Motherhood, TV, a new album and a tour are keeping Sophie Ellis-Bextor busy, as Tim Hughes finds out
Sophie Ellis-Bextor is in a rush. As if she isn’t busy enough with motherhood, television commitments and the small matter of a new album and impending tour, she is starring in a charity show at the Royal Albert Hall.
“I’m going at full pelt,” she says, as her taxi makes it’s way through London’s afternoon traffic.
“Sometimes I feel I’m losing the thread,” she says cheerfully.
“I’m not complaining though, although it would be nice to have a bit of time to myself!”
Her hectic day culminates in an appearance at the City Rocks concert to celebrate the 275th birthday of children’s charity Coram, alongside Queen’s Brian May, Kerry Ellis, Lily Allen and her own husband Richard Jones’s band The Feeling.
“Apart from a carol concert, it’s the first time I’ve played there,” she says. “For a big venue it is actually really intimate and it’s incredible to play there.”
But it is next week’s shows we are here to talk about. After a gap of three years, the stunning 34 year-old singer, dancer and mother-of-three has released a critically-acclaimed new album and is taking it on the road for a series of 10 UK dates, which on Tuesday includes Oxford’s O2 Academy. She returns to the county in July to join the bill at Cornbury festival, at Great Tew.
Wanderlust sees the star, who broke through in 2000 with the dance anthem Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) alongside Italian DJ Spiller, exploring the outer reaches of her talents as a singer-songwriter, with a grown-up set of songs spanning everything from pop and ballads to world music, and proving beyond doubt that there is more to Sophie than just Murder on the Dancefloor.
The album, which charted at Number Four, features the talents of husband Richard and pianist/composer Ed Harcourt, who co-wrote, produced and arranged it. Both join her on tour along with a full string section.
As a self-funded venture, Sophie admits it was a gamble – but one which has undoubtedly paid off.
“I’ve enjoyed the time spent putting out this album,” she says. “It’s a real event. I feel closer to this record than any of the others as it’s such a personal project.”
Coming a full 13 years since chart-topping debut Read My Lips, her fifth album has won over critics with its mix of styles yet tight cohesion. So does it mark a departure from her dance-fuelled past? “I don’t know,” she says enigmatically.
“I’m no good at predictions. I’ll just go where it takes me. My fourth album was incredibly dance-centric, but I felt it was time to do something different this time.”
The fortunes of Wanderlust have been done no harm by her appearance on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing, which, she admits has helped introduce her to a new generation of admirers. She came fourth, under the tutelage of professional jiver Brendan Cole.
“Strictly was extraordinary,” she gasps. “There’s a great affection for it among the British public and you can really feel that when you do it. It was a new experience, and the first time I’d ever had dance lessons. When making dance records I was always careful not to do the big routines, but when I came to do that on stage I threw myself into it. I felt very privileged. It went well, but it could easily have gone wrong!”
And, she says, she is delighted to be returning to the stage as a singer. “I loved doing Strictly but by the end of it I was beginning to miss the day job,” she says. “It’s also nice to be doing other things in the UK as for the last few years I’ve been touring Europe. I’m glad to be sleeping in my own bed.”
So what does she feel proudest of since those early days, five albums ago, when she beat Victoria Beckham to the top of the charts?
“This album,” she says. “It almost felt like doing a first album again and it was great doing what I love. I do mean it when I say I have been lucky though, as there are so many talented people out there. I feel fortunate that I was able to take a risk, and it felt good to do something selfish and indulgent.”
For a clubland diva, Sophie has always appeared wholesome and healthy. Perhaps that is how this supermodel-beautiful woman, with those sharp cheekbones and that china doll complexion, looks barely older now than when we first saw her more than a decade ago? “When I was 21 I just looked older. I used to wear a lot of makeup!” she laughs.
Once the minor issue of a performance at the Royal Albert Hall is over, she says she can’t wait to get to Oxford. “It’s going to be really exciting,” she says. “I’ve got the same band I had for the album, and it’ll be an exciting show with the new album and some real four-to-the-floor dance music.
“It’s going to be one of the more bonkers shows!”
Sophie Ellis-Bextor plays O2 Academy Oxford on Tuesday. Tickets are £20 from ticketweb.co.uk