Singer Lisa Stansfield: I wasn't cut out to be a mum
Soul queen Lisa Stansfield opens her heart to Barry Egan about her life, love, singing and why she gave up on trying to have children
Here she comes - all of 5ft 3 inches of her - walking along High Holborn in the middle of the afternoon. London seems to be slightly down on a wet and dreary winter's day but the beautiful High Priestess of British Soul's exudes vivacity as she bounds up the street in the rain, with a permanent, and slightly naughty, smile on her famous face.
Passers-by recognise her. People on red double-decker buses do double-takes. We dip into the Princess Louise, which her PR Sue Harris, who is with us, rightfully recommends as "an amazing Victorian pub". Lisa orders a pint of cider and sits down to tell her story for the next two and a half hours in this boozer built in 1872.
In fairness, it would be difficult to get a dull sentence out of this loud if lovely Lancashire lass. She who has sold 20 million records and has won more awards internationally than she could possibly have room for on the mantelpiece of her Hampstead mansion she shares with her husband cum musical other-half, Ian Devaney.
Even her journey to meet me in central London is an adventure in itself. She says the random taxi driver who took her from her home in Hampstead to here was a bit of "a nutter".
Recognising her when she got in, he proceeded to sing one of her songs back to her, whether she wanted this impromptu rendition or not. The cabbie-friendly song in question, All Around The World, became a smash-hit all over the world in 1989 and (along with her albums) made Lisa rich beyond her wildest dreams. It was a quick ascent to super-stardom. Backed by Queen, she sang that duet of These Are The Days Of Our Lives with George Michael at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in 1991.
Suddenly, Rochdale's most celebrated singer since Gracie Fields was everywhere - on every front cover, on every chat show sofa ...
She ended up moving to Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, for over a decade and befriending her neighbours, like Bono and Jim Sheridan. Living in a six-bedroom Victorian house, Lisa enjoyed her exile of sorts in Ireland. "We were in Ireland for 14 years. And they still call you a blow-in!" she laughs.
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Refreshingly, she still speaks with a Northern brogue that wouldn't be particularly out of place on that famous Boddingtons beer ad where the sophisticated young woman by the pool addresses her buff, Speedo-clad Adonis by the pool thus: "Oy! Tarquin! Are yer trolleys on t'right way round?"
More refreshingly, her Northern roots are still evident in her liking for blunt talk. Every sentence is brassy and prone to wicked pomposity-pricking. This is Lisa Stansfield, sipping her cider in the middle of the afternoon in London and cackling with laughter about the night in Lillie's Bordello in 1994 she accidentally caused Shane MacGowan's nose to bleed when she light-heartedly slapped him as a joke. The reason she is cackling is because I was sitting with Shane when it happened.
When we speak, Lisa is about to jet to Los Angeles with her hubby to promote her new album. Her first album in a decade, Seven, gushed the FT in its review, showed that Lisa was "in fine voice as she negotiates old-fashioned soul and orchestral pop."
The middle of three sisters, Karen and Suzanne, Lisa was born in Heywood, Lancashire, on April 11, 1966, to Marion and Keith Stansfield, a housewife and an electrical engineer.
They moved to Rochdale in 1977. Legend has it that young Lisa was singing from a very early age. "I was about four or five but I probably sounded terrible," she laughs. "But I was about 14 when I first went on TV," she says, referring to her stint presenting on Razzmatazz, ITV's children's television programme.
"I started to sing professionally when I was about 13 or 14." It verges on folklore. She won Manchester Evening News' Search For a Star contest in 1980. A year later her first single Your Alibis was released.
Lisa lights up the whole pub this afternoon with her tales from the past. I don't think I've laughed so much in my life. She recalls going to the World Music Awards in Monaco back in the day. Upon arrival, the Lancashire lass with the pronounced Northern accent was seated between Prince Albert of Monaco and Kylie Minogue. All was well with the world in the Côte d'Azur that night. Lisa's husband Ian, however, was not so full of the joys.
His poor heart practically stopped beating when he looked at the place settings at the table. He was sitting between Nana Mouskouri on one side and Cliff Richard on the other. Roaring with laughter at the memory, Lisa relates that Ian had given up smoking and drinking prior to that night. "He was trying really hard (not to drink or smoke)!" she hoots. "But as soon as he saw who he was sitting next to at this dinner, he called the waiter over and said "Excuse me but could I have a bottle of red wine and a packet of French cigarettes please!". I suppose the prospect of sitting between those two must have been quite daunting.
"We all had a good time, actually," she adds. "Later that night, Ian ended up dancing and teaching the Status Quo 'shoulder dance' to Grace Jones. It was brilliant to watch!" Lisa roars once more with laughter at the memory.
On something of a roll now, Lisa then tells the story of the night she thought her hero Diana Ross "dissed her" at the Grammy Awards a few years ago. "I was walking on to the stage. I was about to present an award. And she just gave me what I thought was quite a dirty look. I don't know whether she meant to or not but it wasn't very nice. I was reading an interview with her about a week ago and she said 'People assume that I'm kind if this ice-maiden b**** but I'm actually quite nice.'"
What perhaps made Ross's apparent dismissal of her all the more upsetting was that Diana was, says Lisa, "the first singer that I was ever really, really into growing up". Diana Ross was basically my singing teacher, she says.
Marion Stansfield introduced her daughter to the music of divas like Ross, the music she grew up on in Northern England, and in many ways the music that was the bedrock of her singing style. "I grew up listening to my mother's record collection," Lisa remembers. "When I was at home, she would be cleaning up and doing the house work and cooking and stuff, and she would be constantly listening to Motown and Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross.
"So I just learned that from a really, early age. I just got to know the songs off by heart."
Was that where the desire to sing came from? "Oh yeah!" she smiles. "Because I supposed when you start singing along with something and it feels special and it has a sensation, an actual physical sensation - it just felt incredible. And that sensation has just carried on and on. I think my mum and dad thought it was going to end at some point. They sort of humoured me for a while.
"But, no, I couldn't live without singing and stuff, really," she says with a sincerity that is unshakable. "Singing is a massive part of me."
A massive part of Lisa's life too was her mother. When she died in 2006, Lisa not unnaturally fell into an emotional low. "Well, I think anyone does. It's your mother, isn't it? You grew inside her."
Lisa says with no little honesty that after her mother passed she suddenly "desperately wanted a baby." She said that her mum dying "made the 'evil' biological clock start ticking."
"Yeah," she adds. "I think it was because of the death thing. With death you sort of want to create life, don't you? It's quite strange, really. But I'm so glad now that I couldn't get pregnant. Because I don't think I'm cut out to be a mum. I'm a singer. I'm a musician. I'm a writer. Maybe - I don't know - I couldn't give a child what it needed. Because I think there's always sort of a reason, isn't there?"
I ask her about a quote attributed to her about her time in Ireland. "I gave up everything and nearly became a farmer, walking around in headscarf and wellies for 10 years to find my confidence again."
Had she lost her confidence? "No! " Lisa says now. "I didn't lose any confidence at all. I just needed a bloody rest. And it ended up being a very long rest!"
That long rest became quite a bit of fun with Bono, and all the gang in Dalkey. "It was great. I absolutely loved it in Ireland. The reason we decided to come back was that Ian's mum was poorly. We also went to see my mum and dad every weekend as well. I wouldn't have seen her as much before she died if Ian's mum hadn't been a bit frail."
After Marion Stansfield died in 2006, Lisa and Ian sold their rock-star pad in Dalkey for €6m and moved to New York, partly, she says, for in vitro fertilisation treatments to try to have a baby.
"We did about three rounds of IVF," she reveals. "I mean, some women, they'll do, like, 20 rounds of IVF. That would kill me. I just thought after the third one, 'I can't do this any more.' It is the weirdest thing. You know - having to inject yourself in the stomach, you know, six times a day.
"And it always takes you about ten attempts because you know you are sticking it in your stomach. But, no. I am glad that I didn't have a baby."
Does she think singers like Adele look up to her as an idol and an inspiration?
"Well," she exhales with bona fide excitement, "it is a massive compliment. I mean, I suppose it is like me with someone like Barry White and people that I listened to when I was younger. So I suppose a lot of those singers have heard my records and stuff. It's a huge compliment."
Lisa and Ian Devaney married on July 25, 1998, with a small ceremony in New York. Lisa first saw Ian at a school play in Rochdale when she was 14. He was strumming a guitar. It was eight years later that she started a relationship with the boy with the guitar who would be become her spiritual and musical soul-mate. "He is my Prince Charming!" she swoons.
What is the secret of their relationship? "We're just best friends. We respect each other. We work together. We do laugh a lot together. We really do laugh a lot. We're really good mates. When we've got time off, we just love dossing around and going to the cinema," she laughs.
- The Deluxe edition of Lisa Stansfield's new album Seven and the boxset: Lisa Stansfield - The Collection 1989-2003 are both out now
Stansfield's moments on screen
While she may be known for her music career, Lisa Stansfield has also tried her hand at acting too ...
Swing (1999) - made her movie debut in the leading role (right) of singer Joan Woodcock in the romantic comedy
Monkey Trousers (2005) - played herself in the comedy sketch series, which Alistair McGowan, Griff Rhys Jones, Neil Morrissey and Vic Reeves
Agatha Christie's Marple (2007) - played the character of Mary Durrant in the iconic television series, in the episode Ordeal by Innocence
The Edge of Love (2007) - joined cast members Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys in this movie based on the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas
Northern Soul (2012) - played the part of Mum in the Seventies-set docu-drama about the social phenomenon of the Northern soul music and dance movement