Wednesday 20 February 2019

A lass with a Northern Soul

She is one of the world's most successful soul singers. Rochdale's finest, Lisa Stansfield, talks candidly to Barry Egan about life in Dalkey ("and still considered a blow-in"), the death of her mother, her first marriage, and how she is glad that she couldn't get pregnant because she doesn't think she was "cut out to be a mother."

Lisa Stansfield lived in Dalkey for several years
Lisa Stansfield lived in Dalkey for several years
Lisa Stansfield with her husband Ian
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Here she comes - all of 5ft 3 inches of her - walking along High Holborn in the middle of the afternoon. London seems to be slightly down on a wet and dreary winter's day but the beautiful High Priestess of British Soul's exudes vivacity as she bounds up the street in the rain, with a permanent, and slightly naughty, smile on her famous face.

Passers-by recognise her. People on red double-decker buses do double-takes. We dip into the Princess Louise, which her PR Sue Harris, who is with us, rightfully recommends as "an amazing Victorian pub." Lisa orders a pint of cider and sits down to tell her story for the next two and a half hours in this boozer built in 1872.

In fairness, it would be difficult to get a dull sentence out of this loud if lovely Lancashire lass. She who has sold 20 million records and has won more awards internationally than she could possibly have room for on the mantelpiece of her Hampstead mansion she shares with her husband cum musical other-half, Ian Devaney.

Even her journey to meet me in central London is an adventure in itself. She says the random taxi driver who took her from her home in Hampstead to here was a bit of "a nutter."

Recognising her when she got in, he proceeded to sing one of her songs back to her, whether she wanted this impromptu rendition or not. The cabbie-friendly song in question, All Around The World, became a smash-hit all over the world in 1989 and (along with her albums) made Lisa rich beyond her wildest dreams. It was a quick ascent to super-stardom. Backed by Queen, she sang that duet of These Are The Days Of Our Lives with George Michael at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in 1991.

Suddenly, Rochdale's most celebrated singer since Gracie Fields was everywhere - on every front cover, on every chat show sofa . . .

She ended up moving to Dalkey for over a decade and befriending her neighbours, like Bono and Jim Sheridan. Living in a six-bedroom Victorian house, 'Mount Henry', on Torca Road, Lisa enjoyed her exile of sorts in Ireland. "We were in Ireland for 14 years. And they still call you a blow-in!" she laughs, "Dalkey is a great place. I met some great people in Dalkey." In fact, the last thing Lisa Stansfield said to me as she left the Princess Louise in High Holborn is to give all her love to Finnegan's pub.

Refreshingly, she still speaks with a Northern brogue that wouldn't be particularly out of place on that famous Boddingtons beer ad where the sophisticated young woman by the pool addresses her buff, Speedo-clad Adonis by the pool thus: "Oy! Tarquin! Are yer trolleys on t'right way round?"

More refreshingly, her Northern roots are still evident in her liking for blunt talk. Every sentence is brassy and prone to wicked pomposity-pricking. There is no navel-gazing. There is no search for her true self. This isn't Madonna. This is Lisa Stansfield, sipping her cider in the middle of the afternoon in London and cackling with laughter about the night in Lillie's Bordello in 1994 she accidentally caused Shane MacGowan's nose to bleed when she light-heartedly slapped him as a joke. The reason she is cackling is because I was sitting with Shane when it happened.

Lisa is jetting to Los Angeles tomorrow with her hubby to promote her new album. Her first album in a decade, Seven, gushed the FT in its review, showed that Lisa was "in fine voice as she negotiates old-fashioned soul and orchestral pop."

The middle of three sisters, Karen and Suzanne, Lisa was born in Heywood, Lancashire, on April 11, 1966, to Marion and Keith Stansfield, a housewife and an electrical engineer.

They moved to Rochdale in 1977. Legend has it that young Lisa was singing from a very early age. "I was about four or five but I probably sounded terrible," she laughs. "But I was about 14 when I first went on TV," she says, referring to her stint presenting on Razzmatazz, ITV's children's television programme.

"I started to sing professionally when I was about 13 or 14." It verges on folklore. She won Manchester Evening News' Search For a Star contest in 1980. A year later her first single Your Alibis was released.

Is it true that people used to say to your mother - 'How can Lisa sing about all those things so emotionally, when she can't know about them yet?' "Yeah, a lot of people used to say that. Maybe I'm just an old soul!"

Old soul or not, Lisa lights up the whole pub this afternoon with her tales from the past. I don't think I've laughed so much in my life. She recalls going to the World Music Awards in Monaco back in the day. Upon arrival, the Lancashire lass with the pronounced Northern accent was seated between Prince Albert of Monaco and Kylie Minogue. All was well with the world in the Côte d'Azur that night. Lisa's husband Ian, however, was not so full of the joys.

His poor heart practically stopped beating when he looked at the place settings at the table. He was sitting between Nana Mouskouri on one side and Cliff Richard on the other. Roaring with laughter at the memory, Lisa relates that Ian had given up smoking and drinking prior to that night. "He was trying really hard [not to drink or smoke]!" she hoots. "But as soon as he saw who he was sitting next to at this dinner, he called the waiter over and said - 'Excuse me but could I have a bottle of red wine and a packet of French cigarettes please!' I suppose the prospect of sitting between those two must have been quite daunting."

"We all had a good time, actually," she adds. "Later that night, Ian ended up dancing and teaching the Status Quo 'shoulder dance' to Grace Jones. It was fucking brilliant to watch!" Lisa roars once more with laughter at the memory of it all.

On something of a roll now, Lisa then tells the story of the night she thought her hero Diana Ross "dissed her" at the Grammy Awards a few years ago. "I was walking on to the stage. I was about to present an award. And she just gave me what I thought was quite a dirty look. I don't know whether she meant to or not but it wasn't very nice. I was reading an interview with her about a week ago and she said 'People assume that I'm kind if this ice-maiden bitch but I'm actually quite nice.'"

What perhaps made Ross's apparent dismissal of her all the more upsetting was that Diana was, says Lisa, "the first singer that I was ever really, really into growing up." Diana Ross was basically my singing teacher, she says.

Marion Stansfield introduced her daughter to the music of divas like Ross, the music she grew up on in Northern England, and in many ways the music that was the bedrock of her singing style. "I grew up listening to my mother's record collection," Lisa remembers. "When I was at home, she would be cleaning up and doing the house work and cooking and stuff, and she would be constantly listening to Motown and Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, that sort of music.

" So I just learned that from a really, really early age. I just got to know the songs off by heart because she played the same stuff all the time."

Was that where the desire to sing came from? "Oh yeah!" she smiles. "Because I supposed when you start singing along with something and it feels special and it has a sensation, an actual physical sensation - it just felt incredible. And that sensation has just carried on and on. I think my mum and dad thought it was going to end at some point. They sort of humoured me for a while.

"But, no, I couldn't live without singing and stuff, really," she says with a sincerity that is unshakable. "Singing is a massive part of me."

A massive part of Lisa's life too was her mother. When she died in 2006, Lisa not unnaturally fell into an emotional low. "Well, I think anyone does. It's your mother, isn't it? You grew inside her. It's a weird sensation, isn't it?"

Lisa says with no little honesty that after her mother passed she suddenly "desperately wanted a baby."

She said that her mum dying "made the 'evil' biological clock start ticking."

"Yeah," she adds. "I think it was because of the death thing. With death you sort of want to create life, don't you? It's quite strange, really. But I'm so glad now that I couldn't get pregnant. Because I don't think I'm cut out to be a mum. I'm a singer. I'm a musician. I'm a writer. Maybe - I don't know - I couldn't give a child what it needed. Because I think there's always sort of a reason, isn't there?"

I ask her about a quote attributed to her about her time in Ireland. "I gave up everything and nearly became a fucking farmer, walking around in headscarf and wellies for 10 years to find my confidence again."

Had she lost her confidence? "No! " Lisa says now. "I didn't lose any confidence at all. I just needed a bloody rest. And it ended up being a very long rest!"

That long rest became quite a bit of fun with Bono, Guggi and all the gang in Dalkey. "It was great. I absolutely loved it in Ireland. The reason we decided to come back was that Ian's mum was poorly. We also went to see my mum and dad every weekend as well. I wouldn't have seen her as much before she died if Ian's mum hadn't been a bit frail."

After Marion Stansfield died in 2006, Lisa and Ian sold their rock-star pad in Dalkey for €6m and moved to New York, partly, she says, for in vitro fertilisation treatments to try to have a baby.

"We did about three rounds of IVF," she reveals. "I mean, some women, they'll do, like, 20 rounds of IVF. That would kill me. I just thought after the third one, 'I can't do this any more.' It is the weirdest thing. You know like - having to inject yourself in the stomach, you know, six times a day? Something keeps telling your hands that you have drugs in your hands in your syringe and you have to shove it in your belly!" she laughs.

"And it always takes you about ten attempts because you know you are sticking it in your stomach. But, no. I am glad that I didn't have a baby."

I say to her, "Pardon my ignorance, but how long is a round of IVF?"

"I have wiped it out of my head. But it is literally . . . we were living in Chelsea [New York] at the time, so we were like in the middle of Manhattan . So I had to go right uptown to the clinic . So it is the whole month, because it is the whole cycle."

I say to her that I can't believe I am talking to Lisa Stansfield about IVF. She explodes with laughter: "Dr Stansfield!"

Does Dr Stansfield think singers like Adele look up to her as an idol and an inspiration?

"Well," she exhales with bona fide excitement, "it is a massive compliment. I mean, I suppose it is like me with someone like Barry White and people that I listened to when I was younger. So I suppose a lot of those singers have heard my records and stuff. It's a huge compliment."

She talks about meeting one of her heroes in Rio back in the day. "He is quite strange but he is just Prince. I've meet him a few times. I met him in Manchester airport too. I think the more you meet someone the more normal they become. He is so lovely, though. So lovely."

I segue nicely from Prince to her Prince Charming, Ian Devaney. They married on July 25th 1998 with a small ceremony in New York. Lisa first saw Ian at a school play in Rochdale when she was 14. He was strumming a guitar. It was eight years later that she started a relationship with the boy with the guitar who would be become her spiritual and musical soul-mate. "He is my Prince Charming!" she swoons.

What is the secret of their relationship? "We're just best friends. We respect each other. We work together. We do laugh a lot together. We really do laugh a lot. We're really good mates. When we've got time off, we just love dossing around and going to the cinema," she laughs.

"On days off, when we've got nothing in particular to do, we'll go and watch like a Pixar movie or something. Because it is always great if you have got time off during the week if you can go in the afternoon and watch a really amazing kids movie. But there's no kids there. So you can just have nearly the whole cinema to yourself, which is fantastic."

I ask her to take her mind back to when she was 14 and she laid eyes on Ian for the first time. She smiles at the question. "He was sitting in the theatre. We had a theatre in the school. It sounds really posh but it is just a community school. He was sitting on one of those grey plastic school chairs. . . playing his guitar. He just looked really cool to me. I immediately thought; 'OhMyGod! He's really lovely.'"

I ask her did Ian really wait eight years to jump her bones."Yeah!" she says almost demurely. "I was 22!"

Did she make a mental note: 'I'll come back to Prince Charming in eight years'?

"No!" Lisa laughs. "Of course I didn't."

"No, because what happened was," she explains," we got to know each other at school and we were friends at school. I just never thought that we'd end up together. I never thought that we'd go head over heels. Then we started working together," she says, referring to her very early band in 1984, called Bluezone,

"We became better friends and then we were both partners. We were always aware that we fancied each other, but there was part of us that was scared because we didn't want to fuck the whole music thing up."

They were concerned that it would be the end of the group if they got together and it didn't work out romantically. In hindsight, there were far more important issues than the music.

"When I got married" - Lisa was briefly married when she was 21 to Italian costume designer Augustus Grassi whom she met on holidays in Tunisia - "and Ian started living with his then girlfriend Louise, we just let our guard down, and we confided in each other about our own relationships. And we ended up really falling in love with each other. It is 27 years next month."

"So it wasn't a mistake, was it?" she smiles.

The Deluxe edition of Lisa Stansfield's new album 'Seven' and 'The boxset: Lisa Stansfield - The Collection 1989 - 2003' are both out now.

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