Alesha Dixon is sitting pretty. Not in a conceited sense, you understand – she’s holding court in her record label’s offices for a press afternoon.
She’s in a good mood, too. And why shouldn’t she be? With a new album (The Alesha Show), an appearance on the show that brought her back to the public eye, Strictly Come Dancing, and the recent celebration of her 30th birthday, there’s plenty to be excited about.
Her birthday celebrations are still fresh in her mind. “I went to out for dinner, and then I went to Bungalow 8, which was overrated”. She screws up her nose. “Basically it was my 30th birthday, and my friend wanted to take a photograph of me with my girls, for my birthday, and they wouldn’t let us use our cameras. So I was like “I’m not impressed with you!” I don’t like snobby places, I’d rather go down my local pub than deal with that. But I had a wicked birthday because my girl friends all came out, and you know what it’s like when girls get together, you’re always gonna have fun!”
By the end of the night she was in her dressing gown, but still outside. “Yeah, that’s right!” She guffaws infectiously. “There was a picture in one of the free London papers, and it showed me on the carpet of the High School Musical premiere at 7pm, then at 3am in my dressing gown. I didn’t go to Bungalow 8 like that though! It was a fun night, for certain.”
Talk moves swiftly on to the new record, put together in league with illustrious production names. The result is a collection of diverse styles, a point at which she nods her head. “Yes, I think so. It’s got Underdogs, Redzone, Soulshock and Carling – they all fall into one category, and that’s very American influenced music, verging more on the R&B side. Then working with Shucks and Steve Brooker – who did Duffy‘s Mercy – for me that’s a more British sound. And then obviously Brian Higgins, who’s got eight tracks on the album, it’s that more a pop/commercial/mainstream sound. Then I was fortunate enough to record a Diane Warren ballad, and got to do some writing with Amanda Ghost, so I feel like I’ve covered the areas of my personal interest, and I’m very pleased with the result!”
She continues to have her own input on the writing side of things. “Always. Even in the days of Misteeq we used to write our songs, it’s a very, very important part of what I do. I could never just turn up at a studio and have someone give me an album’s worth of songs to sing. It’s…vacuous I think is the word I’m looking for. It wouldn’t feel real or have substance. It depends on the artist I guess – some have had amazing careers by singing other people’s songs, so I guess it’s down to the individual. For me personally I enjoy putting my personal thoughts and emotions into the song, it’s really important. For me it makes it more real.”
First single was The Boy Does Nothing, on which Dixon lightly baits a man about not washing up or cleaning. Is this about men in general? She looks briefly horrified. “I don’t mean to give men a hard time on it, I tried to make it as tongue in cheek as possible. I really hope men don’t think I’m on the attack – I’m not! I’m not one of those women that’s bitter, if I did anything like that it’s only going to be in a fun way. I don’t have any male bashing songs on the album, there’s songs that talk about love and how I feel about things but there’s no like ergh – ergh (she makes a stabbing motion) songs!”
She doesn’t seem the mean type, that’s for sure – even when it comes to rhythm. “The Boy Does Nothing is as mean as I would be about a man on a song, it’s in a fun, light hearted way – it’s cheeky more than anything. If the man can’t dance he doesn’t get a second chance – that’s not a deal breaker with me. You know if I met somebody that I liked and he wasn’t the best dancer a simple nod of the head would do when we’re out in the club, he doesn’t have to be an amazing dancer, but most women do like a guy with a bit of rhythm!”
The video, as you might expect, explores dancing as its main subject. “It was a lot of fun on the set. Michael Gracey directed it – he did Will Young‘s Your Game, where all those big theatricals were happening, and he has a very clever mind. That was combined with Ashley Warren’s choreography, and we had about 50 dancers doing swing dancing, we had jumpers – people jumping off the walls – and the six girl dancers on the stage with me. There was a spirit of enthusiasm for the two days, I think as British dancers don’t always get the opportunity to get videos where the artist is dancing with them. We tend to look to the States for that kind of thing.”
I’m curious to know if she ever got to the point where she had to choose between dancing and music. She considers. “I never had to make the choice because I still don’t see myself as a professional dancer. I always have to make that clear, because I’m not, I don’t see myself as that! Yes, I pick up routines quite well, and I love dancing, but I’m not as good as the professional dancers on Strictly, they’re in a league of their own. These women and men train their whole lives to perfect their craft. Who do I think I am thinking I’m going to perfect in four months?”
Earnest now, she continues. “You perfect what you can. For me it was a no-brainer – before Strictly started I’d already started working on the record with Brian and the plan at that point was to make the record down in Kent, then we would approach the record companies when we felt we had made some magic. So then I took the time out to do Strictly, and then when it finished we carried on where we left off, but we felt like we had a stronger chance and had empowered ourselves more. Then the record companies were coming to us, that was a surreal situation, an unpredictable one.”
She checks herself, then laughs. “D’you know what, I went to a women’s seminar this morning, and one of the women said that when a woman is being successful she’s always forever saying “I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful” and I was about to say that sitting here. And I am, but I keep thinking that I’ve been calculating and planning and dreaming this moment my whole life. This isn’t even about the end of Strictly, this is my whole life, so it’s a combination of things. My work ethics have always been really strong, and I’ve always been a determined person and had a passion for what I do .and I love my job.”
Now there’s no stopping her flow. “This is a fortunate situation that I’m in now because in October 2006 I didn’t know what was round the corner, and I’d worked to that point in my life, and for it to not happen, it was like I was being stabbed in the back – I didn’t know where to go or what to do, so sitting here now, I have got this feeling of being grateful, but also the feeling that I got myself here because I wouldn’t have it any other way than to succeed!” She thumps the sofa to make her point.
“I couldn’t let anything get in the way to stop the dream, and the dream is doing what I’m doing right now. This is the most scary time for me, as you don’t know what’s round the corner. You give the song to radio, and you guys start to see the videos, and it’s like judgement day. You sit there hoping that people are going to like what you do. Once you’ve made that album, it’s out of your hands, it’s almost up to the stars! But what’s for you won’t pass you. And what’s not will.”
So what’s next? “My plan and my dream would be to go on tour, but I can’t say that for certain yet as I don’t know! Until we know we’ve sold so much I can only sit and hope, cos for me that would be the ultimate. I wanna put on a show – hence calling it The Alesha Show!” She certainly has the energy, the drive and the determination – but also seems relaxed in herself as a person. It’s that combination that looks to have brought her back from the brink.