‘I’m grateful fans still want to see me’: Beverley Knight embraces milestone with new tour | Music | Entertainment | EUROtoday

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Beverley performing this summer

Beverley performing this summer time (Image: Getty)

Not each star can say their fans included David Bowie, Prince and Vladimir Putin, however then not each star is Beverley Knight. “I knew Prince a little,” she tells me with typical restraint. “He was kind enough to champion me. I opened for him at the O2 in 2007 and did the after-show, And I sang at his Oscars party in LA the following year.

“David called me ‘little Aretha’ and came to see me unannounced at the Jazz Café in Camden. When I looked out and saw him I thought, ‘No, it can’t be…!’

“I thought I was the luckiest woman in the world that these great icons had time for me.”

Wolverhampton-born Beverley, dubbed the Queen of British soul, turned 50 this yr and has been turning heads for the reason that 90s with her unbelievable gospel-powered vocals. Her most shocking viewers was geo-political – when she was invited to sing for world leaders, together with Putin, on the 2006 G8 summit in St Petersburg.

“The Russian Minister for Culture took a shine to me. I had to sit next to him watching Swan Lake,” she remembers. “Then I was obliged to attend a dinner on Putin’s yacht, alone – I had to take my passport and my management weren’t allowed on. I sat on a table with all these oligarchs constantly trying to give me vodka.

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Beverley with fan David Bowie back in 2000

Beverley with fan David Bowie back in 2000 (Image: Getty)

“The Scorpions were there too, so I wasn’t the only musical artist. Eventually I was asked by security to follow them into another room where I found myself with Blair, Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and Putin. It was terrifying, and fascinating.

“Putin seemed nervous of me because I looked into his eyes. He hopped from foot to foot. He seemed sinister, like Darth Vader.”

Knight’s personal toes stay firmly grounded. Her late father Edward Smith, a Jamaican immigrant, was a builder who began his personal enterprise earlier than she was born.

“My family came to Britain when my sister was tiny. We were broke, but he was very driven – I get my drive from him, I’m exactly like my father. My mum Delores was the life and soul of the party. She was an ophthalmic nurse at Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary.”

The Smiths have been a Pentecostal household and younger Beverley’s earliest fans have been at church. At residence, the one music she ever heard was the gospel and faith-fuelled nation of Hank Williams and Jim Reeves.

“Sam Cooke mesmerised me but I didn’t know him as a soul artist, I actually knew him as a gospel singer. He did
an album called The Two Sides Of Sam Cooke and at home they only played the gospel side, not the secular side.”

At 14 she started writing songs and a few years later began to gig in her own right – “just for the love of it” – as well as singing in church. She was spotted performing at the Wolverhampton club Paloma for a pirate radio station’s fifth anniversary.

“It was all luck that I was there and got offered a deal. I was going to university that year – I was very bookish and still am – and I said, ‘If you think I’m good, you’ll hang on until after my third year of university’.”

She signed to a small label and released her debut album, The B-Funk, before graduating in 1995.

She said: “My plan was always to finish my degree and get my thesis done, but the white label of my first single went crazy in the clubs, and I found myself trying to write songs and write a dissertation at the same time” – on
Cults, Sects & Churches of 20th Century Britain.

A bona fide national treasure, smart, vivacious Beverley has chalked up Top Ten hits – like Shoulda Woulda Coulda and Come As You Are – and gold and platinum albums.

Delicious highs include being awarded the MBE in 2006 for services to music and charity, and singing the national anthem for Lennox Lewis at his world title comeback fight in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas in 2001. She has also sustained a long parallel career in musical theatre, winning three Olivier Awards. The lows came with the acrid stench of racism.

Beverley with her husband James O’Keefe

Beverley with her husband James O’Keefe (Image: Getty)

Name-calling at school paled into insignificance compared to her experiences in Cheltenham as a University Of Gloucester student.

First was the bigoted landlady who pretended she wasn’t the landlady as soon as she saw Beverley’s face – but worse was to come.

“I was spat at once,” she tells me softly. “I left the campus and was walking along with my books. A car slowed down with a bunch of lads in it. I thought they wanted directions but when I went over, they shouted, ‘You effing black slag’, and spat at me and sped off laughing.

“I stood there in absolute shock, then I ran after the car, until I came to my senses. I was upset and then angry, but that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.”

Nowadays strangers are always friendly, if occasionally confused. “I’ve had someone say ‘I’m such a fan’ and ask me to pose for a picture and then ask me to sign a picture that is not me. Sometimes it’s Mica Paris, sometimes Alexandra Burke. Even when I tell them it’s not me, they say, ‘Are you sure?’

“Absolutely I’m positive!” she provides, laughing. “I’ve had people send me underwear and ask me to sign it. It gets lost! I can’t be signing anybody’s underwear. The next thing you know I’ve been named in court.”

Teetotal Beverley, a staunch Wolves fan, discovered the love of her life when she was taking pictures a TV advert in 2007 and ran into lighting gaffer James O’Keefe.

“A man came down a ladder and said hi. He was gorgeous and seemed a nice guy. I got his number and I texted him – I’d never done that in my life before!”

Now her husband and a wellness coach, Londoner James was plunged into the insanity of fame inside months, as Knight was hounded by paparazzi whereas opening for Prince on the O2. When she had her hysterectomy in 2017, he was her rock. In 2013, Beverley moved into her parallel West End profession, with acclaimed lead roles in The Bodyguard, Memphis and Cats.

This yr she starred in radical R&B-infused musical Sylvia, enjoying Emmeline Pankhurst – mom of suffragette Sylvia.

Bev is celebrating the large 5-0 with a new studio album that spans the “kaleidoscope” of her soul influences, from 80s-inspired pop-funk to large ballads and northern soul. She introduced in top-rated writers to work with, together with Diane Warren, Ollie Green and Seb Coe (not the runner).

“They’re astonishingly great songs. I am so grateful,” she says. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, that includes the London Community Gospel Choir, displays her enduring optimism. “I find negativism annoying and upsetting – let people live!”

Beverley Knight’s new album

Beverley Knight’s new album (Image: )

How does this self-defined workaholic loosen up?

“I’m relaxing right now, talking to you in the park where I walk the dog,” Bev says, though she’s additionally technically working. “I read books and watch documentaries, I listen to Sade. Russell Kane and Peter Kay make me laugh… and Richard Pryor. Eddie Murphy is the king of everything!”

She’s come a good distance from being the studious lady at college in her “Deirdre Barlow glasses”. Bev made function movie Cinderella throughout lockdown and judged on ITV’s Starstruck earlier this yr. Film and TV performing roles are within the pipeline, and a Vegas residency is a risk; however first there’s the UK tour.

“It’s going to be joyous,” she says. “I’m not hiding being 50, I’m embracing it. It’s a privilege that I’ve got to this stage of my career.

“I’m here, I’m grateful for it and grateful the public still want to see me. So be prepared to dance! A lot of the songs you’ll know, some you’ll only just have heard, but you’ll love them!”