In the corner of her manager’s office, hiding underneath a giant floppy hat, sits Rebecca Ferguson.
She looks like a singer, but one that would have graced the stage of a smoky jazz club in the 1950s, rather than someone who appeared on a prime-time TV talent show. Underneath the big brim, however, is a rather normal girl; mum-of-two and reality TV fan (she’s been watching, and laughing at, Desperate Scousewives) who enjoys a rare night out with friends over the weekend.
‘Hiya,’ she says in broad Scouse, leaping up to say hello, before ordering a cup of tea with milk and one sugar.
Ferguson says she’s coming out of the busiest week she’s ever had; 3am alarm calls, 11pm bedtimes, and non-stop talking, promotion and travelling in between.
Fortunately for her, time spent dreaming of being a singer since she was seven has stood her in good stead for the reality of being a popstar.
‘I always knew what it was going to be like,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how, maybe it was things I read or saw, but I’ve always known it was going to be hard work,’ says the 25-year-old.
‘I think a lot of people are disillusioned and think being a singer is more about turning up at fancy events, having loads of money and not really working for it. The reality is early mornings and lots of hard work, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.’
The recent work-related plane journeys, zipping her around the country for interviews and performances, have been on easyJet flights, rather than British Airways as she was promised, but there were no diva fits here.
‘I’m not bothered about stuff like that. I just sat down and went to sleep.’
Ferguson finished second on 2010’s X Factor, runner-up to Matt Cardle. She released her debut album, Heaven, in December and it still sits in the Top 20 of the album chart.
There have been positive reviews in the broadsheets – one gave the album five stars – and a general feeling that Ferguson could go on to become one of the most popular former contestants in the show’s history.
‘The feedback has been amazing, and the album’s been getting praise from people I really didn’t expect to like it,’ she explains.
‘I was saying to Eg (White, co-writer and producer) when it was finished “If this doesn’t work, I’m leaving that big house, packing the kids up and going back to Liverpool”, to which he said, “No pressure then, Becky”, and worked even harder.’
While Ferguson was in X Factor, she was constantly told by the judging panel that she had the voice of a ready-made recording artist and, thanks to her renditions of Anthony Newley’s Feeling Good, Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and jazz standard Why Don’t You Do Right?, that she should concentrate on retro soul.
Her album doesn’t stray too far from that formula, and given the popularity of Adele of late year, it’s certainly very current. Eg White had actually worked with Rolling In The Deep singer Adele, while other collaborators on Ferguson’s album include Steve Booker, who has written songs with Duffy, and Fraser T Smith, best known for his production work with Ellie Goulding, James Morrison and, again, Adele.
‘I wrote a song a day for about six months,’ begins Ferguson, ‘but we scrapped loads before recording.
‘I was looking for songs that I felt especially connected to, and while some of the songs we got rid of were brilliant tunes, I just didn’t think I could sing them night after night for a year, if not longer, without feeling really close to them.’
Too Good To Lose is Ferguson’s favourite song on the album, while she says Teach Me How To Be Loved has the most meaning for her.
When she first appeared on X Factor and stunned the judges, it wasn’t the first time she’d auditioned on the show.
There were failed attempts in 2005 and 2006, a rejection from Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 and, most painful of all, she was turned away from P Diddy’s Starmaker in 2007, which her family had clubbed together to fund.
‘I didn’t just dream of becoming a singer,’ she points out. ‘I was really active in trying to make it happen. When I was 14, I got a job to be able to afford my singing lessons, and I was constantly looking for other things.
‘I thought “Maybe if I do a bit of modelling, maybe I’ll get noticed and I’ll have a foot on the ladder that way”.
‘Getting those rejections was hard, though,’ she continues. ‘The first time was really bad, because I thought I had talent and could do it. I thought ‘Maybe I can’t sing. Maybe I’m one of those deluded ones who just thinks they can’.
‘It was tough, but I went back again, and got knocked back again. I still thought they were wrong, but with the third and fourth knock-back, I started to doubt myself.
‘I tried sending demos off, and got nothing back. It’s funny that people say they love my voice now because it hasn’t changed at all.’
So what has changed? Whatever changes in music, there has consistently been a demand for beautiful voices and pretty faces to go with them.
‘I’m a lot more chilled. And maybe I “really” wanted it before,’ she says, impersonating a typical X Factor-hopeful, ‘and that put people off?
‘I don’t know what it was, but I believe in timing and things happening when they’re meant to.’
With two children, now aged five and seven, it’s perhaps easier that Ferguson’s career takes off now.
Her own childhood has been written about extensively since she first appeared on X Factor, but she doesn’t regret for a second telling journalists about her time in foster homes while she growing up.
‘I’m too honest to lie, and I’m too polite to say “I’m not talking about that” so if I’m asked something, I just answer,’ she explains.
‘My childhood was hard, and I was in foster homes, but it’s no different from what thousands of kids are going through today. And me talking about it might help someone.
‘I could shut up about some things – and you have to keep some things back – but a child in foster care could see me and think “She’s doing OK, maybe there is hope?” and that’s great.
‘There are positives and negatives, and I’m learning fast. I’m still Becky from Liverpool, but this is what I always wanted, and now I’m doing it.’
Remember how it all started? Watch Rebecca’s 2010 X Factor audition at portsmouth.co.uk/video