“I was in a really dark place” – Jess Glynne
Finding Britain’s most-successful female pop star in a busy restaurant isn’t as easy as you might think. I’m looking for a blaze of red hair, rainbow-coloured eyeshadow and maybe a sequin or two. “That’s exactly who you’d find if you were meeting Jess Glynne” she laughs, when I eventually track her down. “But today, I’m Jessica.”
Jessica is a pared-back version of the musical superstar, who has celebrated seven No1 singles, a feat no other female artist has come close to. It’s an incredible achievement, especially when you consider she’s only released one album, I Cry When I Laugh. But when you remind the girl behind it all of this fact, she looks at you in disbelief. “It’s all a bit surreal,” she says, as she polishes off a cooked breakfast, dressed in a hoodie, her distinctive hair pulled into a ponytail and not a scrap of make-up. “It all feels as if it’s happened to someone else.”
Jess’ long-awaited second album, Always In Between, sums up, well… what’s happened in between. “It says a lot about where my head’s been in the three years since the first album,” Jess admits. “It’s about living parallel lives, being propelled into a world of being famous while desperately trying to hold onto the life I once had. It’s about discovering the balance of who I am, where I am, and where I want to go.”
HOW TO SAVE A LIFE
Finding that happy place hasn’t always come easy and even after her phenomenal success, Jess has had to dig deep to find the self-acceptance she craves.
“It all went a bit mad and as with any success, people come knocking and you’re expected to make the most of the opportunities. But working in LA, with people I didn’t know, in a strange environment, didn’t bring out the best in me.” It was then that the self-doubt and pressure to produce an even greater second album kicked in. “I was working hard and I wanted someone to say, ‘This sounds amazing. Oh my God Jess, you’ve nailed it!”
But no one did. Instead, the overwhelming consensus was that she could do a lot better. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough at anything and it made me feel like a failure. I was in a really dark place which, at one point, had me threatening to walk away from it all.”
Thankfully, Jess was given the space she needed and went away to get her mojo back. “Up until then, I’d never really known what I wanted to say. When I wrote Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself, it was a form of self-therapy and really helped the situation I found myself in at the time. But suddenly, I was receiving letters and messages from people who were able to relate to it. Knowing my songs were changing – and in some cases saving – peoples’ lives, really shone a light on the importance of saying what I needed to say.”
By the time she returned from a week away with her band and close friends, the second album was in the bag. “I felt liberated and less vulnerable being with them. By 7pm on the Friday I said to everyone, ‘That’s it, the album’s done.’ We just had fun and I didn’t put myself under any pressure. It turns out that’s when I do my best work.”
It’s no surprise the speed at which the fame train hit Jess has left her reeling. It’s only four years ago she was a simple girl, living in North London with her Jewish family. She knew she liked to sing and dreamed of performing in front of thousands, but fame was never part of the plan. In fact, it was a bone of contention between her and her mum.
“She used to say to me, ‘you just want to be famous,’ and I’d always argue that wasn’t what I was about. Now when she sees what goes on in my life and the way I respond to it, she says, ‘you really didn’t want to be famous, did you?” Jess credits her family and friends for keeping her feet firmly on the ground. “My family have always been close, especially my mother’s side who all live just around the corner. The Jewish thing is important to us, but it’s more about how it brings us all together rather than the religious side of it. We celebrate all the big holidays – last month, we were round my aunty’s for Rosh Hashanah, eating traditional food and having fun. It’s a big part of my life and means a lot.”
hold my hand
Growing up close – literally and figuratively – to her hero, Amy Winehouse, was a huge inspiration to Jess, who loved and admired everything she did. “Seeing what happened to Amy had a big impact on me. The frustration of knowing she could have been saved will never leave me. But it also made me want to do what I do even more. A lot is asked of you as an artist, and I can see turning to drugs and alcohol is an easy thing to do. Being on stage, you experience such a high only to come off and suddenly feel all alone. Thankfully I’m terrified of drugs, but it’s being surrounded by the right people that makes all the difference. If Amy had the support system I’ve got, she’d still be with us today.”
That ‘support system’ comes in all forms, whether it’s taking time out to look after herself – having treatments for troublesome skin and ensuring she eats well – to taking therapy sessions with Ed Sheeran. “We were having a chat about the lives we lead and the way we’re sometimes made to feel, and it got quite deep,” remembers Jess. “I had some lyrics about how our videos and images were giving people a false impression of who we really are, and I just wanted to shout out nobody’s perfect. We should all believe that we’re beautiful, no matter what, because who can tell us we’re wrong?”
Accepting herself for who she is, foibles and all, has been an enlightening experience for Jess, and is one she would encourage everyone to partake in. “I’ve spent a long time trying to fit into a certain box; loving the right person, being who people wanted me to be. But it’s only now that I feel it’s OK to be me. I may not have all the answers, and the floor in my world is by no means made of concrete, but I’m getting there.”
In the words of her resulting collaboration with Sheeran, Thursday, she really means it when she sings I won’t wear make-up on Thursday, because who I am is enough. It seems this version of Jessica speaks for the masses.
JESS’ TOP LONDON HANGOUTS
Six Storeys in a converted warehouse (and the setting for our chat with Jess), the private members’ club offers a rooftop pool and restaurant, library, gym, Cowshed spa and 26 bedrooms. shoreditchhouse.com
LA BODEGA NEGRA
Old Compton Street’s best kept subterranean secret, sup on countless tequila-based cocktails and enjoy Mexican staples like soft-shell crab tacos and slow-roasted lamb barbacoa. labodeganegra.com
Family-run business on Stroud Green Road offering wood-fired pizza, traditional Italian starters and pasta, all washed down with artisan lager. Get there early, or prepare to queue…pizzeriapappagone.co.uk
Jess Glynne’s second album, Always In Between, is released on Friday 12 October