Jessie J shoots from the hip...


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - In­ter­view by Adrian Deevoy Pho­tos by Zoe McCon­nelll

Dain­tily strain­ing her cup of break­fast tea in Pic­cadilly’s Café Royal, Jessie J con­sid­ers the sug­ges­tion that some of the songs on her forth­com­ing al­bum are re­ally rather rude. ‘Ev­ery­one loves a bit of filth,’ she laughs, her im­pres­sive teeth emerg­ing from a slash of scar­let lip­stick. ‘The song Sweet Talker is meant to be dirty – it’s like fore­play. Like when you can’t quite… any­way, it is filthy.

‘ Some days you want to be a bad girl, all sex­ual and raunchy, but be a good woman first be­fore that. I wouldn’t want to be a bad girl ev­ery day any­way. Be too tir­ing. Look, I’m a 26-year-old woman. I don’t want to be a chil­dren’s en­ter­tainer. I have to rep­re­sent the life I live, which is having sex, be­ing in re­la­tion­ships, be­ing emo­tional, dis­cov­er­ing love...’

It’s 9am on a bril­liant Au­gust day, and as the con­ver­sa­tion turns to Jessie J’s me­te­oric pop ca­reer, the health prob­lems that plagued her youth and the ru­mours about her sex­u­al­ity, the signs are that it’s go­ing to be a long one.

Clad in tight black and white, cola- coloured hair drawn back se­verely from her face, Jessie is slen­der as a reed and ap­pears, on the sur­face at least, fiercely fo­cused.

The air hangs heavy with the news of Robin Wil­liams’s sui­cide. ‘It’s so tragic that he made peo­ple laugh all his life but he couldn’t make him­self happy,’ she puz­zles. Asked if she can un­der­stand how some­one can feel so des­per­ate, Jessie nods solemnly but says noth­ing.

It has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary year for Jessie J. She’s nav­i­gated high and lows, ne­go­ti­ated per­sonal heart­break and pro­fes­sional tri­umph, min­gled with roy­alty and sang with Smokey Robin­son. She even turned on the Christ­mas lights on Lon­don’s Ox­ford Street. ‘How could I for­get about that?’ she gasps, open-mouthed. But the mo­men­tum of her tur­bocharged ca­reer has been hard to main­tain.

A triple-plat­inum de­but al­bum, six top ten sin­gles with sales of 11 mil­lion and more YouTube hits for the sin­gle Price Tag than there are peo­ple in the United States (340 mil­lion and count­ing; it went to num­ber one in 19 coun­tries) proved a tough act to fol­low.

Add to that Jessie J’s role as coach and men­tor for two se­ries of BBC1’s The Voice and her ap­pear­ance in the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies (the only artist to do so) of the 2012 Olympics, and the stage was set for global dom­i­na­tion.

Yet her 2013 al­bum, Alive, from which she gazed out de­fi­antly with­out make-up or hair, having shaved her head in March to help raise €95 mil­lion for Comic Re­lief, failed to set the world alight. Her ini­tial plan, in the wake of Alive’s com­par­a­tively mod­est sales (it reached the top five in the Bri­tish al­bum chart) and a de­ferred re­lease in the United States, was to travel to Amer­ica in the hope of col­lab­o­rat­ing on more com­mer­cially po­tent ma­te­rial. But, as she re­veals, life, love and en­light­en­ment got in the way.

To join Jessie J on her jour­ney of dis­cov­ery, we must go back to last Novem­ber and a dress­ing room in the bow­els of the Bournemouth In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre in the south of Eng­land, where TV Week first en­coun­ters the singer, jab­bing at her phone with a ma­roon fin­ger­nail. ‘Have a look at this,’ she fizzes with pre-gig en­ergy. ‘It’s crazy.’

We watch footage of an ear­lier Jessie J con­cert at Lon­don’s O2 Arena. On stage, in a gold body­suit, she looks for­mi­da­ble, al­most com­puter-gen­er­ated. Her blonde French crop glows with grown-up girl power.

The on- screen su­per- hero­ine con­trasts com­i­cally with the lanky young lady in the comfy tour T-shirt and leg­gings hold­ing the mo­bile. ‘Ob­vi­ously I know that’s me up there,’ says Jessie J, in her taut Es­sex ac­cent. ‘But when I’m at home in my py­ja­mas, I do some­times think, “Who is that per­son?” ’

For all her front, fame and frank­ness, she is a pas­sion­ately pri­vate in­di­vid­ual who lives alone and en­joys mak­ing soup, singing and shop­ping for kitchen­ware. ‘Sound like a right su­per-loser, don’t I?’ she says with a win­ning grin.

Down the cor­ri­dor at the Bournemouth con­cert hall is a makeshift gym where Jessie worked out ear­lier to­day and thought of ‘beach holidays, cel­lulite, pa­parazzi and “come on, don’t let them beat you!” ’

Fit­tingly, in this room full of mir­rors, Jessie is in quite a re­flec­tive frame of mind. She has just com­pleted this even­ing’s ‘meet and greet’ where, over the course of an hour, she met 100 of her young fans.

That might be only 40 seconds each for a cud­dle, an en­cour­ag­ing chat and a photo, but time is of the essence – some of th­ese chil­dren won’t see their next birth­day. ‘We had quite a bit of cry­ing tonight,’ Jessie says. ‘A lot of chil­dren with can­cer.’ She is sur­pris­ingly clear- eyed about th­ese poignant en­coun­ters. This prag­matic ap­proach to ill­ness came from her so­cial worker fa­ther Stephen and the long pe­ri­ods she spent in and out of hos­pi­tal as a child be­cause of a rare heart dis­or­der.

Jessie re­calls un­der­go­ing an op­er­a­tion where elec­tri­cal wires were in­serted into her groin and shoul­der. Com­ing to af­ter the pro­ce­dure, she asked her fa­ther, Stephen, if she was bet­ter now. ‘Nah,’ he replied, truth­fully. ‘Didn’t work.’

‘But that’s my dad,’ Jessie says. ‘He’s always mak­ing light of se­ri­ous is­sues be­cause it’s a healthy way of deal­ing with things. He is so quick-wit­ted – ev­ery­one loves him. My mum’s

re­ally car­ing and gen­tle and he’s the en­ter­tainer. I’m a bit of both, I sup­pose.’

Here’s her dad now, back­stage, sharing a joke with the cater­ers, ac­com­pa­nied by her mother Rose, a for­mer nurs­ery teacher. Her par­ents are us­ing their daugh­ter’s UK tour as an ex­cuse to travel around Bri­tain. ‘Stay­ing in B&Bs,’ frowns Jessie. ‘They’re in­sane.’

Her fa­ther suf­fers from Wolff-Parkin­son-White syn­drome, the con­di­tion Jessie was di­ag­nosed with aged 11. ‘I have an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat,’ she says mat­ter- of-factly, but it is no co­in­ci­dence that she calls her fans Heart­beats.

‘It means that I used to get dizzy a lot. So I got good at hid­ing it. No big deal.’

It was, of course, a big deal. The beta-block­ers doc­tors pre­scribed Jes­sica gave her skin a green tinge; the cru­eller kids at school called her ‘Alien’. She couldn’t par­tic­i­pate in sports. They threw stones at her. But this sickly, skinny girl with sunken eyes and prom­i­nent teeth held a trump card. She could sing. For two years, from age nine, Jes­sica shone in An­drew Lloyd Web­ber’s West End pro­duc­tion of Whis­tle Down The Wind. Then, at 15, she won Best Pop Singer on ITV’s Bri­tain’s Bril­liant Prodi­gies.

‘I sang ev­ery­where I went,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘I must have driven ev­ery­one mad.’ A future in mu­sic beck­oned. Jessie J was on her way.

She was born Jes­sica Ellen Cor­nish at home on the floor be­neath her mother’s bed, um­bil­i­cal cord caught around her neck, pur­ple in colour. ‘There’s a pic­ture,’ she gri­maces. ‘But I’ll spare you that.’

Big sisters Han­nah and Rachel were both head girl at May­field High School in Red­bridge, in the north­east of Lon­don, but their younger sib­ling was ‘bright but not that aca­demic’. Jes­sica was fas­ci­nated with writ­ing po­etry, Rhino from Glad­i­a­tors (‘he was so hot with his green eyes’) and the Spice Girls. She wanted to be Posh but was more like Sporty. ‘Me in a nut­shell, isn’t it?’ she tuts. ‘I wanted to be all el­e­gant but I wasn’t ever that girly.’

She en­rolled at the Brit School (for per­form­ing arts) in 2004 (Adele and Leona Lewis also at­tended) but suf­fered a mi­nor stroke shortly be­fore grad­u­at­ing and was forced to drop out. Nev­er­the­less, she had faith in her voice and felt con­fi­dent she could write hits. Af­ter a fruit­less stint with girl band Soul Deep, she quit and went to Los An­ge­les, having won a con­tract with Sony as a pro­fes­sional song­writer.

‘I was so naïve,’ she shud­ders. ‘Eigh­teen years old, no car, no man­ager, meet­ing all the wrong peo­ple, liv­ing off na­chos. It got to the point where I had to speak with an Amer­i­can ac­cent just to get un­der­stood.’

But youth­ful self-be­lief won out. In 2009 the young Bri­tish woman co-wrote mega-smash Party In The USA for Mi­ley Cyrus. Jessie J’s sta­tus as a song­writer, and her bank bal­ance, would never be the same. There are few parts of Jessie’s life she won’t dis­cuss. ‘Noth­ing’s se­cret,’ she shrugs, ‘it’s all there in my songs any­way.’

‘I’m a bit weird talk­ing about money. But I’m gen­er­ous and smart with it. My mum and dad have been able to re­tire, mort­gage paid off. My sis­ter’s moved into her new house with her lit­tle one and I have loved be­ing able to give back. I’ve got a Porsche Cayenne, which is big and safe and I’m a good driver, but that’s all I’ve re­ally bought for me.

‘I work bloody hard and give loads to char­ity but I’m go­ing to be a bit more self­ish this year. I bought a glass Huf Haus house in a mad mo­ment but I sold it. I thought, “Why the hell did I buy a see-through house?” ’

Nor is she ea­ger to an­a­lyse her looks. ‘No boobs, no bum, long legs,’ she says briskly. ‘What can you do? Tooth­pick, aren’t I? But I’m fine with what I’ve got, though I don’t like my ear­lobes, they’re too big. I could prob­a­bly fit a Coke can through them if I re­ally tried.’

Back in the chic Café Royal, Jessie has just dipped her stylish white sleeve into the tea. ‘I’m such a rub­bish date,’ she hisses, jok­ily. ‘So messy. I’m the sort of per­son who will or­der ribs on a date, or the spaghetti bolog­nese and get it

all down my front. And I’m too full-on as a date, too in­tense. It’s like, if I’m go­ing to be some­one’s girl­friend I have to be a re­ally good girl­friend, which can be a bit much for some peo­ple. Maybe I should re­lax more.’

‘ Peo­ple ex­pect me to be re­ally ag­gres­sive,’ she ac­knowl­edges. ‘And they’re sur­prised that I can be vul­ner­a­ble or feel frag­ile. I’m prob­a­bly the least ag­gres­sive per­son you could meet. I’m di­rect yes, hon­est yes, but I’m not go­ing to punch you. I am ac­tu­ally… a re­ally sweet girl.’

She says her diary has re­cently ‘gone prop­erly nuts’, a di­rect re­sult of having a huge hit in the US. Bang Bang, her lusty soul romp with Ariana Grande and Nicki Mi­naj, cur­rently sits at num­ber six on the Bill­board chart.

She is plan­ning a move to LA, having sold her house in Lon­don and bought one in Hol­ly­wood. ‘Home is where the heart is and my heart is with my fam­ily so I’ll always be com­ing back here,’ she says. ‘ But Amer­ica, at present, is where the work is. I’ll just pack a big bag and fly a lot.

‘In Amer­ica they see me as a singer whereas here I feel that peo­ple don’t ap­pre­ci­ate my voice. I’ve ded­i­cated my life to singing and I want it to be taken se­ri­ously. Here [in Bri­tain] it seems that all peo­ple want to know is what I’ve had for break­fast and who I’m sleep­ing with.’ She fid­dles with her big bracelet.

‘The sex­u­al­ity thing…’ she be­gins, cau­tiously ad­dress­ing a sen­si­tive sub­ject. ‘I’ve never de­nied any­thing. I’ve never lied. I know what I want from my life… and I know what turns me on.’

Dur­ing the year TV Week spends dip­ping in and out of Jessie’s life, her sex­ual pref­er­ence is fever­ishly dis­cussed in the me­dia. Does she like boys or girls or both? Is she straight, gay or just bi-fornow? Jessie should have had the last word on the is­sue when she said ‘I think it’s about the per­son not the gen­i­tals’, but, nev­er­the­less, the spec­u­la­tion con­tin­ued.

One af­ter­noon be­fore Christ­mas, I ask if she is merely an equal op­por­tu­ni­ties letch. ‘An equal what?’ she splut­ters. ‘Did I say that?’ Well no Jessie, you didn’t. The phrase was coined by REM’s Michael Stipe to de­fine his own sex­u­al­ity. But it seemed a pretty neat sum­ming- up of what Jessie was try­ing to ar­tic­u­late. The fol­low­ing spring, per­haps un­wisely, she posted a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of her sex­u­al­ity on Twit­ter (‘Please tell me what I have done wrong here,’ she tweeted. ‘I haven’t spo­ken of be­ing bi for years.’)

‘Some­times I’m an idiot,’ she says to­day, dra­mat­i­cally clat­ter­ing the Café Royal china. ‘Some­times I don’t know when to stop. Some­times I should just say noth­ing, but I can’t help my­self and make some big state­ment when say­ing noth­ing would be much more ap­pro­pri­ate. So, no, it wasn’t a wise move. I make mis­takes but I’m learn­ing.’

In the next breath, she’s swoon­ing over ‘best mate’ Tinie Tem­pah (‘so im­mac­u­late and beau­ti­ful’), and can’t help pass­ing com­ment on our wait­ress. ‘She is stun­ning,’ Jessie croons. ‘Like Kate Moss but even bet­ter look­ing.’

Be­fore she leaves, I sense that there is some­thing Jessie J would like to say.

‘Last year I was in a re­la­tion­ship for quite a long time,’ she con­fesses. ‘Not in se­cret, but I chose for it not to be in public. And I had to leave the re­la­tion­ship be­cause I was do­ing my best but I wasn’t be­ing let in. I’ve writ­ten a song about it called You’re Lost, I’m Found. It says, “I know I’m good enough for you but you won’t let me be and one day you’ll dis­cover that.” I wrote all that stuff on my own, very quickly. I re­ally needed to get it all out. It felt amaz­ing.

‘My mu­sic feels like it’s on the right path now,’ she smiles, stand­ing tall in her Stella McCart­ney stack-heels and lean­ing in for one last man-height hug. ‘Love is the hard­est thing for me to get my head around,’ she says, ex­hal­ing hard. ‘Oh my God, it’s deep.’

Jessie J’s new sin­gle, Bang Bang, fea­tur­ing Ariana Grande and Nicki Mi­naj, is avail­able to pre-or­der now and to buy from Sept 29. Her new al­bum, Sweet Talker, is re­leased on Oct 13

From top: with her fel­low judges on The Voice, Danny O’Donoghue, and Tom Jones

From top: with Gary Bar­low; 15-yearold Jes­sica Cor­nish with her par­ents af­ter win­ning Bri­tain’s Bril­liant Prodi­gies in 2003; on stage ear­lier this year; and with Rita Ora

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