STAR: Having a mentor like
Cheryl Cole helped kick off her singing career, but now popstar Alexandra Burke is training to help others achieve their potential, whatever that might be. The former X Factor winner tells Katie Wright about the family tragedy that means she's keen to talk about the many risks of diabetesSMILES: Alexandra Burke and (inset) with her X Factor mentor Cheryl Cole
'OH my God some cookies have just walked in the room!" exclaims Alexandra Burke, shrieking with laughter. Moments earlier, the pop singer had been extolling the virtues of her new gluten-free eating regime, but now the appearance of some decidedly wheat-heavy baked goods may have put her three-month-old abstinence in jeopardy.
"Gluten was making me really sluggish," Burke, (25), explains. "My body doesn't really like it, after you eat it, your energy levels are low."
And the singing star certainly needs to keep her energy levels up. Since beating JLS to win the fifth series of The X Factor in 2008 and releasing the biggest-selling single of the year (her soulful cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah), Burke has been busy. Really busy.
She's recorded two albums (2009's Overcome, and Heartbreak On Hold in 2012), toured with Beyonce, and worked with charities such as Save The Children and Breast Cancer Care.
Splitting her time between New York and the UK, today Burke's in London to talk about her latest project.
She's supporting Bupa's new campaign to raise awareness of Type 2 diabetes, which affects around 2.9m people in the UK. It's estimated that some 850,000 others have the condition, but haven't been diagnosed.
Unless well managed, serious complications can arise, including stroke, nerve damage, kidney disease and more.
Along with Diabetes UK, Bupa's launched a Facebook app, as well as a section of their website where people can assess their risk of developing the condition (genetics, weight and lifestyle are key factors for Type 2).
It's a subject that's close to Burke's heart, as the condition runs in her family. Her mother Melissa, who was lead singer of R&B group Soul II Soul, is now on dialysis because of kidney failure.
"Growing up with my mum struggling with diabetes was difficult," Alexandra recalls, explaining how she'd often witness her mum collapsing, because her diabetes was out of control.
She's keen to help raise awareness of Type 2, "because so many people are so blase about it and think, 'If it doesn't run in the family it won't happen to me"'.
The London-born singer takes the same motivational approach with her siblings, Sheneice, David and Aaron.
"I'm the one that's in everyone's ear. They must be so bored of me, but I have to do it.
"I always encourage them to take care of themselves and I try and lead by example."
Leading by example means four sessions a week with a personal trainer and regular yoga classes.
"I've introduced yoga into my life," Alexandra says. "I do that a lot in New York – that's something that's really helped," she says.
And she doesn't just mean having more flexible limbs: "Mainly, it's mental strength."
Psychological wellbeing is as important as her physical health, which is why Burke took up daily meditation last year.
"I set an alarm on my phone and spend 15 minutes in silence thinking about what I want to create for my day, for my loved ones and those surrounding me. It's made me a lot more spiritual."
This increased focus on spirituality and wellbeing has a lot to do with a new career path she's venturing down.
"I'm training to be a life coach," Burke reveals. "I've been doing it for about five months now."
As she talks animatedly about helping people "reach their highest potential" and "discover dreams", it's easy to see why life-coaching appeals to this former TV talent show contestant.
But it's not just about enabling others. "I've discovered a lot in me that I've always wanted to do through this, so it's been great," she says.
Does that mean Burke is abandoning music in favour of helping others "live their best life", Oprah Winfrey-style?
"No, it's alongside music – my music will always come first," she insists.
In fact, she's currently putting the finishing touches to her third album, which she has been recording over the last two years, having split from her previous record label.
"It can get frustrating at times," she says of the lengthy recording process, "because I just want to be back on stage."
The album doesn't have a release date yet, but with a video shoot scheduled for the coming weeks, Burke anticipates "some fun times ahead".
Burke also wants to follow in the footsteps of Beyonce, with whom she performed an emotional duet on The X Factor final, and has been taking acting classes.
"In school, I loved doing singing, dancing and acting. It came naturally to me at 16. I just need to get back on to it so it can be natural again," she says.
Does she have am ultimate dream role? "Anything that's next to Idris Elba," she adds, giggling. "Because I love him! He's such a talented young man."
With all this self-improvement going on, it's a wonder Burke ever finds time to relax, but when she does, she happily admits she's "the biggest kid alive".
"Last time I was bored I took my family to Thorpe Park. And I love bowling. I'm not that great – I have the kiddy bars up, I'm a bit of a cheat."
For now, though, playtime will have to wait, at least until after a transatlantic life-coaching class.
"I have a meeting every Monday about it in New York, and because I'm in London now I have to stay up today from midnight to 3.30am to do this meeting on Skype," she says.
"And then I have to wake up an hour later to go to work."
Sounds exhausting, but Burke laughs this off. "You lose sleep, but it's fun."
It shows an admirable level of dedication for the girl who is already the second highest-earning X Factor winner (after Leona Lewis).
While many TV talent show finalists have faded into obscurity, Burke's determined to "get better every single day", no matter what she's doing. Embracing her spiritual side has energised her.
"I've learned a lot in the past two years, and I've embraced this part of my life and that's a big change for me," says Burke.
"I'm very balanced, happy and content in where I'm at in my life right now."