Ann Fotheringham

THE LAST time Alesha Dixon was in Scotland, she gate-crashed her manager’s Hogmanay party. “It was so much fun,” she says, trademark laugh and giant smile firmly in place. “I did the BBC show, which was great, and then we all went back to Malcolm’s house. There was an accordion player, and sausage rolls.

Malcolm Blair has been Dixon’s manager since she first shot to fame in all-female group Mis-Teeq.

“It’s like I have a second family in Glasgow,” she explains.“Malcolm’s like my dad.”

Today, Dixon is recovering after the final of The Greatest Dancer, the Saturday night BBC talent show she presents with street dancer Jordan Banjo, which was won by Livingston girl Ellie Ferguson

“It was such a positive show to be part of,” she says. “I get asked to present things all the time, and I’m really not interested in most of them. But I am passionate about dance.

“All of my favourite early memories involve dance. I didn’t go to dance classes, my mum couldn’t afford it, but I did it school – Irish dancing, tap, ballet – I loved it.”

She pauses, adding with a laugh: “Well, not ballet really. It was a bit too quiet for me.”

Dixon grew up in Welwyn Garden City, daughter of a Jamaican father and an English mother. Her parents separated when she was four, and Dixon has spoken in the past about how domestic violence by her mother’s subsequent partner affected her childhood.

That is off the table for this interview, however, along with a short list of other Alesha-won’t-discuss-that-today topics, warns her press officer, before we are allowed to go ahead.

Who can blame her? For almost two decades, since bursting on to the music scene in Mis-Teeq, Dixon’s life has been under an intense media spotlight.

From superstar popstar to Strictly Come Dancing champion to Saturday night telly favourite and talent show judge, she has handled questions about her troubled childhood and her relationship with her estranged father with dignity and engaging honesty; and she has spoken frankly about the break-up of her marriage and being dropped by her record label. She has been there, done that and experienced just about every high and low a life-in-showbiz can throw at you.

Is it any wonder, then, that now she has a successful new career as a children’s author, a happy relationship (with former backing dancer Azuka Ononye) and a daughter, six-year-old Azura, she feels like it’s time to change the subject?

Derry Girls: Everything you need to know about season 2

Dixon’s website makes it clear she feels she is in a good place now. “I have been on a journey,” she states. “And what I’m very good at doing is putting life into perspective.

“There are so many people out there doing jobs that they don’t love. There are so many people struggling. I don’t want to get too deep but every day I give thanks that I’m doing something I love, with a roof over my head, with security and these things I never take for granted.”

Dixon first found fame as part of Mobo Award winning and Brit-nominated group Mis-Teeq. They achieved two platinum albums and seven top ten hits, blazing a trail through the music industry of the early Noughties.

She was all set to become a PE teacher, however, before Mis-Teeq came along.

“I had such affection for performing at school – I always felt like I was my best self when I was up on stage in the plays, or singing or dancing,” she says.

“And yet, in my pragmatic head, I thought it couldn’t possibly be my career, so I set myself what I thought were more realistic goals.

“I knew and understood the path to becoming a PE teacher – I had no idea what path you took to become a singer. I didn’t want to be some airy fairy person, running around wanting to be a pop star.

“I was on my way to Loughborough University when I met a woman who had her own production company, who was looking for developing artists and I got talking to her. Suddenly it felt like the music industry might not be on planet Mars, maybe it was something I could get into.”

She pauses. “That was the thing, see? I think deep down in my heart I knew I always wanted to be a singer, I just didn’t know how to get there,” she says. “I lived in a small town, I didn’t have any connections whatsoever with that world so it seemed like something to look on and admire from afar, but not actually be part of.

“And yet – at college, there was an instinct in me, a niggle that made me think I should be doing something different. I never ignore that niggle.”

She adds, laughing: “There’s a life lesson in there – never ignore your gut instinct.”

When she looks back at the years she spent in Mis-Teeq, Dixon says it feels “too good to be true.”

“I was in a girl band, we had hits and awards and travelled the world – I’d never been on an aeroplane before Mis-Teeq,” she marvels. “We did everything. On paper it shouldn’t have worked. But it did and it changed my life.

“It made me believe. Even now, when I look back, I think – if that’s what I achieved when I had nothing, then imagine what I can achieve now?

“I was so happy in Mis-Teeq. I wouldn’t be here, writing books, judging on BGT, doing Strictly, if it hadn’t been for the girls. I owe everything to them.”

Dixon admits there were times when the group considered giving up.

Who are Scotland's funniest 60 people?

“We were broke,” she says, simply. “For four years, we had no money. We had walked away from college courses and university places to join a girl band, and what was our plan B? Was there ever a back-up? I honestly don’t think so. It was ludicrous. I think we were so in the moment, so caught up in what we wanted to do, that there was just no option other than it working.

“But my mum always says to me, if you wake up every day and it feels right and you are happy, then trust your instinct and do it. And maybe it’s because we were so headstrong and focussed that we didn’t give up.

“People try to put you in a box or dismiss you, but what we achieved proves that if you work hard, if you are authentic, then even if the odds are against you it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed.”

The group split in 2005.

“The end of Mis-Teeq felt like the end of a marriage,” says Dixon. “It was amicable, a joint decision, but there was still heartache and a lot of tears.

“Things had come to a natural end and we decided to go our separate ways. It was a walk into the unknown – and then, I had the dream scenario.”

Dixon was offered a lucrative deal with Polydor, and she spent 18 months writing and recording her solo debut album, Fired Up, alongside producers like Richard X, Brian Higgins, Estelle and Paul Epworth. But her joy evaporated when in November 2006, Dixon was dropped by the label just as her one-year-old marriage to rapper MC Harvey collapsed, following revelations he had had an affair with singer Javine Hylton.

“I’d spent 18 months working on my solo album, putting all my eggs in one basket and they dropped me,” says Dixon. “I was left fumbling in the dark. I lost everything.”

She adds: “When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realised I had to come up with a new plan. I made some calls, sent some emails.”

One of those calls was to Charlotte Oates, celebrity producer and talent scout for Strictly Come Dancing.

“A lot of people were a bit snobby about reality shows, but I loved Strictly and I told Charlotte I’d love to do it if I could,” she recalls.

Dixon signed up for the fifth series of Strictly in 2007, partnered with professional dancer Matthew Cutler. She quickly became the favourite and beat actor Matt Di Angelo and Flavia Cacace in the final to win the glitterball trophy.

“It was lovely,” she sighs. “If I ever watch the dances back, it brings up so many emotions and I’m in floods of tears. It felt transformational, that show. I got a lot of love and support when I won Strictly and it made me feel, actually, that things were going to be okay after all. Strictly saved me.”

After a spell as a judge on the dance show, Dixon switched seats to Britain’s Got Talent, where she currently resides alongside Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and David Walliams. She has hosted many TV shows, including Alesha’s Street Dance Stars on CBBC, Children in Need and ITV’s Dance, Dance, Dance.

Her third book, Secret Supervillain vs Lightning Girl, will be published on March 7. It is the latest adventure of Aurora Beam, a little girl who discovers she is descended from a long line of superheroes.

Dixon has written the books in collaboration with The It Girl author Katy Birchall.

“I’m really grateful to Katy and the team at Scholastic, they have really helped me bring all of my characters and ideas to life,” she says.

“I’ve always loved the idea of writing something. I’m not mad about doing an autobiography, but I’d thought something on wellness maybe, or a children’s book. The inspiration came from wanting my daughter to feel empowered. I wanted to create a positive role model, to say that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be me.

Shaun Ryder: "If it hadn't been for music I don't think I would be here."

“Every single child deserves to feel included. I want readers to see themselves in Aurora, who is dealing with troubles at home and at school alongside finding she has new superpowers.”

As a child, Dixon read a lot but says no one character struck a chord with her.

“I liked Judy Blume, because she was a bit edgy,” she says. “With Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, you always kind of felt you shouldn’t be reading it, and I loved that.

“But there was no single character I really identified with – none that stayed with me, that I could see myself in.”

She adds: “I don’t want my daughter to feel like that. I think things are changing, slowly – we live in a time where anything feels possible and it is great that underdogs, people who may have once just been pushed aside or overlooked, finally have a voice.

“But only one per cent of British children’s books feature a main character who is black or minority ethnic, and statistics like that show there is still a long, long way to go.”

Finding space and time to write can be tricky, Dixon admits.

“Do I hide away for hours and write and write? God no,” she laughs. “With Azura about, not a chance.

“I write on aeroplanes, or in the car, or at night in bed when Azura is asleep. It’s the same with songwriting – I can never do it in the house, I have to go into the studio and physically put some distance between me and everyday life. I love writing, and I hope I always do it now. But finding a quiet place in my house to do it for hours on end? Never going to happen.”

Away from her multiple day jobs, Dixon lends her name and time to a range of good causes. She is currently working on a documentary about animals being used for entertainment.

“If you are blessed with a platform, you should use it wisely,” she says, adding emphatically: “Elephant rides, tiger selfies – it’s all just wrong. I feel very passionately about animal protection. My mother educated me. She showed me things that maybe people don’t like to look at, because they are afraid to. I’m the kind of person who looks, even if it hurts, because I believe knowledge is power. If you see it, you can do something about it.

“I can’t watch distressing videos, like the ones that come up on social media, and then just go about my day as usual.

“I have to act. And if I can do something that makes a few people look differently at an issue, then job done. I’m quite a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person.”

It’s why, she thinks, audiences have warmed to her as a judge on shows like Britain’s Got Talent, where a string of hopefuls put themselves in the firing line in a bid to become famous.

“I never forget it’s a human being standing in front of me,” she says. “I always try to have a connection with that person – this is someone who is putting themselves out there, taking a step and we are all different and we all have our stories and experiences.

“You shouldn’t forget that in the heat of making a television programme.”


MIS-TEEQ: As part of Mis-Teeq, alongside Sabrina Washington and Su-Elise Nash, Alesha Dixon achieved two platinum albums and seven top ten hits, a Mobo award and a Brit nomination.

SOLO CAREER: Alesha is the singer and author of nine top 10 singles and three platinum albums. Her single, The Boy Does Nothing, is a million-seller and reached the top 10 in 12 global territories. Her album The Alesha Show was one of only five platinum-selling albums in 2010.

STRICTLY CHAMPION: In 2007, on series five of the hit BBC ONE dance show, Alesha took the glitterball trophy with professional partner Matthew Cutler. She holds the record for the highest average score in Strictly history with 36.5 points – and that's despite never achieving a perfect 40 point score for a single routine. Alesha went on to sit on the Strictly judging panel for three series from 2009-2011.

CHARITY AMBASSADOR: Alesha supports a range of charities including World Animal Protection and Action Aid. In 2009 she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a group of other celebrities to raise more than a million pounds for Comic Relief.