'I can’t wait to get out there': Louise Redknapp talks ahead of Birmingham show
For a while, Louise Redknapp was the most talked-about woman in Britain.
And then, 20 years later, it happened again. But this time it was because of her separation with footballing ex-spouse Jamie – rather than her work with multi-million-selling r’n’b megatrons Eternal.
Day after day, Louise watched in horror as the details of her private life were played out across the front pages of the newspapers. Tabloids traded in sordid secrets and personal feuds, as the playground politics of a messy separation were played out in public.
The easiest option might have been for Louise to go home and forget about the schism that followed her appearance on the 2016 edition of Strictly Come Dancing. But Louise was in no mood to do what others either wanted or expected. Instead, she continued along a path that gave her self-affirmation and happiness. She was tired of being ‘er indoors. She wanted to be Louise again.
And so, the woman who in 1997 was named Sexiest Woman in the World by readers of Sky Magazine, took up a guest slot as a DJ on Heart FM. She started writing and recording new music, quickly signing a publishing deal and playing a series of gigs. She became a West End star in 9 To 5, ignored the haters and started plotting her musical comeback.
She was sanguine about her marriage: “I’m an emotional person. I always hold everything in my heart and there’ll never be a day that I don’t feel sad about it because he was my husband for 20 years and the love I had for him will never leave me.”
But she refused to let her dreams die too. And through the darkest of days, when she was being pilloried in the press by those who ought to know better, music became her medicine. Earlier this year, she released her fourth studio album, Heavy Love, which featured contributions from Clean Bandit, Eg White, Raye, Karen Poole and Sinead Harnett. And while it didn’t match up to the success of her three earlier efforts – her debut, Naked, and sophomore record, Woman In Me both went platinum while her third record, Elbow Beach, went silver – it put her back on the map.
Next month, she’ll hit the road for a major UK tour, visiting Birmingham’s O2 Institute on March 16. And, frankly, she feels happier than she’s felt in years.
“It’s been a really busy start to the year. I can’t wait to get out there. I think the tour will be really good fun. I’ve been looking forward to first of all getting the album out and then to getting on the road with the album.”
Louise spent 18 months making Heavy Love. “I started off just writing, with a publishing deal, and doing music. On the back of that, the record company asked if I wanted to make my own album and it seemed like a good idea. So here we are, almost two years later, it’s all done and ready to go.
“I think for me I write from a personal place and it just all fell into place with the timing and getting in the studio. It was great to have the opportunity to do it. It just literally fell into place. Having the opportunity was great. It just felt like the right time in my life. I always say with music that timing is everything. And I think in this case it just worked out right. It was the right time for me.”
The record is uplifting, with only two ballads. It’s fast-paced and honest. Those who want to get Louise’s side of the story following her very public break-up will relate to many of her lyrics. “There’s a lot of heart gone into this album and I think it will be totally relatable to many people.”
She’s been buoyed by the public’s support and grateful to retain its affection despite the horrid headlines. “I love it that people are there and are on my side. It’s always a good start in life, no matter what you are going to do and no matter whatever level you’re at. Having people on side with the new record is great. Without that, I couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t be feasible. I also think that the general public know when you’re being yourself and when you’re being honest. I love what I do, I don’t do it for fame. We obviously all have to play the game and we all need to have a certain level of profile, so that we can carry on doing what we’re doing. So I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to go back out on tour. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do it all again, after the first few albums.
“You know, it’s been a really tough few years, which has been really well documented. I think this album is my saviour, really. It gave me focus and it gave me an opportunity to put down everything that I was feeling, without having to do things that I didn’t want to do or talk about things that I didn’t want to talk about. So it’s just been a really honest and important experience and now a lot of people are going to hear it. It’s the only way I could relay what is going on in my head.”
Her tour will feature songs from Heavy Love as well as classics by Eternal and solo hits. But fans ought not to expect an evening of nostalgia. Instead, Louise will be tearing up the template and reinventing much-loved hits for the modern idiom.
“This is all about the new album. All the old songs are going to be brought up to date and brought to life with a great band. This is about being current. This isn’t about releasing songs that were released 20 years ago, and still sound the same.
“It’s bringing 20 years of music into the here and now in a way that sits well with the here and now.”
Her record gave her a sense of purpose during the darkest days of her life. It provided her with a reason to get out of bed each morning and a new direction.
“It’s all about self-affirmation. One hundred per cent. If I wanted to, I could go and just do gigs and sing old songs with a backing track, but this isn’t that.
“This is moving forward. It wouldn’t be right to go to gigs and not incorporate the songs that people know, but the audience will give me the room to reinvent those songs so that they’re contemporary and fresh. They have to be totally up-to-date with now. It’s all about moving forward. We bring a little bit of class and energy to the songs. The band are incredible.
“It’s a completely live tour, it’s not just about dancing around. I’m playing venues where it’s all about proper gigging, where it’s about a proper live band. We’re not hiding from anything. The audience will get a bit of the real heart that’s gone into this album.”
When news of Louise’s marital breakdown hit the headlines, she had no choice but to keep going. As each day brought new revelations – many of them entirely false – she kept her head down and buried herself in music.
“I think I had no choice but to keep it all together. It was sink or swim, really, at one stage in my life. Publicly, my life was torn to shreds. Some of it was true and some of it was not.
“My personal life was very much at the forefront of things. My personal life became people’s entertainment over their coffee and croissant each morning. The hard thing when you’re living with that is that it’s your real life. It’s not entertainment, you’re living it every day.
“Having a purpose and a passion to go and do something that I love, every day, that’s what kept me grounded.
Some days I didn’t feel like I kept it together but I have two kids and I have to hold it together for them. Without them I have nothing. It’s great that there’s everything else in my life, but they are always my priority.
“For the first time in a long time I was on my own, so I couldn’t not succeed and that’s what kept me going. It just kept me going. I don’t look too far ahead, I don’t expect anything, I just do my best.” Selling 15 million records and enjoying a remarkable career during which she’s presented numerous TV shows, modelled for huge brands, signed a £1.5 million recording contract and more, means money is no longer her motivation. Instead, it’s all about being true to herself.
“We all go to work and we all need to earn a living and I have a family to support but this is so much bigger than that. I gave up a lot of years to raise my family and be at home.
“I started in this industry really young and I’ve achieved a lot. It’s almost just getting back out there and reminding myself of that as well – not the audience.
“I am a singer, I am an artist and I do write my own songs. I love what I do and the best way of doing things is to get out there and do the business. Eternal was amazing. It was such a huge band. My only regret is that I was too young to really appreciate it and to know what life would be like. I didn’t know how hard it would be to ever have that success again or to sell that many records.
“We were all in it together and kind of took it for granted because we knew nothing else.
“Looking back, I realise how incredible it all was. We all speak to one another now, which is great. We talk about what we achieved and how lucky we were to have that opportunity to sell 1.5 million records in the first year in the UK. That doesn’t happen now.”
Her years in Eternal have stood her in good stead. She is avowedly old-school, never failing to turn up to work, never being too busy for an interview, never getting too big for her boots.
“The record company always tell me that they love working with me because I’m never too busy to do an interview, I never don’t turn up, I know the importance of everything I do. I stick with the programme. There’s a professionalism and dedication to my craft, and I learned that from being in the industry a long time ago. The hard work does pay off.
“And also, it gets to the point where it no longer feels like work. You get the chance to do what you love and those opportunities don’t always come.
“There’ll be a day when people are no longer interested, so for me it’s simple: while people are interested, give them the time.”
In recent years, she’s loved the variety in her career. Featuring in the West End was harder work than being a pop star, though the emotional rewards were great.
“I love the acting, I love the characters, I love the camaraderie of being on stage with a cast. I love the West End productions.
“Oh my god. By show seven in a week, you’re dead on your feet. You’re shattered. But the audience gets you through it.
“There’s nothing quite like taking your bow at the end and people are standing up, and they’ve had the best two hours. They’ve laughed with you, they’ve cried with you, they’ve felt your emotion. I don’t know what it is, I’m sure other people have their highs in other ways, but that’s the best for me.
“That’s what gives me confidence, that’s what defines me. The audience come on a journey with me.”
And now it’s time to get back to doing what she does best – playing live. Each night will be a party as Louise tours the UK and lets her hair down after a show.
“We hit the bar after a show. We hit the tour bus and then the bar. My kids are a bit older now so if I’m on tour it’s no longer about being at home and sorting the boys out. The boys will be with their dad and so if I’m really, really honest, I try and make the most of having a few drinks and being with my band and the people I work with. I’m so lucky, I work with people I like. If I’m on tour I’m all about the tequilas in the bar.”