She’s the queen of British soul and now a star of the West End. With a new album out and a reprisal of her role as Rachel Marron in the West End version of The Bodyguard, Beverley Knight is riding high. She talks to Jessica Jonzen.
Beverley Knight does not do things by halves. The soul star had barely released her latest album Soulsville and finished touring in June when she went back into rehearsals to play Rachel Marron in the West End version of Whitney Houston’s 1992 film The Bodyguard. It was the role in which Knight had made her West End debut in 2013 and the critics are hailing her reprised performance as a standout success. ‘It’s incredible. I did drama as a kid but never imagined that I’d be doing it at this level professionally,’ the Greatest Day singer laughs.
It’s capped off an exciting chapter in the 43-year-old’s life. Having married her fiancé James O’Keefe in 2012, she had planned to start work on her eighth studio album. As it turned out, she was offered the lead role in Memphis the Musical, which would go on to become an Olivier Award winning West End hit. ‘In the meantime The Bodyguard was doing a cast change and I expressed an interest and ended up getting the role of Rachel Marron as well. It set this whole West End experience in motion,’ she says. Having won an Oliver Award nomination for her starring role in Memphis the Musical, she took on the iconic role of Grizabella in the 2015 revival of Cats and all the while was writing Soulsville.
The album might have taken longer than she’d planned but, rather than interrupting her recording career, the West End has helped it, says Knight. ‘Getting the lead role in Memphis gave me the opportunity to go there and experience it. It made a huge impression on me and gave me a really strong idea of what I wanted to say on my next album and how I wanted it to sound. The West End didn’t interrupt the flow, it enhanced it.’
As one of the UK’s most successful recording artists with a career spanning over 20 years, Beverley Knight’s first love is still music. ‘I’m a singer songwriter – that’s what I am, it’s what I do. Everything else that I enjoy because of it is fantastic, but it all comes back to the music.’ Having written the songs for Soulsville, Knight took them out to Memphis and recorded the album in a week-long session at the legendary Royal Studios. ‘I was recording in the studio in which Al Green had recorded everything he did and I was using his microphone and even some members of his band. It was just fabulous.’
The record has huge significance to Knight. ‘It’s been a long time coming – five years. It’s the first album I’ve written since my father died in 2010 and since I got married. These things are rites of passage and they change you. This album is kind of indicativeof where I am in my forties.’ Knight credits her husband with ‘making her a better human’, saying ‘we are such a strong team and I don’t even know if I would have gone for the West End if it hadn’t have been for James saying ‘‘you’d better do it! I know how capable you are.’’
Capability she has in spades. With a raft of awards to her name and an MBE for services to music and charity, which of her achievements is she most proud of? ‘The fact that I’m still here,’ she says, not missing a beat. ‘Longevity is not something that’s granted to people in the music industry and it’s something that relatively few people manage to attain and I’m lucky enough to be one of them. That’s really the best thing because it means people still care about what I’m doing.’ With talent like hers, we’ll be caring for a long time to come.