DUFFY: MY HEART IS THE HAPPIEST IT'S BEEN
Duffy’s album Endlessly is out on A&M/Polydor on November 29
Sunday Express, November 21,2010
AT THE end of our interview, Duffy chirps: “I don’t know how you’re going to put all this together. Good luck!” She has a point. She’s been talking 19 to the dozen for the past hour, answering slightly different questions to the ones I asked before veering off at another tangent. She’s thoroughly entertaining though; a warm, effervescent, 5ft 2in powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm who’s also remarkably unstarry considering she’s the artist behind the biggest-selling record of 2008.
Her debut album saw Duffy hailed as the new Dusty Springfield. Nearly seven million people bought Rockferry, charmed by a sleek, soulful nostalgia that earned her a Grammy and three Brit Awards. Those same crowd-pleasing retro stylings are in place on her follow-up Endlessly but several tracks show Aimée Ann Duffy, 26, moving in a far more punchy but equally classy pop direction. “I want people to dance!” she says.
Duffy is up for an image overhaul, fed up of being seen as vulnerable. “All the pieces that are written about me are tragic and call me lonely,” she complains. “Every day I get asked what happened with my nervous breakdown that never even happened.
“I keep being asked how difficult it was to be successful, how tragic it must have been to be alone in Los Angeles. When did I become the tragic breakdown girl who couldn’t survive success?”
Probably when she told a journalist about a “borderline breakdown” during a US tour that saw her locked in her room sobbing with homesickness.
Or when she told another journalist: “one in every 15 gigs, I get teary... I feel exposed.” Then there was the time she filmed the video for Warwick Avenue, a song about a break-up. Its producers had storyboarded a party climax except the emotion of the song reduced Duffy into the uncontrollable tears that you see in the final cut.
However, Duffy describes herself as someone who doesn’t “do” problems. “There’s no such thing as a problem,” she insists. “You get over things. I don’t know if I can bleed as much as people want. I don’t know if I can put on that tragic mask for them.
“I have really no regrets. I chose this [career]. Don’t misjudge: I’m in control of what I’m doing. Don’t be fooled by the dimples.
“I’m sitting with you open-heartedly but I’m in control of my life and there is no part of this that was tragic. It’s celebratory and I want people to be happy for me.”
In fact, even though she co-writes her material, she would love to rebrand herself as a pop moppet.
“I want to be a garish star with blood in my veins!” she says. “A bit more tongue in cheek. I’m an artist but I want to be a pop star. I’d like to be Kylie Minogue.” Indeed, so much so, she was flattered when website Popjustice described her as “manufactured”.
While she might come across as a bit dappy, a touch dizzy and endearingly childlike, she certainly doesn’t seem anything like as dim as she would apparently have us believe.
Talking about Endlessly, she says: “I made it but I don’t know what I did. I’m not that clever. There’s no intelligence, I promise. I’d love to tell you I was super-smart and I excelled at school and nearly became a doctor but I’m just a singer who wrote some songs.”
Apparently she passes 24-hour flights just staring into space; no films, no books, nothing. “I’m like a child,” she says. “Someone asked me once: ‘What are you thinking about?’ I said: ‘Nothing, nothing going through these ears’. ”
However, whether she genuinely has a short memory or simply refuses to dwell on the negative, a big factor is surely the fact that right now, Duffy is the happiest she has ever been.
For the past 18 months, she has been dating Wales rugby international Mike Phillips. His team, the Ospreys, was asked about their goals and ambitions: one player wanted to be signed up for a sports company ad but Mike? He wanted a date with Duffy.
“This was before we had met but he knew I was the girl for him,” she smiles.
“The fact that he was Welsh did stop me in my tracks,” she adds and she agreed to a dinner date in a West London restaurant. “It was the first date of my life. Neither of us touched our food and at the end of the night we were wrapped up in blankets outside, kissing.” And now? “I really love him.”
She had never been in love until the age of 25, she explains. Will we be hearing wedding bells any time soon? “I don’t know if it’s my place to speak publicly about my intentions with him,” says Duffy, probably not being quite as evasive as she would like. “I’m a little bit old-fashioned and if I told you I wanted to marry him, it’d be in the papers tomorrow that I wanted to propose.” In other words, yes?
Asked how she would describe love, she gazes goofily off into the middle distance, an enormous grin on her face. “It makes you feel alive and fun and young and free and giggly and private and secretive and special. My heart is the happiest it’s been.”
Last year, Duffy was listed 16th in a British Rich List and, when asked about her biggest splurge, she says: “Mike and myself took a private jet to Italy for the weekend. That felt fun. We got really drunk and started to…no, I won’t say it.”
They share a home halfway between London and Wales, “a little gaff off the M4” but Duffy still sees plenty of her family, including twin Katy Ann who works for the charity Born Free and older sister Kelly who helps people with disabilities find employment.
Duffy’s perception of her upbringing is rose-tinted. Her parents split up in 1993 (She once said: “They tried to separate when I was six but I cried so much that they stayed together.”).
then, when she was 13, the ex-wife of her stepfather enlisted a hitman to kill him so the family were removed to a safe house. Yet her memories are dominated by “sunny days on the shores of north Wales”. “Life isn’t like it used to be,” she says, “beautiful and safe.”
Duffy genuinely seems to succeed in letting the negative go, rather than refusing to discuss it. She’s simply far more interested in the present than the past.
She’s quite interested in the future, too. She collaborated with Albert Hammond on Endlessly, a venerable producer who has worked with Roy Orbison, Tina Turner and Diana Ross and it’s Ross’s level of super-stardom that Duffy aspires to.
She would like to become “bigger than her songs”, someone who’s a household name in their own right, although she finds songwriting a doddle compared with promotion.
“If I want to walk through the airport dressed in leather hotpants with an entourage of 15 people, well, that can be done but my name won’t be remembered for that and my goals are somewhere else. I know where my sights are set.”
Duffy’s album Endlessly is out on A&M/Polydor on November 29.