Interview : Nicki French
After her hit single Total Eclipse of the Heart hit the Top5 in charts all around the world in 1995 she went on to represent the UK at Eurovision and has never stopped recording new music and touring. She’s back with a new single, Summer anthem This Love and we love it.
As a child, did you dream of growing up and being a singer?
Always. One of my earliest memories was sitting by mum and dad’s stereo system, singing along to the Top 20 on the radio (no top 40 back then!), and my Godmother walked past, saying ‘She’s going to be a singer when she’s older’ – I was about six years old at the time. But I ALWAYS wanted to be a singer.
Were you encouraged to follow your dreams by your family? What about the careers advice at school, was a career in entertainment encouraged?
My mum and dad were fantastic, and supported me all the way. I was singing in a local band, doing gigs on a Sunday night, getting home in the early hours of Monday morning, with school a few hours later – but mum said to me, ‘So long as your schoolwork doesn’t suffer, you can carry on’ – so I worked doubly hard to make sure I could do both.
When I did the first tour of the USA (1995), unbeknown to me, my dad had bought a map of the States, and traced my journey as it happened with pins and some string. He gave it to me afterwards – I was so touched!
All my family have been a constant support – I couldn’t have done it without them. Mum passed away the day before my ‘big’ birthday last year, and I was due to perform at Sunderland Pride three days later. I talked it over with my brother and sisters, and we agreed – I had to still do it because mum would have been angry if I hadn’t! They all kept in contact with me all day, and were so proud that I managed to get through it – I needed their support.
The careers adviser at school wasn’t quite prepared for someone who wanted to become a singer. But because originally I wanted to combine singing and acting they recommended college. I ended up getting ‘A’ levels in Music and Theatre Studies. I love Musical Theatre, so it was perfect for me.
Who were your musical role models growing up?
Role models are extremely important. We all need to aspire to something. I loved all the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, so Julie Andrews, Shirley Jones – they were my heroines and doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. Harmonies are a big thing with me, so in the pop world it was The Osmonds and The Carpenters who I followed – and Karen Carpenter’s voice was so beautiful. I also loved Gladys Knight – such an amazing soul voice.
Can you describe what life was like for you when your single ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ was riding high in the charts all over the world – cracking the US charts when UK acts really struggled to make their mark?
That time was just surreal. One minute I was singing for a few quid in a bar, the next I was on Top of the Pops as one of the highest new entries in the charts. Going over to the USA to promote the song, then moving up to number 2, and experiencing such lovely support from all the other acts we were touring with was fantastic.
One memory was the week we were at number 5. Michael & Janet Jackson’s new single, ‘Scream’, was being released the following week and the record company warned us that our song was likely to start going down the charts because of this. So at lunchtime on the Wednesday we came back from the hotel pool (as you do!) to get the placing and we’d actually gone up one place to number 4 and Michael & Janet had entered behind us – at number 5. That was a strange feeling – but pretty wonderful!
How different is recording and releasing material in 2015, compared to say 1994? Is chart success important to you?
Oh, the whole industry has changed beyond all recognition from back in the mid-1990s. We’d all love to still have chart success, but it’s pretty unrealistic nowadays unless you can throw shedloads of money at the project and be prepared to lose it. Where songs would stay in the charts and move places slowly, nowadays the charts change substantially week on week. Also, with the download era, there is a big change. I know one act who recently were number one on physical CD sales – yet they didn’t even register on the actual final charts because the downloads for the single were so small.
However, on the plus side, technological advances have made it easier for people to get their music out there for people to hear. But with our new project the goal is to get out there for live shows with a band, rather than reap any benefits from a high chart placing – although that would be fab too!
“One minute I was singing for a few quid in a bar, the next I was on Top of the Pops as one of the highest new entries in the charts.”
We hear you’re working with Mike Stock (formally of Stock, Aitken and Waterman) on new material. What can we expect from your new music?
Yes, the new single ‘This Love’ is released on 30th June and we’ve had a FANTASTIC reaction to it so far. It’s wonderful working with Mike again and shooting the video for the song was great fun. The song is being classed as this year’s ‘Summer Anthem’ – here’s hoping! It’s a great, feelgood song with a good tune and a good beat. We’re not trying to make a political statement or change the world – we’re giving people good, honest pop music. And it seems that people are happy with what they’re hearing, thankfully.
After many years working with Energise records you recently went your separate ways. What brought on this change?
When Mike contacted me about working together again I discussed it with the Energise guys first. They are dear, dear friends, and that won’t change. I love them to bits. They actually said to me that it was an opportunity I had to go for, because Mike has contacts and budgets that they don’t and hopefully this can move me on a step further.
The recent album that Energise put out, ‘One Step Further’, is like an anthology of just about everything I recorded in my time with them and I was gobsmacked at just how much material we had in the end. They are wonderful guys and still allow me to go to them when I need advice.
“The careers adviser at school wasn’t quite prepared for someone who wanted to become a singer.”
Are there still things you want to achieve?
Oh absolutely! As I said previously, I would love to be able to do a tour with a live band over here. When I do my shows over in Brazil it’s with a live band and it’s brilliant. I am a live singer – I don’t mime – and having those guys onstage with you is very special.
As many know, theatre was my first love. Originally, in my teens my ambition was to go into musical theatre, combining the acting and singing, but the pop world came a-calling and the rest is history. I would dearly love to be cast in a big role in a show – touring, TV, West End – I don’t mind.
One unrealised dream is to do more on the presenting side – I LOVE presenting!
Video : Total Eclipse of the Heart
Released in 1995, Nicki’s breakthrough single was a Top5 hit in countries all over the world and was one of the biggest worldwide hits of the year. It’s chart success included hitting No5 in the UK, No2 in the US, No1 in Japan and No2 in Australia.
Video : This Love
Watch the fabulous video for Nicki’s brand new single This Love. The video features lots of her fans and is a real celebration of love. The single is out now!
“We’re not trying to make a political statement or change the world – we’re giving people good, honest pop music.”
If you could be teleported back to 1994 is there any words of advice you would give to your 1994 self?
Yes – don’t try and move a heavy oven when you’re at number 4 in the charts, doing loads of gigs – resulting in a slipped disc in your back, cancelled shows and weeks of bed rest, osteopathy and acupuncture.
Also – start working with the live band as soon as the song charts so people know that is the plan, rather than sticking with the backing tracks route. I think I’d have made more of an impact if we’d done that straightaway.
Professionally and personally, what are you most proud of?
Professionally, I would say that I am proud to still be able to say that this is my career. I may not have made millions but I know how lucky I am to be in a job which I enjoy and it seems to bring enjoyment to others too.
Personally, I’d say I’m proud of the fact that I still have friends from school who I’m in contact with regularly. They knew me well before any ‘success’, and know me as their mate from schooldays. Having said that, I am also proud of the fact that I have so many friends and fans who truly and genuinely care about me. Last year was extremely tough for me, both professionally and in particular, personally – but those who know what went on showed amazing concern for me and didn’t let me fall too far.
Were you a fan of the UKs 2015 Eurovision entry by Electro Velvet?
The truth is – I LOVED our entry! I honestly thought we were going to do really well this year but sadly the public just didn’t go for it on the night which is a shame. Alex and Bianca (Electro Velvet) are so delightful and now they’ve announced they’re sticking together and doing an album. I truly hope it’s a huge success.
What are your thoughts of the BBC deciding our entry behind closed doors?
I don’t like it at all. I think the public like to feel involved and I loved the experience of going through the shortlist rounds then ending up on Song for Europe. I worry that the viewing audience in the UK will start to lose interest if they’re just told ‘This is your song and this is the singer’. We like to feel we can participate in the process and have an input.
After representing the UK at Eurovision in 2000, what are your fondest memories of being a part of the contest and what impact has it had on your life?
Oh it was one of the highlights of my whole life. I was in this excitement bubble from the beginning of the process right through to – well, now really. I am still booked for many Eurovision events which I love and this year I was booked to do loads of radio interviews for the BBC. A few of the presenters said to me, ‘You must be getting a bit bored of this’ about halfway through. My reply? ‘Hell no – someone WANTS me to talk about Eurovision nonstop – I’m like a pig in poo’.
My favourite night of the year nowadays is when I co-host the London Eurovision Party (with Paddy O’Connell), where the years artists from participating countries are invited to perform their song to the extremely excitable audience. It is such great fun. The past three years we’ve had the eventual winner perform – Emmelie de Forrest for Denmark, then Conchita Wurst, and this year Mans Zelmerlow.
What role do you think LGBT Pride events have in 2015 when we have equal marriage and equal rights in most areas of life in the UK?
Where the events used to be based in mainly large towns and cities, and there were just a few, nowadays many places have Pride events. I think that says something in itself. They used to be almost ‘exclusive’ to the LGBT community but now are more like big family days out. That’s great as it involves everyone and there’s no better way to integrate the community.
Will you be playing any live dates this year? Where can we catch you?
I have done a few Prides already but there are more booked in – Bristol, Wakefield, Cardiff – along with other gigs dotted around the country!
What’s next for you?
Well, the new single ‘This Love’ is released on 30th June, so everything is about that at the moment. If it does well, then hopefully there’ll be more to come…with live shows as well. At Christmas I’m playing the Wicked Queen in panto at the Pomegranate Theatre in Chesterfield – I LOVE doing panto. I’m grateful to the studio for releasing me for the Christmas season.
I really hope everyone likes ‘This Love’ and I hope to see you all at a show somewhere soon. Thanks so much for your amazing support.
New single : This Love
Her new single is out now and you can purchase the single on CD or download it here. We love it!