Interview by Barry Egan
Singer Kirsty Bertarelli’s bodyguard is armed to the teeth. His client has just flown in on her own private jet from her residence in Switzerland. The spitting image of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen in a certain light, Kirsty, who was born in Staffordshire, is wearing jeans that are strategically, even fashionably, ripped above her far-from-knobbly knees.
“I don’t look very wealthy, do I?” laughs the woman who (deep breath) The Telegraph recently described as Britain’s richest woman — “with her £7bn fortune, former Miss UK Kirsty Bertarelli is worth more than JK Rowling and the Queen combined.”
I know how people would like me to be
She lives with her husband, Italian pharmaceuticals heir Ernesto Bertarelli. They alternate between an £8m fairytale estate in Gstaad, a £10m pad in Geneva, and, when the mood — or more appropriately, their private jet — takes them, a mansion in London’s Belgravia.
For her 40th birthday four years ago, she got a £100m present in the shape of Vava II, the largest private yacht ever built in Britain.
I ask what’s in her £15,000 handbag. I’m expecting her to say the keys to her brand new Rolls-Royce or state-of-the-art helicopter. “Gaviscon for my sore throat. Mints.”
I was also expecting her to be an total pain in arse; she was actually good crack and not remotely up herself. Asked about how she thinks people perceive her, she says, almost Sphinx-like, that: “I know how they would like me to be.” She means a rich bitch, high on a designer pedestal, waiting to topple off and shatter in tiny pieces.
Does it bother her that some people might see her as a billionaire ex-beauty queen, a diva dilettante? She doesn’t blink. “You only have one life and you have to make the most of it. Before I met Ernesto, I was singing and that was the reason he fell in love with me. With my music, I just love being able to express my feelings and for people to relate to it.”
Promoting her rather compelling debut album Indigo Shores, Madame Bertarelli has flown into sexy Ringsend at my request (if not my expense) to record Drive by The Cars (and one of her own songs, Baby Where Do You Run To?) for the Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie. I was hoping she’d do Guns Of Brixton by The Clash, but I digress.
In 2000, she wrote the lyrics to Black Coffee (‘Night Swimming/Beach walking/Always silent/Never talking’), for girl band All Saints, which became a smash hit internationally. So our Kirsty is no stranger to infectious pop melodies.
Unsurprisingly, she has a powerful voice on her and a forceful personality to match — notwithstanding her armed-to-the-teeth bodyguard. Kirsty says that at heart, she is “a girl from the north of England who has been incredibly lucky in life. My songs tell you a bit about my journey, and also about the emotions that we all share.”
As her own website puts it in terms of her fairytale life, in her teens she was crowned Miss UK; in her 20s she wrote a number-one single; in her 30s she married a billionaire.
Here’s the rub. Once you overcome the instinct to judge her — misogynistically reduce her— you will quickly appreciate that Kirsty Bertarelli is a a chanteuse with unconcealed, unrestrained emotion in her singing voice.
We had music in the house growing up. My mum loved to love
“I love music with raw, emotional depth, lyrics that touch people,” she says. “That’s what makes me tick. I pour my heart out with my music, with my lyrics,” she says over a mug of coffee in the canteen of the Windmill Lane Studios.
“I think I have my own sound. Hopefully it is a good sound. We had music in the house growing up. My mum loved to love. From the age of five, I just knew I wanted to sing. Those feelings have never gone away.”
Long may those feelings continue.
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