Alesha Dixon: Troubled childhood helped me to become a celebrity
The new Britain’s Got Talent judge talks|to Gabrielle Fagan about how domestic|abuse inspired her to become a showbiz star and why Simon Cowell doesn’t scare her.
Alesha Dixon isn't the sort of girl to stand on ceremony and as she plonks herself down to chat, she kicks off her canary yellow Christian Louboutin heels with their trademark red soles and stretches out her long, lean legs.
She's overdue a break as she's been rushing around all day giving interviews about a campaign to help end domestic violence, a cause close to her heart because her mother was once a victim.
As an ambassador for Avon, Dixon has launched the company's Pass It On campaign, and wants women to buy an ‘Empowerment' necklace to raise funds for charities working in the field.
“Ahh, it's so good to sit down,” she says.
“But it's been really refreshing to get the chance to talk about something really important which could actually help people's lives.
“I get so used to people being more interested in what I'm wearing, or asking about a show that I'm in, or if I get on with this or that person!
“Working in the entertainment industry is fun and glamorous, but it's not life and death — domestic violence is.”
It's one of the first insights that the former Strictly Come Dancing judge and latest recruit to ITV's Britain's Got Talent judging panel, joining Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and David Walliams, has a healthy, down-to-earth perspective on her celebrity lifestyle.
Her childhood experiences have also undoubtedly shaped Dixon.
Her parents split up when she was four and then, between the ages of eight and 10, she watched her mother suffer abuse and violence from a live-in partner.
“It was awful to see that happening to my mum, and there's nothing worse as a child than not being able to protect the person you love most in the world,” she says.
“You go into the world fearless when you come from a loving, supportive, secure family environment, but if you come from a dysfunctional family where you see aggression, violence and upset, then as a child you are going to take on a lot of those feelings yourself.
“When it's over, it's almost like you have to stitch yourself up again.”
Dixon, who revealed her family's difficulties when she presented the BBC documentary Don't Hit My Mum in 2010, believes witnessing her mother's courage in ending the relationship helped to minimise the emotional damage on her.
But she admits: “Outwardly, when I was at school everyone regarded me as really confident, but inside I was quite insecure, scared and fearful of a lot of things, and it's taken me many years to build my confidence back up.
“I hope I can help raise the profile of this issue and make it easier for women to talk about it. My mum's told me she's proud of me for what I'm doing.”
Dixon, who was brought up in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, says those early struggles fired her drive to succeed.
“I was always a stubborn, independent
child and determined to ensure that something which happened in my childhood wouldn't ruin the quality of my adult life,” she says.
“I'm lucky that I've always had an inner belief, knew what I deserved and always visualised something better for myself. I saw myself on stage and travelling the world.”
She abandoned plans to train as a PE teacher to follow her passion for singing and dancing and became a member of R&B girl band Mis-Teeq.
“Mis-Teeq was a fairytale, a dream come true, and I wouldn't be where I am today without it.”
But in 2006 her world came crashing down as her one-year marriage to rapper MC Harvey broke up and she lost a record contract.
Dixon, 33, is reluctant to talk about that time, but says: “I'm a very private person and always try to ensure the line between what is work and what is mine isn't crossed.
“So it was hard and difficult to go through painful things when you're in the public eye.
“But I believe that everything happens for a reason and I also think that I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't experienced some of the things I have.”
Those traumas have apparently in part resulted in a positive legacy — a different approach to life for Dixon who says she has a mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder, which means she's conscientious about order and cleanliness in her home.
“In my twenties I planned, planned all the time, but nowadays I've learnt that everything I plan to do doesn't always work out, so I've genuinely learnt to just go with the flow. Now I live for today and appreciate the moment so much more.
“I put my trust in the unknown. I realise I don't have the answers to everything. I also try to avoid perceiving things as negative, rather I think, ‘What did I learn? What did I take from this situation?' You can only try to be a good person, and do what feels right to you at the end of the day.”
Her win on Strictly Come Dancing in 2007 led to her being chosen as a judge for the series in 2009, but after three years, she has left the show to join the Britain's Got Talent panel.
“I'm enjoying being on Britain's Got Talent so much. I'm totally confident when I'm on stage and confident about my position on the panel and see it as a blessing. Any job where you can laugh all day is fine by me,” she says.
“Everything about it is fun, the British spirit which is undeniably contagious, and the wacky, crazy, colourful acts which come through the door and surprise you, so it's never boring.
“There's a really good dynamic on the panel. Everybody's strong minded and has their opinions and will fight for the acts that they want, in a way which I believe will make for good TV.
“Amanda's been so lovely, showing me the ropes and she's a girl's girl and so am I, and David and I have bonded because we're the newbies.”
And hooting with laughter, she adds: “Simon loves winding me up and it usually works! It's challenging [working with him] but I can handle anything. I'm not scared of anything or anyone.”
While the show brings competitors their moment of national fame, Dixon, who takes time to give talks to youngsters at schools, stresses that shouldn't be the goal for aspiring wannabes.
“I think shows like Britain's Got Talent are great at giving people an amazing platform and opportunity,” she says.
“But you have to teach kids what's valuable and what to aspire to. I never grew up wanting to be famous — my passion was for singing, writing songs and performing.
“So I like to spend time with young people and say, ‘Look, it's not OK to just want to be famous. You have to have a talent or a skill, or want to do something important in your life.
“If fame comes with that, that's something you'll have to manage along the way, and that will be a massive sacrifice you'll have to make, because fame isn't fun. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be just famous for being famous, that would be like being in prison.”
In fact, she admits, coping with the spotlight is a “struggle from time to time”.
“But the reality is I chose to be in this situation and you can't make a choice like that and then turn around and complain about it. You just have to cope with it,” Dixon says.
Instead her focus is on being a good role model to her millions of fans, and looking forward to the future.
“I'm a romantic, of course — who isn't? I love love. In fact, my friends call me Cilla because I'm always trying to pair them off with one another.
“I'd love to settle down myself and have a family one day, but I'm just open to the future and will wait and see what happens.”
The new series of Britain's Got Talent starts on ITV1 on Saturday, March 24