Jessie J's Home Comforts
PUBLISHED: 11:42 04 November 2014 | UPDATED: 16:55 04 November 2014
Essex Life catches Jessie J, formerly Jessica Ellen Cornish, in the midst of a crazy promo schedule. It's 10.30am, and despite only three hours sleep and the vagaries of 'a salad for breakfast', the 26-year-old is about to tackle a day of interviews. It's all a long way from her Redbridge roots
Since catapulting herself into the pop industry five years ago, Jessie J has carved out an army of fans, a seat on The Voice and three chart-topping albums. She’s become an iconic face on the British music scene and — perhaps aided by being a former hair model for Vidal Sassoon — takes with her a distinct style, whether sporting a bleached blonde crop after shaving her head for Comic Relief or today’s raven black blunt-fringed tresses.
Success may mean Jessie spends more time in airports than her own bedroom these days, but this Essex girl still welcomes the opportunity to retreat to her homely roots to spend time with family. ‘I help with the washing up, wear pyjamas all day and have no make-up on, because even international pop stars can help with the chores,’ she laughs. ‘Going back home is about playing with my nieces and nephews and not talking about Jessie J, you know.’
Born in Seven Kings, Ilford, Jessie was still in primary school when she landed a two-year stint on the West End, playing Brat in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Whistle Down the Wind. Juggling school work and nightly stage performances evidently prepared the star for the global tour schedule that was to follow. And that’s despite being diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome at the age of 11, causing an irregular heartbeat and leading to time being spent within the confines of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
That didn’t stop her exploring ballet, jazz and singing, swapping her local secondary school for the Brit school — a Croydon institution with alumni including Adele and Katy B. She suffered a minor stroke at 18, a result of her heart condition (but still emerged from her studies with distinctions) and now the star calls her legions of fans ‘heartbeats’.
With such a string of challenges leading up to adulthood, the performer makes the rigours of the pop industry seem simple.
‘It’s my job, and I love what I do. Did the challenges of my younger life prepare me? Probably not. But they certainly gave me strength and belief that I could overcome any challenge. But I do miss home — I miss Essex. When you put out an album worldwide you have to travel worldwide, so not being at home is something you prepare yourself for. I guess if you can’t handle being away then you can’t do the job.
‘I think I’ve spent about four nights in my own bed in the last three or four months, but that’s the way it is and I love my life, of course.’
Tracks Do It like a Dude, Domino, Price Tag and Bang Bang have courted Jessie J incredible global attention. She is the girl next door who embraces what she does with honesty, integrity and no small amount of laughter. She’s stormed the stage in a parade of glittering costumes and still found the time to coin songs for a medley of other musicians.
She calls Bang Bang — her massive hit collaboration with Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande — ‘a very bright moment in my life,’ and October’s chart topping album, Sweet Talker, has cemented a reputation for killer collaborations. ‘I like to work with strong people and I like to enjoy people’s talents, you know, in all different kinds of realms.’
Perhaps that explains why, with Jessie, no two songs ever sound the same.
‘On this album alone there’s De La Soul, there’s Tinie Tempah, 2 Chainz, Ariana Grande, there’s Nicki Minaj,’ she reels off. ‘Completely different artists but all people I appreciate, respect and admire.’
For Jessie, a keen songwriter, collaboration inspires celebration, not competition. ‘It’s a great thing, I’m very confident in what I do as an artist, as I should be. It’s exciting, it’s not competitive. Who are you really competing against? Yourself. And my life — in Essex and elsewhere — has always been about that.’
Jessie may have retained that trademark Essex twang, but lately she’s been expending energy Stateside. A permanent move to Los Angeles has been rumoured amid constant speculation about her love life, but today Jessie assures us she’ll never truly leave the capital behind.
‘London and Essex are always going to be my home — whether I live in the UK forever is a different matter, but this is my home and I love it here.
‘I love the weather, the atmosphere — I love that you can go and find so many different sights and sounds, just by taking a different way home…discovering a bar, or something, or cinema that you didn’t know existed. There’s always something going on, it’s such a beautiful place.’
Always one to walk the talk, Jessie shows she can still enjoy a night out on Essex home turf, and she even found time to busk in London’s Camden Stables Market, before the weather turned chilly. She told the crowd that she was honouring her gig origins and while she could have sold out the O2, just a tube ride away, this time her ‘heartbeats’ got to see her perform live for free.
Jessie’s progression from Mayfield High School student to Brit School, and from there to global superstardom, is monumental, but when she reflects on her recent work, it’s more about vocal growth.
‘I think the biggest thing for me on this album is just hearing the growth in my voice. Vocally I’ve definitely worked hard; I’ve trained myself in the last year, more so than ever before.’
With her talent and work ethic as it stands, Jessie’s upward trajectory can only continue, yet staying grounded is at the heart of her appeal. She even admits to taking her own pillowcase on tour with her. ‘Yes I do — I need to have that — my pillow smells like me; it connects me with home and that’s the biggest comfort of all.’