‘Oh my God, am I go­ing to re­gret this?’

Two years af­ter a very pub­lic break­down, Sheri­dan Smith is bar­ing her soul – and fac­ing her crit­ics – in song

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - COVER STORY - NEIL MCCORMICK

but the wheels were coming off, and when I crashed it was a big bang,” she says. In March 2016, af­ter miss­ing per­for­mances of the West End mu­si­cal Funny Girl in which she was play­ing the lead, and con­duct­ing foul-mouthed spats with trolls on Twit­ter, Smith quit the stage for two months.

The cri­sis was pre­cip­i­tated by her fa­ther’s di­ag­no­sis with ter­mi­nal can­cer. “That was the cat­a­lyst, and sud­denly I was hav­ing a proper melt­down. I’m up­set that my dad had to see that. But at least I got my­self bet­ter to be with him for his last days.” Her fa­ther, Colin, died aged 80 in Novem­ber 2016.

She ad­mits to “self-med­i­cat­ing” and says “I was in a re­ally bad way”. Grief sent her over the edge, but there were deep in­se­cu­ri­ties at work, too. “That wild girl stuff is drink-fu­elled bravado and ac­tu­ally, when I’m on my own, I’m like a lit­tle bro­ken spar­row want­ing to be put back to­gether.” Now, Smith has used her per­sonal tou­bles as grist for a first ven­ture into song­writ­ing: a bravura, no-holds-barred al­bum called A North­ern Soul. “It’s pretty re­veal­ing, isn’t it?” she says, look­ing a bit wor­ried. “Oh my God, am I go­ing to re­gret this?”

To a swag­ger­ing retro-soul mu­si­cal set­ting, burst­ing with punchy horns, lush strings and a clutch of big, weepy bal­lads,

Smith lays her life on the line. Are You Just Sleep­ing is a tremu­lous num­ber ad­dress­ing her fa­ther’s death (“I had 18 takes be­fore I could get to the end with­out cry­ing,” she ad­mits). Han­dle With Care lays bare her vul­ner­a­bil­ity; Ain’t That Funny fo­cuses on the pri­vate sad­ness of a come­di­enne; Why Can’t I Fall in Love and The One ex­pose in­se­cu­ri­ties about a dis­as­trous love life, while Rock Bot­tom turns her melt­down into a bruis­ing an­them: “I’m go­ing to come down like I’ve for­got­ten,” she sings, “I’m work­ing my way to rock bot­tom.”

Smith knows how to de­liver a lyric, as she demon­strated on her self-ti­tled debut al­bum of show tunes last year. The fol­low up, though, is more con­tem­po­rary – with shades of Amy Wine­house and Adele – and more per­sonal. “It has been re­ally cathar­tic get­ting all this stuff out,” she says.

She de­scribes the al­bum as a team ef­fort, with col­lab­o­ra­tors in­clud­ing Jimmy Hog­a­rth – the Grammy-win­ning pro­ducer of

Amy Wine­house and James Bay – and in-de­mand song­writ­ers Amy Wadge (who has writ­ten hits for Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue) and Eg White (who has worked with Adele). “They did all the hard work re­ally,” she says. “It was so nice to go into the stu­dio, rather than back on stage. You can look like s---, you don’t have to learn lines, you just hang out with lovely peo­ple, talk about stuff and try and make it into a song. It’s kind of like ther­apy.”

Smith grew up among a mu­si­cal fam­ily in a small town near Don­caster. Her par­ents played the North­ern club cir­cuit as coun­try mu­sic duo The Dal­tons. Her younger brother, Damian, leads the indie-rock band The

Torn. Smith joined the Na­tional Youth Mu­sic The­atre, where she was spot­ted by an agent in a pro­duc­tion of Bugsy Mal­one and turned pro­fes­sional at the age of

16. She never went to drama school – “we couldn’t have af­forded it!” – be­fore achiev­ing na­tional fame in well loved sit­coms The Royle Fam­ily and Gavin & Stacey. She went on to star in such ac­claimed tele­vi­sion dra­mas as Mrs Biggs and Cilla, and on stage switched ef­fort­lessly be­tween the se­ri­ous dra­mas of Ib­sen and Rat­ti­gan and big pro­duc­tion mu­si­cals such as Legally Blonde and Funny Girl.

Twenty-four years on from what she still thinks of as her “lucky break”, Smith has two Olivier awards, a Bafta and an OBE. “It sounds ridicu­lous but the more suc­cess­ful I got, the more I felt like I had im­pos­tor syn­drome,” she says. “Like I’m not as good as they think and I’m go­ing to get found out. Then the panic at­tacks kicked in and I would party more just to try and drown out the noise and self-doubt.”

Smith won’t duck re­spon­si­bil­ity for her very pub­lic cri­sis. “I am the one who went mad and was drunk fall­ing out of clubs with dif­fer­ent peo­ple and on Twit­ter be­ing an id­iot. I’ve done a lot of stupid things.” Yet her treat­ment in some quar­ters of the Bri­tish

‘When a man par­ties, it’s rock ’n’ roll. When a woman does, it’s “Look at the state of her!”’

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