Beverley Knight on joining The Bodyguard, her love of Whitney Houston and why X Factor is ruining music
As chart-topping soul singer Beverley Knight makes her professional stage acting debut in The Bodyguard, starting performances this evening (9 September), she talks candidly to WhatsOnStage
Why did you want to take on the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard?
I had always liked the film, but when I went to see the show I thought it was better; the story and the characters are more believable and there's more depth to it as a whole. That just set a little seed in my mind that made me think, 'Yes, this would be a fantastic opportunity.'
Was watching Heather Headley intimidating?
Yes, because she has real presence on stage. She's obviously one of the titans of musical theatre and she was absolutely the right choice to open the show with the role and give it her stamp of credibility and seriousness. So watching her I was like, ‘that's how it's done.'
How's your American accent?
It's not bad. I've been working with a dialect coach, focusing on the minutia of it. The biggest challenge was learning the lines, which is a whole new thing for me.
This isn't your first taste of stage acting though, is it?
No, it's not. I was very fortunate that my school encouraged extracurricular activities and they had very strong ties with the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, so we often ended up doing productions there. But of course, I was a child a long time ago, so I need to work to get that muscle memory back.
Are you doing eight shows a week or six?
Six shows; Joelle Moses is doing the two matinee performances and I'm doing all the evening shows. Rachel very much gets the lion's share of the singing; almost every song (apart from one) is sung by her. So I'm grateful that I don't have to do eight shows.
How does it compare to your concert tours?
When I'm on tour, I'm singing and dancing the whole time, from nine o'clock when I go on til 11 o'clock when I go off. But I would do that typically three or four nights in a row. This is six nights in a row, so it's a different kind of intensity. The acting also requires a hell of a lot energy, especially in the more emotional scenes.
Have you done a lot of physical preparation to get ready for it?
I've been doing it for years. I'm in the gym four or five times a week. As a woman in the music industry, it's brutal because they want you to look great all the time. For the past 15 years, I've always tried to keep myself fit - aside from the odd bag of Haribo, I am human after all!
How big a Whitney Houston fan are you?
Massive. I loved her the second I heard her. Her vocal dexterity was like no other. It's horrible speaking in the past tense about her. You think, ‘Jesus, she really is gone.' However the music is still with us, and I am still a fan of her voice, her technique, her ability, her range and her power, particularly in her chest voice.
What do you mean by 'chest voice'?
Her normal singing voice - not the one that goes up into her head. Some people call it 'belting,' but I tend not to call it that because it implies that you're overdoing it, like a crowd at a football match. She could always sing with complete control and all the power you like.
How did you react when you heard about her death?
I was stunned for ages; I just felt numb for a long time. It's so incredibly sad, she was, what, 48? And I'm only 40.
Can you give us an insight into the world of the music business and the pressures that it brings?
The success is easy to handle, but it's the fame that can be dangerous - people knowing who you are, following you where you go, wanting to be around you, wanting to touch you. When you first encounter it on a huge scale, it's very disconcerting. So people often turn to things like drugs as a coping mechanism. It's a highly pressurised industry, and you have to be able to step outside of that bubble and breathe the air of reality. Otherwise it will suck you in and finish you off, as it did Whitney and Cory [Monteith] from Glee and countless others.
What did it feel like when you first broke on the scene?
It wasn't a big ‘whoosh' whereby one day I was no one and the next I was a big star. It took years to build a career and a reputation. I was very fortunate. But the first time I heard my song on radio I couldn't come off that cloud for ages.
Do you think the kind of career you've had is possible now?
I think it's very difficult to have the kind of career that I've had now because you're expected to do so much so quickly. Everybody's looking for a superstar overnight and that's just not the reality. It's very difficult for young people breaking through to be given the chance to take their time. That's why I don't like The X Factor because it's created a disposable music industry; a conveyor belt of hopes and dreams. It has also elevated mediocrity because you can still be famous and adored, even if you're not very good. I'm just not cool with that.
Could The Bodyguard be the first of a few theatre roles?
I'm not sure. My thoughts are already on the next record. A recording artist is what I am, it's in my blood. However, that's not say that if the right role didn't come along again, that I wouldn't leap to take it. I think that taking on challenges that stretch you is such an important thing to do, and this certainly is stretching me.