Strictly made me feel like a woman agaın
Singer Anastacia’s double mastectomy saved her life, but left her with ‘a road map’ of scars. Here she tells how she came to terms with it. By Kathryn Knight
The American singersongwriter Anastacia has never been a shy and retiring type, so it’s little wonder that when it comes to summing herself up she goes for a colourful label. ‘I consider myself the Liz Taylor of music,’ she says with a hearty guffaw.
Not, you understand, because like the late movie star she’s amassed a large collection of exhusbands or jaw-dropping jewellery. Instead her affinity derives from something altogether less desirable. As she puts it, ‘She and I have had a lot of diseases between us – but we’ve made them look very glamorous.’
No one could argue much with her on either front: diagnosed as a teenager with Crohn’s disease, a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system and which required part of her intestine to be removed, Anastacia has twice battled breast cancer and three years ago underwent a double mastectomy which has left her, in her own words, with a ‘road map’ of scars.
Then there’s her SVT, or supraventricular tachycardia, a heart condition that causes Anastacia’s heart to beat three times faster than normal and for which, she reveals here for the first time, she underwent surgery last year. ‘I’ll probably go into detail about it at some point but for now I can just say, hey, all that aside, I’m in pretty good nick,’ she laughs.
The irony is that she looks it: tanned, trim and tiny – she stands at just 5ft 2in – Anastacia radiates California girl wellbeing. ‘That can be the frustrating part of being ill sometimes,’ she says. ‘Like with my Crohn’s, when I have a big flare-up I get very slim and then people tell me I look great, but that’s because I’ve not been able to eat properly for weeks. That’s life for you, isn’t it?’
She’s certainly in good spirits today, par tly because she’s revving up for a UK tour this spring. As the title suggests, the Ultimate Collection Tour sees her belting out her greatest hits such as Sick And Tired, Left Outside Alone and I’m Outta Love. To keep things fresh, however, she’s also launched her own Anastacia app, which allows her fans to vote for one of three songs that aren’t on the track list. ‘We know it’ll be one of three each night, but we don’t know until we’re on stage which has won,’ she says. ‘So it’s fun.’ This leg is the second half of a tour the singer started last year before taking a break and throwing herself into the sequined glitterball world of Strictly. Signing up for the show was meant to take Anastacia out of her comfort zone, as well as highlight the work of Cancer Research UK, to whom she donated her fee. In the event it did both extremely effectively, although not for the reasons Anastacia anticipated: at one point she had to withdraw from performing in the dance-off with her partner Brendan Cole after fears she’d torn her mastectomy scars.
She went on to survive a couple more weeks before being voted off at the end of October, but some disgrun- tled viewers said it was unfair that she’d effectively bought herself more time in the contest and forced another contestant out of the show. Today she’s sanguine about it, emphasising she genuinely had no choice. ‘I thought it was a sore muscle and I just waited for it to pass but it got progressively worse. And then I felt a lump which I knew couldn’t be cancer because I didn’t have any breast tissue left,’ she explains.
‘The irony is that Strictly came along at a perfect time and I thought it would be a beautiful way to raise awareness about breast cancer – but I didn’t know I would injure the very part of my body I’d been terrified to lose, and which was the reason why I was doing the show. So I guess I couldn’t have planned it better,’ she smiles.
And working with Brendan was a boon too, she says. ‘We laughed a lot – he has a great sense of humour and I homed in on that because I just love to laugh. It wasn’t easy for him to deal with my health situation, though ironically he went through one himself when he was rushed to hospital with a lung infection. So I said to him, “Stepping into my shoes, are you?”’
Taking part in the show had also been Anastacia’s way of reclaiming her feminine side after her surgeries – a lumpectomy in 2003 followed by a double mastectomy ten years later – as well as pushing her new ‘rebuilt’ body. She had to have muscle taken from other parts of her body to have her breasts reconstructed. ‘It’s not as easy to use my upper body as somebody who’s built normally,’ she says. ‘My back muscles were removed and placed underneath my arms and on top of my implants to rebuild my breasts. So I don’t necessarily move the same way. I knew it would be a test.
‘I also have quite big scars on my back and if I’d stayed on the show I would possibly have revealed them in a way that I was comfortable with. I felt like this show, because it’s about hair, make-up, clothes – all girly things – would help me find a little bit of the female I lost along the way and also help other women to know it’s OK. But I was really out of my comfort zone.’
In the event, she never got to show off her scars on Strictly: she did that shortly after leaving the show though, posing naked for a glossy magazine in a bold photoshoot. By then, at least, she knew the muscle tearing was not as serious as initially thought. ‘At first we genuinely thought it was in a place where I might lose my reconstructed breast. In fact it turned out to be “the best worst-case scenario” – meaning although it was painful it would heal.’
She still has to do certain exercises to help the healing process. ‘I’m still walking my arms up the walls to keep the transplanted muscles supple, and I still feel stress in that area, yet the only way to get past it is to continue. When I first had the operation I had to relearn how to bend down, how to drive a car... it’s all very different when you don’t have muscles where they used to be.’
Not that she’s complaining – that
isn’t Anastacia’s style. Throughout our chat she jokes about her ‘bionic boobies’ and is utterly matter-of-fact about what must have been the harrowing decision to have a double mastectomy. ‘I didn’t see it that way,’ she insists. ‘When I was diagnosed the second time I could have had another lumpectomy, but I would have had to have chemo and radiation and go on medicine for the rest of my life. That choice didn’t sound exciting even to keep my real boobs. Once I’d had the mastectomy they told me, “Everything’s clean, you will never have breast cancer again.”
That was worth everything.’
Anastacia has never let her health issues stand in her way. After growing up with her brother Brian and sister Shawn in Chicago and New York, she began her career dancing in pop videos before finding work as a backing vocalist. She got her first recording deal at the age of 30 after taking part in the now-defunct MTV talent show The Cut and reaching the final.
Her debut album Not That Kind, released in 2000, went platinum four times over and saw her crowned the world’s bestselling new female pop artist at the 2001 World Music Awards. She went on to fill stadiums round the world, yet behind the ballsy songs and her trademark tummy- baring crop tops lay a mound of insecurities. ‘I never thought I was pretty enough. I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t thin, I was very curvy and muscular,’ she says. ‘So everything that I wasn’t, I wanted to be.’
This self-doubt went on well into her thirties, the decade in which she found international success, although the past ten years in particular have proved particularly tumultuous: difficult health issues aside, Anastacia also parted company with her record label, as well as getting divorced in 2010 after a short-lived three-year marriage to her English bodyguard Wayne Newton. ‘The irony is that in 2006 and 2007 my career was at its peak but it was a confusing time. I definitely didn’t have a sense of self. But I’ve started to embrace me and take me as what I am.’
The divorce, in particular, brought with it the recognition that her success came at the expense of her personal life. ‘But I don’t resent it at all, I don’t harbour any what ifs,’ she insists now.
‘This was my choice and I know it
was right.’ What if Mr Amazing
pitched up though? ‘I’d be open to it,
but Mr Amazing has to understand that Mrs Amazing has her life too. Do our lives work with each other’s? If they do, great. If not, it won’t work.’ When it comes to children she’s also drawn a line, despite saying as recently as two years ago that she hadn’t ruled out looking into surrogacy or adoption as a way of having a family of her own. ‘Look, I’m going to be 50 in a couple of years. I’ve got 700 things wrong with me: really I’m not having a child now. So if I met Mr Amazing he needs to have had his kids,’ she says. ‘I have to be mindful about what a child deserves and I can’t guarantee I’ll be the healthiest mum in the world.’ As for the big 5-0, it turns out that doesn’t scare her. ‘Bring it on,’ she insists. ‘I’ve a lot of self-love and selfknowledge these days. And wisdom. I heard that word all the time when I was young – with age comes wisdom – and I thought it was gross. No one wants to think about wisdom when they’re young. But you don’t realise how peaceful it can feel to not be chasing your tail any more. So I’m not out there with a crop-top on any more – not that I look awful in one – but there’s a time and a place.’ Never a hellraiser, she takes even better care of herself these days: when she’s away from her LA home she’s accompanied by her sister Shawn, who cooks for her. She’s also given up booze since having her mastectomy. ‘I think I have to pick and choose the drug that’s going in my body now, and so I decided to just not choose alcohol. It’s very easy to have a glass of wine to relax, but it’s better for me not to.’ Make no mistake though, Anastacia is no killjoy. She loves British pubs and reveals that she’s ‘down the pub’ here quite often. Seriously? ‘Honestly, I don’t drink but I like to go with friends,’ she says. ‘I love British pubs.’ In fact, if it wasn’t for our pesky weather she might even consider basing herself here some of the year. ‘My sister and I got sidetracked by the hot spell that you had for a minute last year. We were like, “This is amazing, we need to buy a flat in England.” But then we thought, “OK, slow down, it’s London. At some point it’s going to turn into rain.” So it didn’t happen.’ Still, never say never. ‘Oh absolutely,’ she winks. ‘You never know.’ Anastacia’s tour begins in May. For tickets visit livenation.co.uk. Her live album, A 4 App, is available at pledgemusic. com/ projects/ anastacia-new- album.
Anastacia revealing her scars
On Strictly with Brendan Cole