Failure did me a world of good
Pixie Lott’s been a pop star for almost a decade now – but it took her years to get there. As she returns as a mentor on The Voice Kids, she tells Kathryn Knight why all the knockbacks made her stronger
Pixie Lott is a bouncy ball of energy. Which is a good job, since her diary would make even the busiest of bees want to retreat to the hive for a lie-down. There’s the to- ing and fro- ing from Los Angeles, where she’s recording some new music, and a series of festivals – nine in all – which will see her boomeranging around the UK to perform throughout the summer.
Then there’s her role as a judge on The Voice Kids, the younger sibling of The Voice UK, which returns for its second series tonight and takes Pixie back to the studio alongside fellow judges Will.I.Am and McFly singer Danny Jones.
Oh, and there’s a wedding to plan, as the glinting whopper of a diamond on the fourth finger of her left hand makes plain. Pixie has been engaged to her model fiancé Oliver Cheshire for a year and a half now, although – unsurprisingly – t hey’ve been struggling to pin down a date to say the ‘I dos’.
‘ We’re now looking at May next year,’ she confides. ‘It’s all been a bit mad because we’ve had so much on. We had hoped for this year but it’s a bit late for that now. We want it to be a sunny day and it’s going to be in the UK so May is looking good. My mum and my sister are already planning hen dos, which is exciting. I love surprises so I’m quite happy I don’t have to do anything apart from turn up.’
Right now though, Pixie’s focus is her ‘gang’ – the gaggle of Voice Kids who have made it through the audition stages, which were filmed back in April, and over whom she is presiding as a mentor.
The show, which airs over eight consecutive nights, with a live final on the last night, sees children aged between seven and 14 showcasing their talents, and last series Pixie was delighted when the contest was won by then-13-year- old Essex powerhouse Jess Folley, who was one of her team, beating rivals including Riccardo Atherton, then also 13.
‘Wasn’t she amazing?’ she says. ‘She now just needs to get in the studio and start making her own songs, so I’m going to help her do that.’
Given the high standard set by last year’s competitors, she confides she was wor r ied that the series’ return would not be able to match its debut season.
‘I’ll be honest, I didn’t think the kids were going to be that good again, but I’ve been massively blown away by the range of talent,’ she says. ‘ There are some real superstars of the future.’
Among them are a fair proportion of children at the younger end of the range, who have to hold their own against teenagers twice their age, which hardly seems fair.
‘When you’re young, a year makes such a massive difference and I did worry about that,’ she agrees. ‘But actually all the kids are really different characters, so they’re all great in different ways. And what I love is they all have a sheer love of performing – you can see it as soon as they step out onto the stage, and it reminds me of when I was that age doing the same thing.’
In fact, Pixie seems to have emerged almost fully formed as a singer from the moment she bounced into the world 27 years ago.
The youngest of three, Pixie – her nickname, which came courtesy of her mum Beverley when she arrived several weeks premature – was born Victor ia Louise and raised in south London and then Essex by Beverl ey a n d h e r stockbroker husband Stephen.
No- one in the family had any experience of showbusiness, but from a young age Pixie knew she wanted to be a pop star.
‘My parents were pretty thrown – it wasn’t in the family at all – but they supported me 100 per cent even though they didn’t really know how it worked. I used to go out and find my own auditions and stuff,’ she recalls. ‘I was at drama classes from five so I was pretty determined from the start.’
At 11, Pixie was awarded a scholarship to the leading performing arts school Italia Conti, at 13 she was writing her own music, and at 15 she had a record deal, although it took another frustrating three years before she gained her place in the spotlight.
All effortless vocals and cuteblonde- popstrel style, she was 18 when her debut single Mama Do went straight to number one – although, as she points out, as well as spending a long time in the studio honing her craft, she had been at the coal face of auditions too for years before she hit the big time.
‘I guess the general public thought I’d just c om e o ut f r om nowhere but I was a very long overnight Pixie with winner Jess and Riccardo in the final of
The Voice Kids last year success,’ she smiles. ‘There were a lot of failed auditions – but as I tell the kids on The Voice, sometimes not getting through is as valuable a lesson as succeeding, because if you want to be in this profession for the rest of your life, you have to get used to rejection early.
‘I certainly did and I think it really helped me because now when it happens, I just think, “OK, move on to the next thing”. I still go for auditions now and you never know if it’s going to be a yes or a no – but it’s water off a duck’s back to me, genuinely it is, because I’ve grown up with it.
‘The important thing is learning as much as you can from the experi- ence and giving the best performance. And when it doesn’t work you don’t sit moping, you think, “OK what can I do next? How can I be pro-active with this?”’
She recalls a time when, as a young teen, she extensively auditioned for a new high- school drama. ‘ They fol lowed us around and filmed the audition process, there were loads of rounds of auditions and I made it to the last round so I was pretty invested. But then I didn’t make the final cut. And at the time, I really wanted it, of course I did, but I had to just get over it. And I did learn a lot from that experience and I made a lot of friends who I am still friends with now. It was learning how to turn a negative into a positive.’
Although most people would consider 18 a pretty tender age to hit the charts in any case, Pixie, at the grand old age of 27, is just grateful that success didn’t come sooner. ‘Obviously, there’s people like Justin Bieber who did it at 16 and he did pretty well. But in hindsight any younger for me wouldn’t have been a good decision,’ she says.
These days, of course, it is hard to talk to any young female star without referencing the #MeToo movement, against sexual harrassment.
Did she have any difficult experiences of her own? ‘ Obviously I started out very young, but I was lucky that my family were always there, so there was never really
‘I started drama classes at five – I was determined’
going to be an opportunity for it to happen,’ she says.
‘So that’s something I advise young artists – to always have someone who has your best interests at heart there with you. But whatever my own personal experience I think it’s incredible that everyone is standing together, and that’s the important message, isn’t it, just to get everyone talking about it?’
The near decade that has passed since she shot to fame has, she concedes, brought greater wisdom. ‘Of course I’m savvier now – I’ve travelled everywhere and met so many different people. I don’t think I’m as naive as I was before and I stick by what I want to do more.’
It helps that alongside her close-knit family Pixie has been with Oliver since she was 19. The pair met at a Select Models event and now share a flat in east London.
‘We’ve grown up together really, we’ve had loads of experiences and memories together and I wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else,’ she says. ‘And he knew what he was letting himself in for from the beginning, the crazy schedules. We’re just completely used to how it works with our jobs.’
Oliver, 30, proposed over breakfast in November 2016 shortly after a jetlagged and overtired Pixie had returned from a trip to America. ‘He just sort of did it out of nowhere,’ she says now. ‘I remember I was really tired and I didn’t see it coming at all and I was so shocked, I just cried my eyes out. I didn’t think I would do that, but I absolutely did.’
She is determined not to become a bridezilla. ‘It is meant to be the happiest day of your life, isn’t it? So I don’t want the build-up to be stressed, and over- complicate things. And I’m pretty laid-back really.’
Whatever the date, the wedding will definitely be a British affair. ‘It won’t be abroad,’ she says. ‘I’ve got loads of family and I want my grandfather to be there. He turned 90 earlier this year and he’s lovely.’
Pixie’s closeness to her family shines through – during our chat she excitedly confides that she is phoning her older sister Charlie-Ann to tell her she’s booked a surprise family ski trip to Verbier to celebrate her 30th birthday. ‘It’s her favourite place so she’s going to be over the moon.’
She’s also exceptionally close to her brother Stephen, who is just a year older and as a teenager was diagnosed with Perthes’ Disease, a crumbling of bone in the hip that meant he could be confined to a wheelchair for life.
‘He’s my inspiration,’ she says. ‘I watched him overcome something that could have changed his life for ever and it makes you realise nothing is impossible.’
The family bonds cross generations: Pixie was devastated when, between 2012 and 2014, she lost both grandmothers to Alzheimer’s disease.
Her paternal grandmother, Peggy, had particularly encouraged her granddaughter’s singing ambitions and Pixie sang to her i n her nur si ng home, although towards the end Peggy didn’t know who she was. ‘She had her eyes closed and my dad was saying to her, “Just blink if you know I’m here,” and she didn’t,’ she has said. ‘ That broke my heart. We both sat there with tears rolling down our faces.’
It’s no surprise then that Pixie wants to start a family of her own. ‘ With chickens and growing your own vegetables and stuff, all that,’ she laughs. ‘Absolutely. But I don’t know when. I guess we need to get the wedding sorted first.’
I imagine that children are some way down the line, what with her schedule stretching well into 2019 and beyond already. The Voice Kids has already been earmarked for a third series next year and as Pixie clearly has a hoot recording it, I think she will be back. ‘We have a lot of fun on set,’ she says. ‘I love Will and Daniel; we genuinely get on so well. We’re all so different but that’s why it works. Danny’s like the rock star one, I guess. Will’s a genius, and he’s really good with the kids.’
Pixie, who was a hit on Strictly Come Dancing in 2014, lasting until the quarter-finals, also has more stage ambitions after playing Holly Golightly in a 2016 stage adaptation of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Her well-received performance confounded the naysayers who thought this pop chart Pollyanna might be more style than substance.
It was the first time in a long time, she confides, that she had experienced nerves, partly as a result of the fact that she had to play the guitar, which she had learned especially to get the part.
‘A good few months before I started performing the play I had to record it for a show at the Palladium,’ she recalls. ‘And I got on the stage, sat down, and these nerves just came out of nowhere and I thought, “What the hell is this?” But then I just had to get on with it.’
It’s Pixie down to a tee of course, and a message she’s passing on to her young charges on The Voice Kids. ‘It’s all about the challenge, isn’t it?’ she says. ‘That’s what makes life interesting.’ The Voice Kids returns tonight at 8pm on ITV.
‘I’m savvier now, less naive than I was before’
Pixie and with fellow judges on The Voice Kids, Will.I.Am and Danny Jones