Soul powerhouse Beverley Knight talks to Shelley Carter about acting up, Memphis vibes and fairy wings
Three years ago we interviewed a breezy Beverley Knight as she was turning 40 and embarking on a stage career as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. She felt she was ‘in at the deep end’, but embraced the challenge. A few years on and we caught up with the Wolves lovely to talk panto – she’s playing the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at the Hippodrome – and life as an established actress as well as a soul diva.
Beverley’s CV is immense. She’s sold more than a million albums ¬– one platinum and four gold –scooped three MOBOs and an outstanding achievement gong at the Urban Music Awards, has sung with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Prince and Chaka Khan to name just a few and collected an MBE along the way which she accepted mainly because she knew how much it would thrill her parents. It turned out to be the only time she saw her dad cry. She was nominated for an Olivier Award for Memphis The Musical which is astounding considering it was essentially her second serious musical theatre role and now she’s chucking herself into the surreal world of the pantomime. Oh yes she is.
Hugely proud of her roots, Beverley’s back in the Midlands as often as she can be, so her stint in the Hippodrome’s blockbusting panto alongside Suzanne Shaw and Strictly Come Dancing winner Danny Mac will give her some precious time at ‘home’. With just a two-week rehearsal process the pressure’s on but pantomime virgin Beverley is taking it in her stride. “Give me a microphone and I’ll be just fine!” she said.
With a £5million budget, the Hippodrome’s production isn’t your average pantomime, so Beverley’s started at the top of the panto heap. Lavish costumes and top-notch production values make it a must-see and with Beverley headlining so to speak, it’s sure to pull in the crowds. Two shows a day for six weeks is a tall order, but one that Beverley’s ready for. She explained: “With The Bodyguard the whole show was on my shoulders which was intense, so this’ll be a bit different. People have said to me panto’s hard work but such a laugh, so I’m looking forward to that and it’s just so glorious to be here.”
After a tricky year it will no doubt be even sweeter to spend time near friends and family. A diagnosis of uterine fibroids in May resulted in surgery to remove them as well as a hysterectomy that meant she had to reluctantly move her I Love Soulsville tour from June to October. After a lengthy recovery process, Beverley’s back doing what she loves, thrilling crowds with her insane vocals.
Eighth studio album, Soulsville which was released in June to coincide with the tour before it was postponed took Beverley back to her beloved Memphis to record at Willie Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios. Beverley fell in love with Memphis in 2014 when preparing for her role in Memphis The Musical, so was super excited to be back and the album is like a celebration of the city and its musical heritage. On the album Beverley collaborated with Jamie Cullen, Jools Holland and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave on three Memphis classics. The rest is new material with a classic-rich soulful vibe.
Soul was also high on the agenda at a Late Night Prom with Jools Holland earlier in the year which Beverley jumped at the chance to be involved in. Called Stax Records: 50 Years of Soul was at the Royal Albert Hall and paid tribute to pioneering Memphis label Stax Records which was founded in 1957 and became synonymous with Southern soul.
The importance of the Southern soul sound went way beyond music uniting people at a time of racial tension and political unrest. The Late Night Prom brought together some of the label’s greatest surviving artists including Booker T Jones and Sam Moore. Beverley performed a magnificent version of Private Number with William Bell. It is utterly dreamy. We’ve watched it eight times and counting. Sir Tom Jones was also involved along with Ruby Turner, Steve Cropper and James Morrison.
IN THE GENES
It’s a line trotted out by many an X Factor hopeful, but it genuinely feels like Beverley was born to sing. Her mum used to lead the singing in church with her ‘sweet, melodic voice’ and all of the women on her mother’s side of the family have either been singers or musicians, so it came naturally.
“I did as much singing as I could as a youngster and when I left school I started doing local community things which eventually led to me being spotted in a club. I’ve always had a good sense of melody and understood that a song needs a great big hook. I play the piano, so I just started to write my own little things. Admittedly they were rubbish, but thankfully they’ve got better!”