The singer and musical actress made herself heard during lockdown – even if her beloved shoes didn’t see much use
How much is an ounce of gold?
Around a grand…
What have you liked about lockdown?
I’ve had so much time to spend with my husband – thinking, creating, laughing, loving. I don’t always have the opportunity to be at home and to have quality time with my husband in my own space, my own dwelling – especially not with our dog. Being able to do that has been a blessing.
You’ve done some concerts over Zoom. How did you find it?
They are no substitute for the real thing, but in terms of being able to keep in contact with your audience, and in terms of being a great tool for fundraising, it’s been brilliant. You find you’ve got a captive audience if you’re on Instagram Live or the virtual duet I did with Gary Barlow, raising funds for [theatre worker charity] Acting For Others. Because it’s live from my kitchen, it’s a whole new experience. It just shows that we’re all going through this at the same time.
Are you a saver or spender?
My husband James is the ultimate in saving. Me, I’m not the ultimate in spending, but I’m certainly more of a spender.
What’s your greatest extravagance?
I have a penchant for shoes. I have a lovely collection of Louis Vuittons and everything else.
Do you have a favourite pair?
A pair of Yves Saint-Laurent mules that I’ve got which must be 20-odd years old now. On the top of the mule it’s got a metal pair of lips. They are a design classic.
How did you earn your first pay cheque?
My first went something like this: ‘Good afternoon, welcome to McDonald’s drive-thru. May I take your order please?’ That was me!
Do you prefer singing or acting?
The heart of who I am and what I do is singing. Singing is the key to everything, and everything springs from there. I am a singer to my core.
Which singers inspired you growing up?
Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin. Later it was Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan. Big voices, big singers. All of them apart from Chaka Khan came through the gospel tradition.
What has been your favourite role as an actress?
I loved playing Emmeline Pankhurst [in Sylvia at the Old Vic]. It was a step into the role of someone who really did exist, a woman whose life was entirely different from mine – different race, different period of history… I love her fire, her resolute nature, and the fact that she was a controversial figure.
BAME people are still under-represented in the arts. What can be done to change this?
It would be great to hear more stories from an Afro-Caribbean, African, Southern Asian perspective because we’re here – we’re present in the country, and have been here for centuries. It would be great to hear more of those stories, so more scriptwriters, directors, artistic directors. It’s great to see Kwame [Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic], but more of the same, please!
We’ve seen a few statues toppled – but what’s your favourite London statue?
Mary Seacole, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale. Now we teach her in schools, thank God. The work she did in the Crimea and beyond was immeasurable. She was possibly one of the first to embrace a more holistic approach to modern medicine, the marriage of the two because of what she learned as a child growing up in Jamaica. She brought that to her understanding of where medicine was in the 19th century.
This piece first appeared in issue 75 of Spear’s magazine. Click here to buy and subscribe
Illustration by Russ Tudor