It’s hard to believe, but Kiki Dee has now been working in music for 50 years. During that time she has collaborated with artists such as Elton John, Dusty Sprinfield and Dave Stewart.
It’s all a long way from her childhood growing up in Yorkshire.
‘I was plucked out of Yorkshire and got a record deal when I was 16,’ says Kiki.
‘At that time I was very green. The record company had the idea of giving me a shorter, catchier name.
‘Kiki Dee is very 1960s when you think about it, isn’t it? Kinky boots, Simon Dee, Sandra Dee and all that stuff. And that’s where it came from, them looking for an identity for me.
‘I grew into it. It took a while because coming from Yorkshire everybody used to say “what kind of a name is that?” so I had a bit of an identity crisis!
‘But at the end of the day you become that name and you take it on board. It fits me as well as it ever will now. I think you do get used to names, but I think it’s what’s behind that name that matters.’
Kiki’s greatest chart success came in 1976 when she dueted with Elton John on Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. The single went to number one in the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and Kiki continued to work with Elton throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
She says: ‘Elton is always great to work with because he’s got a great sense of humour. Whenever I see him and work with him, we have such a giggle.
‘He’s talented, he’s a great, great writer, a great singer and a great keyboard player, so who wouldn’t want to work with him? We’ve got that history that makes it fun because we know each other well.
‘I think it’s to do with empathy. We were born three weeks apart, we grew up in the sam era of music, we both listened to Tamla Motown when we were kids and went through the ’60s as teenagers, so there’s a certain empathy there.
‘I don’t see him very much any more because his lifestyle’s so out there and I live a more down-to-earth existence, but whenever I do see him it’s like the old days.’
Kiki’s more recent creative partnership is with guitar maestro Carmelo Lugerri (pictured above) and her new shows are often more intimate than her big stage appearances from the ’70s and ’80s.
She explains: ‘There are only two of us onstage and we like that intimate feeling. The show is a real mix of the Kiki hits, Amoureuse, I’ve Got The Music In Me, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and then a lot of our own unique material – some of it’s quite spiriual dare I say – and then we like to do covers from Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra.
‘You can do that with a semi-acoustic show because it gives you a certain freedom. If you have a four-piece band I think it’s very difficult to change styles completely in the way we do.
‘The biggest challenge for me is for people to know that I’m moving on and doing new things.’
This passion has always been at the heart of Kiki’s performances and it was thrown into sharp relief for her when she was diagnosed with cancer.
‘I was in my early 40s and the cancer came out of the blue. I was ill for about six months and had radiation treatment but no chemotherapy, so I was lucky in that respect. I think I was fairly sure that I would survive, there was only one point where I thought that I might not.
‘What you realise when something like that comes along is that human nature is amazing. You’re given some kind of equipment to cope with these things and I believe that I just got on with it. It brought out strength in me that I didn’t know I had.
‘Everybody goes through a different experience and everybody copes with things in a different way, but I think the main thing that I remember having is support from my friends and family. I think that’s the most important thing – if you’ve got people around you can talk to and unload all your stresses and strains. I think going through it alone would be difficult.
‘I think it influenced me in the sense that it made me think I need to be doing what I want to do with my life.
‘Life’s too short, you need to do what you believe in and what is truly you, you know? I suppose it galvanised those thoughts in me.’
Kiki’s talents extend beyond straight musical performance as she earned an Olivier Award nomination for her role as Mrs Johnstone in Bill Kenwright’s production of Blood Brothers.
‘It was one of the best experiences of my life doing that show – in the end I did nearly a thousand shows!
‘It’s very different to performing as a singer. I always needed to be facing the audience at first. I found it very difficult to have my side or back to them because I was so used to performing on stage with a microphone.’
In spite of all her success Kiki still remains focused on what is truly important about performing live.
‘Connection is definitely a key part of performance, whether you are doing a part, playing a stadium with Elton John or playing a small intimate venue – it’s the challenge of being present.
‘Communication is the buzz, especially with a song you have written yourself. ‘
‘I take everything as it comes theses days, I don’t think too far ahead, I think that comes with being older, but as long as I feel I want to do it and can express and write a good song I’ll carry on.’
WHERE AND WHEN
Kiki Dee performs with Carmelo Luggeri at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday February 12. 7pm dinner, 8pm show. Tickets: £15, £13 student, £25 with two -course dinner. Visit portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.