justice, it touched me. I was humbled by it. It means a lifelong contribution to me.”
Lennox founded her charity The Circle in 2008 which includes women in various positions of profile and power.
The registered charity has now raised £2m, with local Circles popping up all over the place.
“We walk the talk,” says Lennox. “It’s so hard to represent these issues. It is like shouting fire, and nobody is moving on it. There is a lot of denial. We talk about Harvey Weinstein but this is the tip of the iceberg. This patriarchal society that has abused women has been going on forever. We are trying to find out how can we engage people to get involved in global feminism — that is really the challenge for The Circle.”
- Annie Lennox — An Evening of Music & Conversation, Sadler’s Wells, March 4. Tickets available now at ticketmaster.co.uk/annielennox. To find out about a competition to win a VIP experience at the evening’s show visit charitystars.com/Annie