Sunday, May 4, 2008

04 May: Mail on Sunday Feature Duffy







Click the photos to see MUCH larger, readable images!

Below is the online version of the article from today's YOU magazine (one of the supplement mags with the Mail on Sunday).

'I've seen the really dark side of addiction,' says new music megastar Duffy

By LIZ JONES

When I meet Duffy for breakfast, it's clear she has been having a tough few days.

Her face is puffy, she hasn't bothered to wash her dyed blond hair, and she looks desperately tired.

At 23 she is tiny, barely five feet, little legs squeezed into skinny jeans and finished off with size 21/2 pumps, the effect of which only adds to her appearance of extreme vulnerability.

She is like a child, not a woman ("Someone thought I was 12 the other day!" she yelps), which means the big, soulful, lived-in voice that has made her this year's biggest-selling UK artist seems even more incongruous.

With her debut album rocketing to number one, Duffy, 23, has become a star in a few short months

Her debut album, Rockferry, was at number one for four weeks (350,000 sales and counting) and, bizarrely, her hit track 'Mercy' seems to be the only song anyone ever listens to in Coronation Street's Weatherfield - it provides regular background music in the Rovers Return and in characters' homes.

I tell her she looks as if she has been crying.

"The last time I cried was in a cab, when one of my songs came on the radio and I just couldn't control myself."

Did she cry after the revelations about her family became public? (It's early April when we meet, and details about how her stepfather's first wife tried to kill him have just emerged.)

"No," she says in her singsong Welsh lilt, her face dimpling as she gives me a wry grin (she says she developed dimples as a child because she was so fat that her face had to find a way to crease into a smile; she is certainly not fat now, despite the fact she proceeds to slather butter on her chocolate croissant).

"I knew it would all come out one day. I suppose I was just waiting for it to happen; I had even started to imagine what the headlines would say when they found out."

Aimee Ann Duffy (she dropped her first two names when she turned 19; when I ask what her family call her at home, she says jokingly, "Madame Duffy, of course!") has a bit of a complicated family background.

Her mother, Joyce, a factory worker, got married at 19 to Allan Evans, a storeman. When that marriage broke up, Joyce got a job as a hotel waitress, which is how she met John Duffy, who was working as the hotel manager. They married in 1977, set up home in Nefyn, North Wales, opened a pub, and started a family.

First came a daughter, Kelly, followed by twins Aimee and Katy in 1984. But then the marriage started to go wrong.

After taking her A-levels, Duffy studied culture studies at Chester University before dropping and singing in local blues clubs

"They tried to separate when I was six but I cried so much they stayed together," says Duffy. "My mum is a lovely woman and she didn't want to hurt us. They finally separated when I was nine."

This was when Joyce rekindled her relationship with childhood sweetheart Philip Smith, an agricultural merchant. They married in 1996, and moved with their combined family of seven children to an English-speaking area in Pembrokeshire, which came as quite a shock to the Welsh-speaking Duffy.

But Philip's divorce from his previous wife, Dawn, had been acrimonious: Philip had won custody of their four children and Dawn, after receiving a demand to pay maintenance, offered an acquaintance called Robert Rees £3,000 to kill Philip. Her exact words were: "I want you to blow his head off."

Rees immediately told the police, who bundled the family into a safe house. Dawn was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in June 1998. An alcoholic, she died in 2002, just 18 months after her release.

We go outside on to the patio so that Duffy can have a cigarette. Does she remember all this going on, even though she was only 11 when it started?

She takes a drag on her cigarette, and exhales slowly.

"It was a horrible experience. My stepdad went through a lot. He's a really good man."

'One thing I've learnt is that I want to do things that are good for me now. I've done so many things that are bad for me,' says the Welsh singer

Even before Dawn decided to kill her ex-husband, she was ruining his family's life.

"It was really bad. We'd see Dawn occasionally and we got tormented through our mid-teens: she would make funny phone calls and all that stuff. We were kind of afraid and it really ruined my mum. She became very shy. It's a real shame."

She's also concerned for Dawn's children.

"We grew up together, but I haven't seen them in years and so it's a massive shock for them that their mum is suddenly being written about."

And she says that it is precisely because she saw, through Dawn's actions, what alcoholism can do to a family that she turned her back on drink and drugs.

"People keep talking about how all the other girls in the industry are wild and cool, but I've seen the really dark side of addiction, so it doesn't float my boat, you know?"

She tells me reporters have camped outside her London flat (she lives in the same block as her sisters: "They're like my best friends") and outside her mum's home back in Wales, and that all her friends have been offered money to talk about her.

'The last time I cried was in a cab, when one of my songs came on the radio and I just couldn't control myself,' says Duffy

I wonder if Duffy feels guilty that, in a way, she has brought this on her family by becoming famous?

"No, I don't, not really - as selfish as it sounds, there's nothing I regret.

"I mean, no one died. I'm so glad that my mum is with her childhood sweetheart."

She smiles. "You know, they're 50 years old and they still walk holding hands. That's my idea of love and that's what I want when I'm older. They didn't have a child of their own together, but he's really good to us."

The intrusion into her private life seems to be a price she is willing to pay.

Duffy has wanted to be famous for a very long time. She started singing aged six, and would carry a notebook around with her in which she would scribble lyrics.

She was chucked out of the school choir because her voice was "too big; I didn't fit in".

'The last time I cried was in a cab, when one of my songs came on the radio and I just couldn't control myself,' says Duffy

Much has been made of the fact that her home town - population 2,550 - didn't have a record store, a youth club or a cinema, and that she was reduced to watching her dad's VHS tapes of vintage Top of the Pops, featuring the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield (to whom she's so often been likened).

"That is a bit of an exaggeration," she says, rolling those huge eyes.

"I had a video of Dirty Dancing as well. I loved the songs in that film. I didn't discover soul until later - I'm still learning about R&B.

"People say I have a retro sound, but it's not retro, it's new. I'm not riding on the bandwagon started by Amy Winehouse. I wrote Rockferry four years ago." (Having said that, when I ask who she is listening to, she says, "Scott Walker, every single day.")

What about the accusations that, having come from rural Wales, she is desperately naive?

"Actually, I saw a lot, including drug-taking. The fact I didn't do drugs was quite isolating."

She always felt different. In her teens, she had her tongue and eyebrows pierced, dyed her hair red, made her own clothes, "and I would always go for the boy who had issues, or for the older guy.

"One thing I've learnt is that I want to do things that are good for me now. I've done so many things that are bad for me."

Really?

"Yeah. I've been in situations that have been really wrong for me; I've been really unhappy.

"But I have this philosophy that if it isn't right for you, why have it in your life? And I made that choice."

She spent hours singing on a karaoke machine, making tapes and posting them to record companies.

"I loved singing - it was a secret weapon that I was going to use to get away."

After taking her A-levels, she went on to do culture studies at Chester University.

Even there, she stuck out like a sore thumb.

"Going out and getting hammered, wearing the shortest skirt I could find, just wasn't me. I could hear all these girls in platform shoes running past my door and I'd be sitting in my room writing."

She dropped out, and started singing in local blues clubs. When she was 19, she came second in the Welsh version of the The X Factor. I venture that it must have been an enormous blow not to win, but she shakes her head.

"All it meant was that I took a long, hard look at myself."

She was quickly spotted by Jeanette Lee and Geoff Travis, the founders of Rough Trade Records. They in turn introduced her to Bernard Butler, formerly the guitarist with Suede, and the two started writing together.

I tell her 'Mercy' is my favourite track on the album, a tale of betrayal, lost love, and of finally learning to stand on her own two tiny feet.

Was that about the break-up of her three-year relationship with Mark Durston, now an events manager, whom she fell in love with while still a student?

She pulls her knees up to her chest.

"I didn't write 'Mercy' about him."

I tell her I had read that the reason they split up was because of her success; she no longer had time for him.

"No," she screws up her nose.

"It's a complete lie - which I'm kind of glad of because it probably covered his arse - but the real reason we broke up was that he cheated on me."

So she got rid of him, just like that?

"I was, like, f*** off. I was juggling my career at that time, I was in all these situations with temptation all around me, and I made a commitment - I didn't cheat on him. He was older than me," she says, looking sad.

"I thought he treasured me."

I ask how she found out and she says, "I just knew. He denied it for about a year and a half, then he told me he wanted to marry me.

"And so I said, 'Put your cards on the table and tell me about some hidden secrets. If you really love me, you'll tell me.' And he did."

Wasn't she tempted to forgive him?

"To be honest, he was more like a friend. He hurt me but he didn't destroy me. I don't hold a grudge. He did me a favour."

So who was 'Mercy' about?

"I've never ever said this. I don't know if I can!" she squeaks.

"But it's about a gorgeous guy that I met. He was a very sexual character and I was very tempted, but my morals got the better of me."

Her morals?

"Yeah! I wish I was more sexually liberated, but I couldn't go there..."

What on earth did he want her to do?

She turns pink.

"I'm a girl from Wales who is used to the old traditions - let's just say they didn't comply with his."

Was he with someone else?

"Apparently he was. I always meet rogues."

She has been single for two years, and claims men never, ever ask her out.

"They really don't. But I've had enough of going out with men who are friends first. I want a little bit more. It's not a looks thing.

"I want a man who's charismatic and funny and intriguing and dresses well. And I like a guy who's good with his hands; a real man. I'm window-shopping right now."

She still seems vulnerable, a bit lonely, especially when she tells me her friends from Wales have only been to see her once in two years.

I wonder if she has been able to enjoy any of her reported £1 million record deal.

"I was in Paris the other week, and all I had time to do was dash into Dolce & Gabbana and Miu Miu for about five minutes.

"You know what? I get more excited about finding a discounted pair of designer shoes than I did when I had the number one.

"It's really weird. You've waited for it your whole life and it's exciting, but there's a lot of sacrifice involved."

Duffy might look like a child, but she's had to grow up fast.

She tells me that at first when she was coming up to London to write the album, she still had a job in a clothes shop, and the manager would always be bullying her.

"I was called into her office every day and she would chip away at me because of her problems and I wouldn't stick up for myself.

"My mum used to say I had to get a backbone because I was too nice."

And now?

"Now I don't tolerate s*** any more.

"I grew a really tough skin and I've been using that for the last four years. That's what I wanted to come across in the record."

Duffy's album Rockferry is on Polydor; her new single 'Warwick Avenue' will be released on 26 May. She will be appearing at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on 4 June.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice snaps and Aimee stop biting your nails. Nice of the Mail to be concerned about the safe house story .... seeing as they broke it in the first place.

Swedish Duffy fan said...

Great job with the website. Scans and articles much appreciated! Keep it up!
Cheers from Sweden

Anonymous said...

Everything in that article by Lizard Jones is negative -
nothing about Duffy's gigantic single and album sales, her hard work in the USA and Europe, her exemplar demeaner in all interviews, her non-stop cheerfulness etc...poor girl must have sung Mercy a thousand times.

Typical toe-rag journalism. PUKE.