6:00am Saturday 21st December 2013
Her rags to riches X Factor tale wasn't a simple 'happy ever after', but after a tough couple of years, Rebecca Ferguson is happier than ever. The soul songstress tells Andy Welch about letting go of the past and finding balance.
Rebecca Ferguson's life hasn't been short on drama.
Raised by her mum after her parents split up when she was a small child, she later spent time with family friends, foster parents and in care homes, when her mum Anne, then battling a serious illness, was too unwell to look after her.
Money was always very tight, too.
Despite all that, Ferguson fought for a better life. Her dreams of becoming a singer were put on hold, though, when she fell pregnant while still a teenager and eventually became a single mum-of-two after her relationship with the father broke down.
She qualified as a legal secretary, but her lifelong dream of being a star bubbled on and Ferguson made several attempts to get on various talent shows - one of which saw her whole family saving to fund a trip to the US.
The determination paid off; in 2010 she finally got onto The X Factor and, despite finishing as runner-up, a hugely successful album soon followed.
It wasn't just the chance of releasing a record she was so grateful for, but the opportunity to pay back her relatives and give her children a better childhood than her own. "I pay my mum's rent and 'leccy' bills now," she says proudly, in her soft Liverpudlian accent.
Unfortunately, The X Factor and subsequent No 1 album, Heaven, was only the start of another set of problems.
"I started attracting really bad people," she says. "I came off The X Factor and had all these clingers-on, trying be mates with me. But because I was so trusting and shy, when people said they wanted to be my friend, I went along with it and they ended up completely using me, really."
She won't name names, but considering what she experienced, Ferguson remains remarkably calm when talking about them.
"They attempted to ruin me, basically," she says. "They wanted to destroy me. These people were fixated like stalkers. But not stalkers in the sense they just wanted to be near me, this was destructive. And I'd get threatening mail, to the point where I was petrified in my own house."
Ferguson's now rid of these "strange characters" and her former management company who - she claimed via Twitter last year - overworked her to the point that she didn't see her children and requested she keep going, even after a collapse from exhaustion.
She's locked in a legal battle with her ex-managers. When they're mentioned now, she laughs and trots out a line she's clearly had to learn, parrot fashion, to avoid speaking about the issue with the same neighbours-chatting-over-a-garden-fence honesty she does everything else.
"For legal reasons I cannot talk about that. I am bound and can't say a word."
She was going through all of these ordeals while writing her new album, Freedom. The title is perhaps a hint at how she felt previously - and she decided that dragging herself to the studio each day was the best way to work through her problems.
"It was just about working out who was who in my life, and deciding that I wasn't going to let these negative people beat me."
She says it was her naivety that got her into trouble in the first place, and admits that she had no idea just how successful she was when Heaven was selling so well. "I thought everyone sold a million records," she says, although her main crime was not realising the record industry was a business, and sometimes a fickle one, at that.
"I thought everyone loved everyone, and I quickly learned that wasn't the case," she says. "It's all about making money and being well-connected. It's cut-throat. I didn't know that because I'd come from singing in my bedroom, dreaming of making it."
Ferguson's keen not to let these negative experiences change her, although she admits that now when she meets people, she tries to figure out their motives and decide, within an hour, whether they're for or against her.
"Some people I work with want to please the people around me, whether that's the record label or my management or whoever, and others want to please me.
"I want to work with people who think about what I want, and want me to be happy and want my opinion. That's got me a reputation for being difficult, and people don't like working with difficult people. They want puppets, but I won't do that. Now, there are loads of people who think I'm some uncontrollable Scouse crazy lady!"
Freedom deals with many aspects of Ferguson's life, in particular being unlucky in love. The song Fake Smile, particularly, is directed at some of the men she's dated.
"You know when you think something's serious, but you're just a bit of fluff to them? Well that song's about loving a boy that doesn't love you back," she says, before adding she's now in a relationship that's made her happier than ever.
"He's lovely and he looks after the kids," she says, visibly swooning. "He goes fishing with my son and all that. We've known each other for years, and I always thought he liked my friend not me, so I didn't bother.
"Then one night he came round to my house to watch a DVD, leaned in for a kiss and I realised he liked me. We've been together a year now and I've learned a lot, mainly that love and happiness can be different, and there are two types of love," she says. "The love where you get infatuated with each other and you get butterflies, which is always a bit unhealthy, and there's a practical love, where you care about each other deeply, have the same outlook and see yourself marrying them.
"I think I've found that with my partner now, and I'm over the moon."
Extra time - Rebecca Ferguson
:: Rebecca Ferguson was born in Liverpool on July 21, 1986.
:: She has two children, daughter Lillie May, nine, and seven-year-old son, Karl.
:: She finished runner-up to Matt Cardle on the seventh series of The X Factor. One Direction were third.
:: She released her debut album Heaven in November, 2011. It has since sold almost 600,000 copies in the UK, with almost the same amount sold in the rest of the world.
:: In 2012, she was nominated for two MOBO awards, an MTV EMA and shortlisted in the Glamour Women of the Year Awards.
:: Rebecca Ferguson's second album Freedom is out now. She tours the UK in March 2014, full dates below
16 - London Shepherd's Bush Empire
18 - Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
19 - Brighton Dome
20 - Cardiff St David's Hall
22 - Edinburgh Usher Hall
23 - Liverpool Echo 2 @ Echo Arena
24 - Manchester Bridgewater Hall
26 - Ipswich Regent Theatre
27 - Birmingham Symphony Hall
28 - Bristol Colston Hall
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