Originally published at TheNational.ae on Mar 7, 2012
By Ben East
She might now be the biggest selling recording artist in the world, but Adele was once just like any other child, singing into a hairbrush and dreaming of stardom. And who did she want to emulate? “Gabrielle was one of my favourite singers,” she once told BBC Radio 1. “I even made my mum buy me an eye patch and put sequins on it.”
Gabrielle chuckles when I remind her of Adele’s very public support. Not least because when Dreams was first released in 1993, the debut single that did so much to establish Gabrielle as one of Britain’s foremost soul singers, Adele was a mere 5-year-old. But as the 41-year-old prepares for her date on a double bill with George Benson at the du World Music Festival in Dubai, the similarities are still striking. Both singers had explosive early success with soulful, timeless music that stood outside the current pop trends, and both made for unlikely stars.
“What I love about Adele is that she’s become a world-class recording artist by being herself,” says Gabrielle. “Actually, that’s why everybody loves her. She didn’t conform to any stereotypes about what a popstar should be and in the end she was so good and so different she didn’t need the hype.
“And I can see a little of me in that. I wasn’t skinny, I wore a patch to cover my lazy eyelid. I had short hair. I sung in the nightclubs. I was in my 20s. Put it this way, if there had been talent shows like The X Factor in the early 1990s, I would have done terribly! So, when success did come it was a real victory because I don’t think anyone really expected it.”
And the victories kept coming. After Dreams in 1993, she won Best British Breakthrough Act at the Brits, and the big prize – Best British Female – followed in 1997, after two albums of solid soul. But because Dreams was such a huge success, everything that came directly afterwards seemed like a comedown.
“Which is why Rise going to number one was so satisfying,” she says, recalling her second chart-topping single in 2000. “Believe me, I’ve had many insecure periods, and there were people calling me a has-been, so it was a defining moment for me. I’m still scared to this day when I go on stage, or when people hear new songs.”
For Gabrielle to admit to such fears is interesting. Her attitude to success hasn’t changed since Dreams, in that she’s never hungrily chased fame and ubiquity to the detriment of her music. She’s not likely to appear on a reality show any time soon. Admittedly, it would be remarkable if Gabrielle made it to number one in a third consecutive decade, but her commitment these days is to songcraft rather than current trends.
“It’s not about gimmicks with me; it’s about good songs,” she says. “I don’t feel the need to be on chat shows if I haven’t got a record out – never have. When Dreams was doing really well, I was genuinely worried that my image, which was really strong at the time – the short-haired singer with the eye patch – might actually overshadow the fact that I was a proper singer-songwriter.”
Which is why winning the Ivor Novello award in 2008 for Outstanding Song Collection meant so much to her. “It was like a pat on the back,” she says. “A recognition that I have a body of work that continues to be appreciated.” Appreciated by everyone from Paul Weller – who featured on her last album – to, of course, Adele.
So, what advice would she give the woman who looked up to Gabrielle as a child?
“Absolutely none. She should be giving me advice!” she laughs. “Seriously, all I would say is keep being yourself. It’s worked for me.”
• Gabrielle plays the du World Music Festival, Burj Park, Dubai, on March 16. www.du.ae/wmf