Why the singer and TV pre­sen­ter couldn’t look in a mir­ror…

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW JU­DITH WOODS PHO­TO­GRAPHS RACHELL SMITH

Un­be­liev­able but true: there was a time when ALE­SHA DIXON couldn’t stand to look in a mir­ror. Now her mis­sion to stop her daugh­ter – and chil­dren ev­ery­where – feel­ing the same has in­spired her debut book ➤

Ale­sha Dixon is one of TV’s most in­stantly recog­nis­able faces. A judge on Sat­ur­day-night sta­ple Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent along­side Amanda Holden, David Wal­liams and, of course, Si­mon Cow­ell, she’s also a for­mer Strictly Come Danc­ing win­ner who went on to join the judg­ing panel. Be­fore this, she en­joyed chart suc­cess with R&B girl band Mis-Teeq, writ­ing, singing and rap­ping her way to three dou­ble-plat­inum al­bums. Born to a Ja­maican fa­ther and Bri­tish mother, Ale­sha, now 39, mar­ried MC Har­vey, a rap­per from So Solid Crew, in 2005, but they sep­a­rated within a year. She has a four-year-old daugh­ter Azura with her long-term part­ner, chore­og­ra­pher Azuka Ononye, 38. Now she has writ­ten her first chil­dren’s book, Light­ning Girl, about a mixed-race school­girl with su­per­pow­ers. I didn’t set out to make a state­ment about race in the book. But I’d be fib­bing if I said it wasn’t a fac­tor. I feel proud to have a fe­male, mixed-race su­per­hero on the cover. Au­rora Beam, my hero­ine, is re­ally strong and has in­cred­i­ble pow­ers but she wants to be a nor­mal girl and is in de­nial. Her friends un­der­stand that, but even­tu­ally, when the go­ing gets tough, it turns out each of them has a unique, hid­den gift, too. I want my read­ers to walk away feel­ing em­pow­ered that they have some­thing spe­cial to of­fer and don’t need to act or look like ev­ery­one else to be ac­cepted. Hav­ing a high pro­file has made me con­scious that I’m in a for­tu­nate po­si­tion where I have cre­ative free­dom, and from the out­set I wanted this book to make a dif­fer­ence. I can’t wait to go into schools and meet young peo­ple and see their re­ac­tions and an­swer their ques­tions. I don’t want my daugh­ter grow­ing up think­ing beauty is blue eyes and long blonde hair. Beauty comes in many forms, many skin colours, many

I DON’T WANT MY DAUGH­TER GROW­ING UP THINK­ING BEAUTY IS BLUE EYES AND BLONDE HAIR

hair­styles and tex­tures. It’s hugely im­por­tant that chil­dren see those re­flected in the books they read and the char­ac­ters they en­counter. Things are im­prov­ing – Dis­ney princesses are far more di­verse than they used to be, and you can see a shift in the sort of women fea­tured in mag­a­zines and on cat­walks – but we’re not there yet. When I was lit­tle, my mum made me feel that look­ing dif­fer­ent was wonderful and I re­ally want to pass that on. Equal­ity isn’t about be­ing the same, it’s about be­ing treated the same. As a mum I can see the power that a sto­ry­book has on a child. I have al­ways loved the idea of writ­ing a chil­dren’s book, and hav­ing Azura has gal­vanised me to take it se­ri­ously. I have been read­ing books to her ev­ery night since she was born. I’ve al­ways writ­ten things down: songs when I was in Mis-Teeq, po­etry or just my thoughts, but I wasn’t in­ter­ested in do­ing an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy – although there would be a lot to write about! I thought long and hard about the nar­ra­tive arc and the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, be­cause I wanted it to have sub­lim­i­nal mes­sages that would make chil­dren feel pos­i­tive about them­selves. Not a day goes by with­out me long­ing for an­other baby. I don’t know whether it will hap­pen given my age, but I adore the idea of hav­ing a large fam­ily and I hope that I will be lucky. The love I feel for Azura is so pure and un­con­di­tional that I still stop and catch my breath in awe that Azuka and I have cre­ated this per­fect lit­tle hu­man be­ing. The main thing is to en­joy her in the present and be philo­soph­i­cal about the fu­ture, be­cause what will be will be. The last time I cried was on a de­serted beach. Just af­ter Christ­mas I went on a break to the Mal­dives with my nan, mum, Azuka and Azura, and it was the best hol­i­day I’ve had in my life. As soon as I ar­rived I turned off my mo­bile. Then I took off my shoes and didn’t put them on again for nine days; I even went out to restau­rants bare­foot. The hol­i­day was so re­lax­ing and life af­firm­ing that I wept be­cause I was over­come with hap­pi­ness. I needed to be some­where quiet and still, sur­rounded by the peo­ple I love. I’ve been bom­barded with abuse on so­cial me­dia. I made a throw­away joke say­ing that if I were prime min­is­ter for a day I would ban smok­ing and eat­ing meat. This was con­strued as mean­ing I was stand­ing for pub­lic of­fice and cam­paign­ing to ban burg­ers and ci­garettes. I was taken aback by the strength of emo­tion and the names I was called – it was shock­ing. But af­ter ini­tially reel­ing at the force­ful­ness, I saw it as a re­minder that you must al­ways keep a sense of hu­mour. I do some­times get em­broiled in ‘de­bates’ with peo­ple on Twit­ter, but I keep it light and al­ways take the con­ver­sa­tion with a pinch of salt. So­cial me­dia is fun and use­ful for work, but I keep it in per­spec­tive and I know how to step back and switch off. If slaugh­ter­houses had glass walls we’d all be veg­e­tar­i­ans. I gave up eat­ing meat six years ago and I’ve never looked back. An­i­mal wel­fare was at the fore­front of my de­ci­sion but I wouldn’t ever con­demn peo­ple who make other choices about what they eat. I sim­ply be­lieve it’s a good idea to be in­formed and dis­cover more about the food on your plate and where it comes from. My mum is ve­gan but I wouldn’t go that far. I may be a veg­e­tar­ian but I’m not bor­ing! I like to drink, although not to ex­cess. Good red wine is my tipple of choice: pinot noir, mal­bec and you can’t re­ally beat Châteauneuf-du-Pape at a nice restau­rant. Some­times I meet my girl­friends for din­ner and then we might go on to a bar or a club; it’s nice to go with the flow and see where the even­ing takes us. When I was younger I had ter­ri­ble FOMO [Fear Of Miss­ing Out] and would ➤

have to go out ev­ery night be­cause stay­ing in was un­think­able. These days I’m more mel­low and re­ally happy to chill at home. When I was younger I couldn’t bear to look at my­self in the mir­ror with­out full make-up. In Mis-Teeq, I al­ways wore hair ex­ten­sions, false eye­lashes and loads of make-up; I hid be­hind them. When I got home and took it all off I felt di­min­ished and unattrac­tive be­cause that mask gave me con­fi­dence. Nowa­days I only wear make-up for work and there’s a glam squad of pro­fes­sion­als there to make it hap­pen. Af­ter­wards it’s a re­lief to take it off and be me. Maybe that’s the main dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing 20 and 40 – my self-es­teem doesn’t de­pend on a blow-dry. Strictly Come Danc­ing was life-chang­ing. It marked a turn­ing point in my ca­reer. Win­ning it and then be­ing a judge was amaz­ing; it’s such a fab­u­lous show that you can’t help be­ing happy when you watch or take part in it. I’m proud to be as­so­ci­ated with it and the only rea­son I left af­ter three years was be­cause I felt it was time to do some­thing new and I be­lieved a new door would open – and it did. I joined Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent and it was – and still is – an ab­so­lute joy. That’s why I’ve stayed for seven years and count­ing. The judges are great fun and ev­ery­one who works on the show is full of en­ergy and pos­i­tiv­ity. Noth­ing on Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent is set up in ad­vance. The judges don’t see the acts be­fore the au­di­ence and if there’s ever a spat or I’m telling the boys to shut up, that’s for real, too. That spon­tane­ity keeps it all so fresh. Yes, Si­mon is the boss, but he’d hate it if we were def­er­en­tial to­wards him. It’s a tes­ta­ment to our work­ing re­la­tion­ship that we get on with things and laugh an aw­ful lot dur­ing film­ing. When­ever Si­mon Cow­ell looks ap­palled and asks, ‘What are you wear­ing?’ I give a lit­tle cheer. It means I’ve got my out­fit right. My clothes are quirky and edgy be­cause I come from the mu­sic in­dus­try. Amanda came from mu­si­cal theatre so her style is so­phis­ti­cated and princessy. We don’t con­fer about what we’re wear­ing in ad­vance – we’re grown women, for heaven’s sake! One of us might men­tion the colour we’ve cho­sen, but be­lieve it or not it’s the least im­por­tant el­e­ment of the show, even if our dresses make head­lines. We think it’s funny when Amanda’s out­fits – and very oc­ca­sion­ally mine – spark com­plaints from view­ers. Some peo­ple have too much time on their hands. I haven’t seen my dad for years. My par­ents broke up when I was four and although I saw him on and off, he has a new fam­ily now and is not part of my life. My mum later en­dured do­mes­tic abuse at the hands of an­other part­ner and she was very strong to get through it. As a re­sult of var­i­ous re­la­tion­ships, I have some­thing like 101 sib­lings. They have dif­fer­ent moth­ers or dif­fer­ent fa­thers. It’s crazy and com­pli­cated but that’s just how it is; I don’t con­sider any of them ‘half’ broth­ers or sis­ters. I had a very se­cure child­hood de­spite it

be­ing a bit dys­func­tional; I felt loved and cared for, which is im­por­tant for any child. Dogs make a house into a home. We have four: Rosie, Prince and Paris, who are golden cocker spaniels, and Daisy, a res­cue pointer from the RSPCA. One of the char­i­ties I sup­port is World An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion; I trav­elled to Thai­land with it to film un­der­cover at wildlife venues, where ele­phants are ex­ploited and beaten in the name of tourist entertainment. One of the priv­i­leges of be­ing in the pub­lic eye is that I have the op­por­tu­nity to cam­paign for causes. An­other char­ity very dear to me is Ac­tionAid and I have trav­elled to Ghana to learn about the work it is do­ing to end child mar­riage. Be­ing a mum is my great­est joy and my big­gest chal­lenge. Ev­ery day I try to be the best, most pa­tient ver­sion of my­self and it’s some­times a strug­gle, but, hand on heart, I can say Azura has made me a bet­ter per­son. Be­cause of her I try to rein in my busy­ness and be more calm and mind­ful, although it’s not al­ways easy. Azuka is so lov­ing to­wards her – to­wards us both. I love watch­ing them to­gether and see­ing that wonderful bond grow­ing stronger ev­ery day. n Ale­sha’s book Light­ning Girl is pub­lished by Scholas­tic and avail­able now, price €8.99

DRESS, Alexis, from Oxy­gen Bou­tique. EAR­RINGS, Wolf and Moon

Clock­wise from left: Ale­sha with her daugh­ter Azura; in Mis-Teeq, 2003, and with part­ner Azuka

Op­po­site: Ale­sha with fel­low Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent judges (from left) David Wal­liams, Si­mon Cow­ell and Amanda Holden, and Ant & Dec. Above: on Strictly with part­ner Matthew Cut­ler

JACKET, Gap. T-SHIRT, Amer­i­can Vin­tage, from Iris. SKIRT, Hel­mut Lang, from Net-A-Porter. NECK­LACE, Rachel Jack­son. BOOTS, Aeyde

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