thanks to Paul for the scans.
'IT HASN'T ALL BEEN PERFECT - BUT IT'S BEEN WORTH IT'
Music career, modelling contract, husband and family - at 31 Sophie Ellis-Bextor sure has got it all. If you're talking about things to juggle, that is. She tells Louise Gannon why she wouldn't have it any other way.
When Sophie Ellis-Bextor tips up at the south London studio for our shoot, looking fresh-faced and gorgeous in a vintage tea dress, it would be easy to think 'why Sophie - and why SHE?' After all, on the face of it, she has little in common with your average working woman. Her porcelain beauty and coltish figure show no signs of having. But Sophie has fitted a lifetime into the past 12 years - career, marriage, family - and within minutes of her arrival, she's embroiled in a passionate discussion about work/life effectiveness and talking like an old soul. Busy and loving it? You betcha.
What's more, Sophie is refreshingly unstarry, batting off the attentions of the hair stylist and laughing uproariously at the idea that she has any sort of a master plan for her life. 'Oh Lord!' she says, 'I am the woman with absolutely no plan. I have no idea what the future is going to bring; all I know is it's up to me to be ready for whatever happens. If life has taught me anything, it's that there is never any point in thinking you can control what's going to happen to you. You just have to be prepared to take it on, whatever it is, and make the best of it. If I have any motto, it's just "keep on keeping on going".' Which is intriguing, coming as it does from a woman who seems to have actually managed to have it all... fame, a critically acclaimed career, a modelling contract with Rimmel, a happy marriage to rock star Richard Jones (bassist in The Feeling), two cute little boys... Surely, you don't get all of this without knowing what you're doing? She shrugs. 'I don't think there's any point in having a life that isn't as full and rich as you can make it. But I believe a lot of that is to do with not having a plan and just taking everything that comes along and running with it. I tend to do what feels right, rather that what people think is the right thing for me to do.'
Sophie certainly took an unconventional route when it came to starting a family. 'People were surprised when I got pregnant with Sonny (now seven) when I was 24. Richard and I had been together for six weeks, we both had our careers and then, bang, I was pregnant! That definitely wasn't planned, but I was thrilled because I always wanted to have children, and we were in love and so happy. I wasn't thinking about what was best for my career, I was just focused on becoming a mother. I know a lot of women who want to wait for the right time, but what if that right time never comes?'
Despite her apparently gilded exterior, Sophie has faced tough moments over the past few years. During her pregnancy with Sonny, she suffered from pre-eclampsia and went into labour eight weeks early. At four months, Sonny then contracted life-threatening meningitis. Then when Sophie got pregnant two years ago, she suffered from pre-eclampsia again and baby Kit was born by emergency caesarean 12 weeks early, weighing just three pounds. Once more, her first weeks of motherhood were spent unable to cuddle her son but gently touching him through tubes and wires in a neonatal unit. She's not one to dwell on the bad times, though. 'What I think about is what we have now. Kit is amazing - a big sturdy boy who is full of energy. When he was born, he was so tiny with this enormous head - I called him "my beautiful little alien". I'm incredibly proud of my family, we went through a lot to get what we have and I never for a moment forget that. If everything went tomorrow - if no one wanted to see me perform, or my phone stopped ringing - I'd still be happy, because I'd have Richard and the boys.'
There's something genuinely warm and wise about Sophie. Make-up artist Lisa Laudat, who has worked with Sophie for a decade, describes her as being 'a really special girl. We've been all over the world together and she is happy to hang out and have a laugh. Sophie is always lovely company.' She has a super-loyal fanbase spanning the globe (particularly Russia), and she's constantly in demand for live performances and tours.
Sophie has been famous for a long time. Her mother, the former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis, scandalised the television industry in the Eighties by becoming pregnant (with her second child after she split from Sophie's father Robin Bextor), despite not being married. Sophie remains very close to her stepbrother and stepsister (Jack, 22, and Martha, 19) and both parents. On the top of her right arm is tattoo of the word 'family' written across a large sailor-style heart. 'I had it done for my wedding. I thought it pretty much summed up everything that was important to me,' she smiles. 'For me, it means relatives and friends who have become my family.'
Sophie was just 18 when she signed her first record deal with her band Theaudience. 'I sat my A-levels, then went out of my school, got a bus to my record company and signed a contract.' Theaudience was an instant hit. Her face was on the cover of every credible music magazine and their debut album received nothing but rave reviews. 'It was a hell of a learning curve,' she says. 'You think it's wonderful to be this instant success, but within 18 months it all went wrong; the label lost interest, everyone lost interest. By the time I was 20, it was all over - no label, no band, nothing. It was a good lesson to learn straight away though; don't get fooled by the hype, and take everything with a pinch of salt. It also taught me to take responsibility for myself and just try to keep on keeping on.'
Within a year, she'd hooked up with Italian DJ Spiller for the dance hit Groovejet (If This Ain't Love). Sophie was pitted against Victoria Beckham as the 'real Posh' (by dint of having grown up in the royal borough of Richmond) and beat her to the top of the charts. 'It was an insane time,' Sophie recalls. 'I was in every paper with Victoria Beckham - even on the Six O'clock News! I just kept thinking, "This is amazing publicity, bring it on!" Of course, I also thought it was hilarious that there was supposed to be this huge feud between me and Victoria, when we'd never even met. The second time round, I realised you just had to sit back and enjoy the ride and take it all for what it is.'
Fame, she says, has not changed her life. It was love that did that, when she finally fell for her friend Richard Jones. On paper, it just shouldn't have worked. They began dating, she got pregnant within a matter of weeks, but seven years on, there is no sign of any itch. 'I never believed in that whole "we were friends first" idea,' she admits. 'But I knew Richard because he was in my band for a year and a half before The Feeling got together. We'd always talk and I honestly never thought of him in any romantic way. But he was the one I'd confide in with all my relationship problems. When I split from my boyfriend [her former manager Andy Bond], he was the one I wanted to talk to. Then a few months passed and he split from his girlfriend and we started spending time together. I just happened. Richard wanted to do things properly, he didn't want to drift into a relationship. He wanted to go out on dates; on our first date he arrived at my door with flowers and took me to a restaurant. We managed to keep it secret for six weeks and then I found out I was pregnant. I remember being shocked but also knowing deep down that it was right. My mum told me it may not be the right time but it was definitely the right baby, and she was right,' she smiles.
Her own parents divorced when she was four and Sophie says she'll do anything to make sure she and Richard remain together. 'Divorce is just crap for kids. My gift to my own is that I don't ever want them to have to go through that. My mum also told me that your kids have to come first, but never forget your husband. I don't. You have to invest in your marriage. Richard and I do date nights, we go out, we eat, we laugh. We remember we're still young and we're in love.'
'Richard has definitely changed me. He supports me and encourages me, and he doesn't have a jealous bone in his body, which I love. We've been through some big traumas and he's been by my side every step of the way, and I know that both of us share the same values. We have our family and we love what we do - music is a huge part of our lives and whether or not anyone wants to come and listen, it's still something we both have to do.'
Sophie has just finished her latest album, Make A scene. For the past few months, she's been in Russia, Indonesia and Europe promoting it, and she took Sonny on tour. 'He's not fazed by what I do,' she says. 'It's just normal to him. What he loved was being with me in hotels, ordering room service, and seeing different countries. I felt so privileged to be able to do that with him.'
On top of everything, Sophie continues to model (she has fronted a campaign for Monsoon and is the face of Rimmel) but, for some reason, she still thinks she's a bit of a slacker. 'There are people out there who do the whole branding thing - look at Dannii Minogue doing The X Factor, you have to hand it to her. There's a part of me that's a bit lazy, I don't push myself that much... If Simon Cowell asked me to join his panel, I'd definitely say 'yes', but I don't seem to have that extra muscle to put myself out there. Maybe I'm a bit too English,' she laughs.
It's more likely that she doesn't see herself as anything special. 'I do a lot of juggling, like millions of other mums,' she says. 'I give myself crazy schedules - dates in Russia followed by coming home and rushing out to a housewarming, then cooking for 18... Something has to give; for me, it's sleep. I generally manage on very few hours. I'm not a great sight in the morning, but luckily I'm with a man who always knows the right thing to say.'
She is, however, in remarkable shape. 'I'm thinner than I was before I had kids. I don't know why. I think it's genetic. I know what I'm going to look like when I'm older because I'm pretty much identical to my granny Sybil [on her father's side]. I get my long shins and pale skin from her - I missed out on her bigger boobs, though. Apart from that, I'm pretty happy.'
Sophie's new single with Armin Van Buuren, 'Not Giving Up On Love' is released on 7 March.