Tulisa: ‘I’ve definitely been a victim of classism’

The singer, 35, talks about escaping from childhood, living with Bell’s palsy, that sex tape release and the highs and lows of fame

I couldn’t wait to escape from my childhood. My mum had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – I was desperate to become an adult, live by myself, be independent. I was always searching for freedom. Singing gave me the power I’d been missing to take control of my own life.

My dad was in the band Mungo Jerry, and my mum was in an Andrews Sisters-style harmonising group with her four sisters, so I grew up surrounded by different musical influences. I got on the mic in Dad’s studio aged four. Then I got the part of Tallulah in a school production of Bugsy Malone – and loved it. As soon as I discovered I had vocal cords, I was like, “This is what I want to do.”

I expected fame to be glorious and there are parts of it that are still amazing to this day. But I think the kind of fame that you experience depends on what sort of character you are, how out there your personal life is. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for me, but I wouldn’t change any of it.

I manifested getting the job on the X Factor panel, but I wasn’t prepared for that level of celebrity, and it was a massive shock. Being Little Mix’s mentor in 2011 and following their journey – I still see the girls – was incredible. But then what I call my year of enlightenment happened: first the sex tape, then being arrested [on suspicion of supplying cocaine in June 2013. She was later acquitted]. Everything changed.

The sex tape release was life-shattering at the time, but it’s made me the person I am. I’m OK with it. Maybe it’s had some positive impact for other people – it’s brought these sorts of situations into the spotlight. Now guys who do this are more likely to end up in jail.

Dealing with my mum growing up helped me cope with those dark days. It gave me the psychological training necessary for hardcore situations. I didn’t have counselling or psychotherapy to get through it, I just kept reminding myself that everything passes in time, everything changes, how I feel today isn’t how I’m going to feel tomorrow, or in six months, or in two years. I constantly looked for the light at the end of the tunnel. I survived and eventually found inner peace with myself.

I don’t go anywhere near my DMs. I don’t know what’s in there. I don’t want to know.

A big lesson I’ve learned? Rather than focus on how much darkness there is in the world, I focus on how much goodness there is. I’ve found love in a very small circle of friends and the family I’ve chosen. I didn’t realise how much I valued that love until I found it.

I’ve definitely been a victim of classism. I think where I come from [Camden] and the sort of energy that N-Dubz give off, means that I got way more stick than I would have done if my background had been different. But it does feel like things are changing. People feel more sensitive now, which is great for me.

I was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy four years ago and I’m learning to live with it. I’ve got chronic pain and inflammation down the whole left side of my body as well as in my face and in my kneecap. Steroids reduce the inflammation. On one occasion an attack felt as if I was having a stroke. I spent seven months hiding, drinking out of a straw – I couldn’t move one side of my face. Experts have yet to find out the root cause.

By the time I’m in my 40s I’m hoping to be out of this game. I’m looking to invest in property. I just want to live as peaceful and happy a life as possible, surrounded by peaceful, happy people who I love and who love me. That’s all I ask.

N-Dubz are touring the UK this summer. For information, go to ticketmaster.co.uk


Nick McGrath

The GuardianTramp

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