LESHA DIXON seems to have sure-footedly made her way to the top. Beautiful, poised and self-assured, she’s become one of Britain’s favourite talent show judges, whether on Strictly Come Dancing or, currently, Britain’s Got Talent. But privately, she’s battled self-doubt and turmoil.
Throughout her teens and 20s – when she was riding high in hugely successful girl group Mis-Teeq before embarking on a solo singing career – her apparent confidence was a front. A lot of the time she was fearful and “scared”, she reveals.
“I’d only ever known bumps in the road and I lacked confidence. Even when I was in Mis-Teeq, I tended to rely on someone else to give me courage,” admits the 38-yearold, who was rocked as a teenager seeing her father leave home and her mother suffer in a relationship with a man who was violent towards her.
“During my GCSEs, I missed an exam because of some things that were going on at home. I remember going to school later and crying my eyes out with my teacher because I felt I’d ruined my life. I put so much expectation on myself to be perfect and the fear of failure almost paralysed me. The fear I had about everything as a youngster took me a long time to get rid of and build myself up.”
Her 20s were “very up and down, with some real lows”, particularly in 2006 when her career and personal life collapsed simultaneously. Her record company dropped her and her marriage to rapper and member of So Solid Crew, MC Harvey, ended after only a year when she discovered he’d cheated on her with Popstars contestant, Javine Hylton.
“It really felt like a desperate situation. I had a lot of dark moments and was totally confused for a while. Although I’m a very determined, driven person, I felt like giving up,” confides the singer, who’s backing a social media campaign #LikeAGirl – launched by Always sanitary wear – to encourage teenage girls to be strong and confident.
“In the end I dusted myself off, pulled myself together and a couple of years later had a platinum-selling album. When I look back, I can see I’ve changed so much since then. I’m so much more secure, grounded and confident in who I am now,” says Alesha, who’s happily settled with her partner of six years, backing dancer Azuka Ononye, and their three-year-old daughter, Azura Sienna.
“I understand I needed to go through those times in order to get to a better place, make better choices and become a stronger person. Now I almost see failure as my friend because things that test you, force you to go in another direction or learn something. These days even if something scares me a bit, I have the attitude to go for it and face down the fear.”
She’s certainly demonstrated her strength over the past six series of Britain’s Got Talent and describes herself as the “most stubborn person” on the panel, which also includes Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and David Walliams.
“Simon and I are born on the same day, are both Libras and are pretty similar characters. I tell him, ‘You’ve met your match in me’. I stick up for myself 100%,” she says, giving her signature foghorn cackle.
“Amanda, David and Simon love those crazy acts, like people dressed as polar bears or someone who eats cockroaches, but I’ll never say yes to letting those through. Simon can always twist Amanda and David around to them, but not me.”
Her close friendship with Amanda, she believes, is one of the reasons for the show’s enduring success. “It could easily have been bitchy and nasty with two girl rivals on the panel competing with each other. Instead, we’re genuine friends who support each other. Also, it means we have a bit of Girl Power and can say, ‘We want this’ to Simon and get our way.”
Alesha’s adamant she doesn’t suffer working-mum guilt, insisting she wants her daughter to grow up seeing “Mummy working to achieve”, and is determined to instill in her down-to-earth values.
“People say to me, ‘You’re successful, have lots of money and are famous’. Well, to me that’s not success. To me success is who you are as a person – your heart, your compassion and how you treat other people. I want her to realise that.”
She’s relaxed about the idea of remarrying. “At the moment we’re renovating our home and really busy so it’s not top of the list. Azuka is really kind – the other night I got in from work and felt poorly and he ran a bath, cooked dinner and gave me a foot massage. I thought, ‘Aaah, you’re a good one’.” she says.
“I’m so happy and feel very blessed. I know I’ll never be perfect, even at 38 I still make mistakes, but I’ll carry on trying to learn from them and be the best version of myself I can be.”
Alesha Dixon leads the Always #LikeAGirl Squad, a team of inspirational role models encouraging girls to embrace failure and keep going #LikeAGirl