I was given a special instrument at birth. Mum, Dad and my siblings all sang, but I understood my voice was different. By the age of eight I’d decided I’d do it professionally. But I had no idea how Beverley from Wolverhampton went from watching Top of the Pops to being on it.
My parents were dedicated Christian folk. We were always at services and meetings, and music was a constant presence. It was only when I stole the radio from my parents’ bedroom I discovered a whole new world of sounds.
Racism was a presence in those early years. Our constituency was the home of Enoch Powell – then his successor, who had similar views. Some people couldn’t tolerate my family and they made it no secret. When we played outside, they’d yell racial slurs.
I was 16 when Prince played in Manchester – and I had to be there. I told Mum I was staying with a friend, then boarded the coach, alone, to see him. It was a reckless choice, but I’ll never regret it. Standing in the crowd looking up at him, I was certain that one day, somehow, we’d be on stage together.
Prince flew me to Los Angeles to sing at his Oscars party. While we were performing, Stevie Wonder made his way through the audience to join us. The great and good of Hollywood were present. And there I was, belting out an Aretha Franklin number, as Prince stood beside me chanting my name along with those who’d gathered.
When I started out, being a black woman in music meant the system didn’t celebrate me. It was demeaning. You were either hyper-sexualised or considered an angry black woman. It was assumed I could only appreciate R&B and hip-hop, and I wasn’t allowed to experiment like my contemporaries. Hearing younger artists share similar experiences is devastating. Superficially, the conversation has changed, but have underlying attitudes?
I never intended to speak publicly about abusive relationships in my past. There were two: one where he’d put his hands on me, followed by a man who was controlling and emotionally abusive. Years later, while working with a charity that supports survivors, I heard other women’s stories. Inadvertently, I found myself saying: “Yes, something similar happened to me.”
I’ve been married going on 10 years, 15 years together. I’m seen as the powerful one in our relationship – publicly I get the attention. But behind the facade the load is shared. We’re a team and we approach life together.
Standing on stage, I feel the goddess that I am; a queen looking out at her kingdom. Music has brought me joy from the age of three, and continues to as I approach 50. I’m so grateful. But there’s still more I want to do: films and TV; theatre shows and albums. And, there are a few statuettes still missing from my shelf. Mark my words: one day I’ll get them.
The Drifters Girl is at the Garrick Theatre, London (thedriftersgirl.com)