“Right now, any kind of work is a real challenge, I have to say,” she says. “The second week, I was really in no mood. I felt pretty flat and a little depressed. Then I found myself putting on my rollers, putting on my makeup, choosing the songs, putting on my glitter… and I felt lifted. Completely lifted. “
Ellis-Bextor is somewhat harassed today, speaking on Skype from her home music studio in West London – usually the domain of her husband Richard Jones, the bassist for Feeling. It’s a comfortable cave, complete with microphone stands, neon lights and a guitar. It is, she says, the only place she can find respite from the pressure of navigating locked out with five children, four of whom were in school or daycare until a month ago. , one of which is trying to work on its GCSEs. “I have not decided to go home with my children,” she said. “I don’t think it comes particularly naturally. “
She is much more used to the glitz and chaos of show business. She first turned into the mainstream of music in 2000, with a spot on the song Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) by Spiller, which remains a staple of British radio, and she had a pop career regular with Murder follow-up singles on the Dancefloor and the music gets the best of me, as well as a series of seven albums. In 2013, she dazzled Strictly Come Dancing, wowing the judges with, among other performances, a memorable whirlwind through the hi-hat. In the end, she lost in the final against Abbey Clancy.
She was born in the entertainment world: her mother, Janet Ellis, was a presenter for Blue Peter, while her father was film producer Robin Bextor. She remembers a cosmopolitan childhood filled with brunches and celebrities. “It definitely shaped me,” she says. She started playing in childhood, before moving on to modeling. Before her charts success, she developed a cult in the late 90s as a sensual singer of the independent rock group Theaudience.
With her summer tour schedule wiped out due to the lockout, she has a hard time adjusting to not playing. “I miss it terribly,” she says. “I miss playing, I miss all the plans I had … but everyone too. “
Growing up in the celebrity world taught her early on that she should work to keep her private life private. Before the lockdown, the idea of leaving a camera in her house and filming her children would have been inconceivable – but life has changed irrevocably. “I guess over the years I’ve always been a pretty private person,” she says. “I don’t normally show the interior of my house. I definitely don’t show my kids anywhere. But suddenly, I think that with all that we have all experienced collectively, it seemed to me that it was totally irrelevant. Like, who cares? No one is interested in prying; we just want to feel a connection. We just want something stupid. “
The pinnacle of his fame came during a frenzied period for the tabloids, who were splashed with women of similar age – such as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears – being pilloried for their lives seemingly becoming out of control. It too was briefly fodder for the tabloids, when Groovejet faced Victoria Beckham’s first solo single, Out of Your Mind, for first place in the rankings. The perceived “battle” generated isolated shots from both sides, especially when Ellis-Bextor wore a T-shirt with the “Peckham” logo, an ironic reference to the name of his competitor. In the end, Ellis-Bextor and Spiller won.
“Some of them were probably a lot of fun,” said Ellis-Bextor with a laugh. “Enough cartoons, right? Victoria Beckham of the Spice Girls, who were massive and really well liked, and then someone that most people had never heard of … I just thought it was crazy. I tried to remember as much as possible because I knew I would never find myself in such a situation again. “
At one point, she toured with George Michael, but, strangely enough, never met him. “He had built an entrance at the front of his dressing room, so you couldn’t pass by and accidentally see. Obviously, he was going through a time when he needed a lot of privacy, for whatever reason. “
Did she feel the impact of being so young and watched by the media? “I grew up in this environment,” she says. “I learned in this environment. I think it is sometimes difficult for women to be given any authority in their work, or for there to be no question mark over who does what behind the scenes, which I found so tedious when I was younger.
“When I started, I just felt like everyone assumed the record company was making decisions for you all the time – you know, before you get your fringes cut, you have to go see the table and ask if it’s OK. But, in fact, I think this is partly a slightly misogynistic vision, really – that a young woman would not be able to make her own decisions. “
Although she is not widely known as a songwriter, she has written or partially written most of her catalog. “Sometimes you may feel a little worried that most people think that you are not doing anything like this. I was quite sensitive to that. She has learned – for better or worse – to give up. “I quickly realized that it was not so relevant to people, whether I write or not. The fact is that my work as a songwriter and my work as a singer are compatible, but they do not depend on each other. But I don’t really want people to wonder who wrote what. I just want them to get lost in a story. I wrote the majority of what I did, but I don’t need people to think about it necessarily. “
After Groovejet’s success, she released her first studio album, Read My Lips, in 2001 – for which she brought in musicians including Alex James and Moby de Blur. She followed him over the next decade and a half with five other studio albums, all of them lively dance-pop records, most of which were big in Europe. In 2019, she released her seventh and final musical project, The Song Diaries, an orchestral redesign of her greatest hits.
Besides Radio 2, Ellis-Bextor’s most engaged fan base is the LGBTQ + community. Her mix of 70s disco aesthetics and 90s club success delights DJs and gay club bettors, and she is no stranger to the smoke machines of Soho, which has long been the center of the scene. London gay. “My relationship with my gay fans is very precious to me – it has shaped my career. After having my first baby, I hadn’t played for a while and I did my first concert in [the London LGBTQ+ venue] G-A-Y… I honestly think that this night was crucial for me. It was as if a wall had fallen and I felt my inhibitions disappear. Since then, I feel like I have been a different kind of interpreter. “
She rarely lets summer pass without appearing at a Pride festival (she titled Birmingham Pride in 2017, London Pride in 2018 and Bristol Pride in 2019) and often tours with drag collective Sink the Pink. At the mention of the community that got caught up in the recent cultural war on gender and transgender rights, she sits in her chair.
“I think we are now much better able to understand the gender spectrum and how people choose to identify themselves and what is right for them,” she said. “Of course, it makes so much sense. Why the hell should someone say, “I have to join this list of gender specifics”? “
“Once people feel they can define themselves as they want, we can have a debate about the nuances,” she said. “What works for one transgender individual is not the same for another. We have to get to a point where we can make their voices heard. But the bottom line is to just make sure that, socially and economically, [trans people] are taken care of in the right way.
She worries about the way gender roles are still imposed on children through consumer culture. “If you look at children’s toys, these are toys for girls and toys for boys, maybe even more than I remember when I was little. I don’t know if it’s a strange fear that if you give the kids a lot of choice and let them interpret themselves as they are, then you’re going to encourage some kind of madness. I think a lot of people feel very uncomfortable and I don’t really know why. “
On the way she broached the topic of gender identity with her five boys, her answer is simple and unequivocal: “I don’t really care what they choose – I just want them to have the feel like you have a choice. I’m sure that’s what most people have to experience raising their children.
“In fact, I meet people, even close friends, who are surprisingly traditional in their thinking. They gave me my kids and I can’t do anything with them. I just have to support them, love them and try to guide them. And that’s probably why most of them are wild, “she says with a laugh.
For the foreseeable future, she will be at home, physically distancing herself from her husband and their boys. “Now that we are in a few weeks, I have done better so as not to suspend the information permanently,” she said. “I kind of feel like I’m on a long haul flight. The world is happening there, but for the moment, that’s what you do, that’s where you are. You must therefore continue. “