thanks to Paul once again, sorry i made you buy this twice
BRITISH TO A TEA
Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Dan Gillespie Sells talk about their own self-effacing approach to pop stardom.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor is reminiscing about the first time she clocked Dan Gillespie Sells, circa 2002. "I know that when I met you, you had that boyfriend with the woodstock t-shirt and a lot of curly hair. The one who danced..."
“His name was Julian." thinks Dan. "What happened to Julian?" Over cups of tea and coffee and walnut cake in an East London tearoom, top pop veterans and good mates Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Dan Gillespie Sells are chewing the cud over his exes, her hubby (his best friend and band-mate Richard Jones) and the many charms of tea itself. "The first cup of tea in the morning cannot be beaten," announces Sophie with her stock-like elegance. "After that, you're just chasing the dragon."
They make for a terrifically British twosome, rattling through the news agenda and discussing the job in hand. That job would be their new albums. Sophie works her glacial dance-queen manoeuvre on the long-in-development, Make a scene, while Dan's band, The Feeling, are back with a third album, Together We Were Made. They're both at interesting junctures. Sophie can claim a loyal following drawn to her sophisto pop and her knack for pulling a summer holiday hit out of the bag. The Feeling have settled into their role as purveyors of a particularly British strand of jaunt pop, fittingly the soundtrack for the BBC's Cricket World Cup Coverage. They share an English reserve about flogging records, a trail that may undermine their chart position but defines their type of pop-stardom.
The two have had a hand in each other's destiny since meeting in 2002. Dan's friend, Richard Jones, was Sophie's bass player, who went on to be in The Feeling and marry into the Ellis-Bextor’s. Sophie and he have two boys together. As a result of all this intermingling Dan and Sophie are a tight unit. Sophie cameos on the track Leave Me Out Of It on The Feeling's new record; Dan has previously written for her and played guitar when Sophie serenaded her husband at their wedding with the song God Only Knows. When they were having their first child, Richard and Sophie told Dan the news first.
A: Let’s start at the beginning of your friendship. So Dan was living with Richard when Sophie was going out with him.
D: Richard was living in my house in North London. We were housemates, Richard and I.
S: You were the first person we told we were having a baby (to Dan). You reacted brilliantly.
D: I nearly fell off my stool.
S: Basically, Richard and I started going out and then within two months we found out we were having a baby. Because he'd been my bass player we tried not to tell anyone that we were dating, and then when we found out we were having a baby we had to go around to everybody saying, "We've been dating for quite a while...for six weeks...but you know, it's all fine." (Laughs)
S: But that's OK
D: Yeah, but it's a bit scary really. The funny thing was that when Sonny came along, all that stuff went out the window. It was just like, 'Wow'.
A: Do you think that's a gay man's defensiveness?
D: I think some gay men do that, and some gay men go the other way
S: You could say it's a 26-year-old-man's defensiveness.
D: That's true
S: Richard was 25 when we had Sonny and it was the first baby he'd really held.
D: With all of us, there was this hormone rush.
S: (to Dan) you’re being very slow to get on with anything. Other friends of ours have had a new baby. We've had two, what are you doing?
D: But the way we all felt about babies suddenly changed. Suddenly it was like "Gosh, it's a real family here" and it's exciting.
A: Dan, would you like to have kids?
D: I would. It's come a long way for me to say I would.
S: I can totally agree with that.
D: I think eventually, yeah. I might not wait quite as long as David and Elton have. But maybe they've paved the way, made it easier for us. It's scary but I was raised in a gay house. There's no reason it can't work and there's no reason, especially now in the modern age, why it can't be accepted by everyone.
S: (archly) I think some of your beautiful objects d'art might have to be put up a couple of shelves...
A: Dan, you've been with your boyfriend Ryan for four years now. Any sign of you getting hitched?
D: It's a strange one for me. Maybe one day. I'm not against the idea but I'm not very excited by it, either. Only I think because my parents weren't... my mum and her partner and my dad wasn't either. I never grew up with marriage as a part of any of the families that I knew.
A: How does your boyfriend feel about it?
D: I'm sure he'd love to...
S: I have the feeling you'll get married when you've been together for about 20 years.
D: He might want something a bit sooner.
S: Yeah, OK, but will he ask you? I picture him wanting you to ask him
D: I think he'd want me to ask him
A: Sophie's very good on Twitter
D: I don't even know how to work it.
S: It's very easy.
A: (to Sophie) Are you doing it all yourself?
S: Yeah. Except for the one that says Sophie HQ. I don't like using it for promotion.
A: That's clever - not trying too hard.
S: It's not really a tactic, that's a bit naff. I'm just not very good at that any more. I'm too British for self-promotion in that way.
D: I'm quite dyslexic and I'm not very good with writing and staying in touch with people. I'm slightly, mildly, verging on... illiterate.
S: That doesn't matter, actually.
A: That's an advantage. All you need is a few LOLs.
S: Exactly. And a smiley face.
A: You both have a certain British reserve about things, especially promotion.
S: I think what's always made British pop starts charming is that we don't celebrate that level of finesse where there's that veneer of everything being perfect. Misfits. We celebrate that more, I think.
D: I never thought I would be able to fit in. With the family I came from, I never thought that I would fit in with the society generally. It still comes as a surprise to me that we have a following, because I couldn't manage at school.
S: That's good; I think that's a benefit. I'm always really grateful that I wasn't one of the popular girls at school
D: School is this weird thing, isn't it? Because there is a different switch when you come out of school and go into the real world and it seems like lots of things flip. Think about the way lesbian and gay kids are treated in schools and you think that actually most of these are in middle-class areas. It seems perfectly acceptable for the worst insult to be gay or the worst kind of bullying to happen to children there.
S: I just never felt defined by school, and towards the end of it I started taking myself further and further out. First, I wasn't in the class picture and then I wasn't in the year picture. I just started having a life outside of it, and that's when I was in a band and I got a boyfriend, and then you just start doing other things. Luckily, I signed my record deal before I sat my A-levels.
D: My self-image was bizarre. I tried so hard to wear the right kind of cool indie clothes when that was the thing; they didn't fit me properly and I seemed to be the wrong shape and my head was all the wrong shape.
S: Your head is not the wrong shape
A: Do you talk about your work when you hang out?
D: Only in a very natural way. We've never planned anything. Sophie sang on 'Leave Me Out Of It' and it needed that feminine touch. It was just lovely.
A: Sophie's already working on a new record. What's the ambition for you both?
S: Nothing ever happens when you force it, anyway, ever. The nice thing about the position we're both in is that we're not trying to prove anything or reinvent. This is what we do and I don't think that either of us have ever felt like we've been part of a fashion movement or spearheading change. I would hope by now that people would trust that my motives are quite pure. If it was purely a vehicle for advertising myself, there are a lot of things I would’ve done quite differently over the years. I probably say "No" to as many things as I say "Yes" to. That, for me, is what keeps me same. It's a nice feeling because you can relax a bit more.
A: But the flip side to that is whether you really want to be a popstar?
S: Sometimes those things burn out quicker. Maybe I'd have burned out quicker if I'd have been, "Here are my children, and this is my house and will you now buy more records?" I actually don't think it makes any difference, anyway.
A: How do you feel about fame?
S: I still get to walk my kids to school and get the Tube, and I don't know if I really want anything to change. That said, if I wasn't ambitious, then I wouldn't always be trying to raise the bar with my music and my performing. And I actually think I'm much better live than I have ever been, really, mainly because I want to be.
D: As long as you're ambitions remain artistic ambitions. The other kind of ambition is odd, as you start questioning what success is.
S: And you feel a bit grubby, too.