Kiki Dee has invited us to meet her at her cosy cottage, tucked away in a rural Hertfordshire village.
There are thatched roofs, a country pub right next door, poppies growing by the roadside, and as we walk up the path to her front door the church bells chime, as if on cue.
In such a bucolic setting we half expect Kiki to open the door in a floral smock, with flowing hair and carrying a trug of flowers.
But reassuringly, after more than half a century in the music biz, Kiki is still instantly recognisable, clad head-to-toe in classic rock attire – navy skinny jeans, dark blue pumps, white blouse and leather jacket, with the same sleek bob from her 1970s heyday.
Once we’re inside there’s a plate of homemade smoked salmon sandwiches awaiting us, and Kiki quickly switches to host mode, offering us a seat and a drink: ‘Tea, coffee, water, fizzy water?’
Several times she stops the interview to ask if we have what we need.
For someone who has topped the charts both in the UK and America, and rubbed shoulders with recording royalty, including Sir Elton John, the Bradford-born singer remains refreshingly warm and down-to-earth.
And when she detects another Yorkshire accent she smiles conspiratorially.
‘Northern girls! I don’t know about you, but whenever I go back for a visit, I always end up coming back sounding Yorkshire again!’
Of course Kiki isn’t her real name (it’s Pauline Matthews) – she was given it by her record company – and in the early days it caused some confusion.
‘How did I survive it – coming from Bradford and being called Kiki Dee?!’ she laughs.
‘I used to go back home from the Swinging 60s in London and people would say, “What kind o’ name is that, love?”'
'They didn’t know who the hell I was!’
It was the release of her first single that prompted the name change.
‘It was the 60s and all very kooky, so they came up with Kinky Dee,’ she recalls.
‘I remember saying to my dad, “I might still be singing in 10 years, I don’t think they should call me Kinky.”
'It sounded like a stripper.’
And so Kiki was born.
She was first spotted as a teenager singing with a local dance band and whisked to London.
She started off singing backing vocals for Dusty Springfield before releasing her first single, Early Night, in 1963.
In 1970 she went to America – the first British singer to be signed by Tamla Motown – and on her return she signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records label, recording hits including Amoureuse and I’ve Got The Music In Me.
She and Elton instantly hit it off.
He produced her first two albums, and in 1976 their duet Don’t Go Breaking My Heart topped the charts for six weeks, giving Elton his first-ever No 1 record.
He guest-starred on her 1981 album Perfect Timing and in 1985 she famously sang with him at Live Aid.
And their friendship is still going strong, as he makes four appearances on her new album, Gold, which she recently released, and features music from the 60s and her Tamla Motown days, plus all the hits and some covers.
These days their lifestyles could not be more different; Elton is worth £320m and lives in a Berkshire mansion with his husband David Furnish and their two young sons, while Kiki, describing herself as ‘secure’, lives in a modest two-bedroom cottage.
Yet the two have remained friends, which explains the pile of pots in Kiki’s back garden…
‘I get an orchid in a pot every year from Elton for my birthday,’ she explains.
‘But I’m an orchid killer, they only last about four to six months!'
'So the empty pots are all sitting there in my garden.'
'I used to get two bottles of Champagne as well, but I think the school fees have taken over!'
That’s a joke – just in case Elton read this and thinks, “Cheeky cow!”’ she adds with a guffaw.
So what on earth does Kiki send Elton in return?
‘I used to struggle like mad and I used to get it wrong sometimes,’ she acknowledges.
‘One year I sent him the most bizarre thing – a bowl.'
'My friend, who is quite artistic, said, “Fill it with lemons.”'
'I think Elton might have misunderstood it, actually!'
Then I came up with this great idea to send a donation to his AIDS Foundation.'
'Elton was really chuffed, and he sent a card, saying, “As you know I don’t need anything materially, so this was a great gift, thank you so much.”’
In the 1980s Kiki branched out into musical theatre, spending four years as the lead in the musical Blood Brothers, but aged 40 she was diagnosed with uterine cancer after a routine smear test.
‘Touch wood I’ve made a full recovery, but it was life-changing,’ she recalls.
‘It made me reassess.'
'When you have a life-threatening illness, you think about what you actually want to do.'
'It also stopped me from being able to have children.'
'I was past that in a way, anyway, but that made it clear.'
'I absolutely adore kids – I’ve got loads of godchildren – but it just didn’t pan out for me and it’s not something I’ve ever yearned for, really.’
At 72 Kiki is single and has never married.
Does she ever feel she sacrificed her personal life for her career?
‘It is unusual, and people are always surprised I didn’t get married,’ she agrees.
‘I had to work so hard to create Kiki Dee.'
'I always scrubbed up well, but I never felt particularly attractive.'
'I was also unlucky; I was attracted to the wrong people quite often, so it just didn’t work out.’
Not that Kiki is one for regrets.
She’s currently touring with songwriter, producer and guitarist Carmelo Luggeri, a British-born Italian who she met back in the 90s when he produced some tracks for her album.
The duo mainly play stripped-back acoustic sets, and are touring Australia this summer, then will be doing a string of dates in the UK.
Her mate Elton is playing to packed-out arenas on his Farewell world tour…
‘When I was younger I used to be a little bit envious (of Elton’s success), because I’d hoped I would have that kind of career.'
'I’d stay at his house in Berkshire, but after a couple of days I’d always feel that was enough and I wanted to step back into my life.'
'I suppose I discovered we’re all different and what works for one doesn’t work for another.'
'Sometimes I think it would be nice to have big success, but then there’s a certain freedom about my life – I’ve been very fortunate.’
As we stand up to leave Kiki rushes upstairs, then generously presses three of her latest CDs into our hands.
‘Shall I wrap you up a sandwich for the journey home and how about a drink, I have some small bottles of water?’ she asks.
‘See, I would have been a good mum…’
There’s no doubt about that, Kiki, but you’re also pretty good at what you do now. ■
How do you spend your Sunday?
■ Cooked breakfast or porridge?
There’s nothing like a cooked breakfast.
I love waking up in a hotel on a Sunday morning after a gig the night before and going down for a fry-up.
I like a vegetarian breakfast – baked beans, grilled tomatoes, poached egg, vegetarian sausage and fried bread.
I’m not vegetarian, but I feel slightly healthier if I’m not having black pudding and sausages!
Everything is still fried, but it’s not meat, so it’s not too bad.
■ Lazy lie-in or up with the lark?
Definitely a lazy lie-in. I’m convinced sleep is what’s kept me going all these years.
I would be happy to sleep 10 hours a night, but I try to cut it back and do eight or nine.
If I let myself get into the habit of having too long in bed on a Sunday, I find it difficult to get up when I’m working.
■ Hungover or fresh as a daisy?
Fresh as a daisy. I don’t do hangovers, not now.
I love a drink, but I’ve been working with an Italian for 25 years.
They’re really into their food and wine, but they’re all about the quality.
One glass of wine on a Sunday evening and I’m happy.
■ Weekend away or Sunday brunch at home?
I love hotels, so a weekend away.
Most of the times I’m in a hotel I’m working, so it’s fantastic when it’s for a break and I don’t have to take too much with me.
I might go to Norfolk – my niece has a place there, and I like visiting family and friends.
■ Gym or lazy day?
The gym, because I feel so good afterwards.
I can do whatever I like for the rest of Sunday and feel justified if I’m slobbing out or just pottering around.
I only go for 40 minutes anyway.
I’m a little-and-often gal.
■ How did you spend last Sunday?
I drove back from Helmsley, a beautiful little market town in North Yorkshire, where I’d performed a gig the night before.
I like order, so when I got home I had a cup of tea and then unpacked, got all my stage clothes organised, and did some washing.
Then I pottered – I love pottering!
– Kiki’s Gold is available to buy now as a 3-CD set and on Gold vinyl.
Kiki will be touring the UK later this year. For more information CLICK HERE
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