When it comes to formative experiences, there’s nothing quite like having your heart broken.
And as with most things in life, it’s not what actually happens that matters, but how you react to it.
For Adele, there was only one way to get over the great love of her life turning sour, and that was to channel the emotion to create something beautiful from the ashes.
‘My ex didn’t do anything wrong, and neither did I,’ she begins. ‘We just fell out of love.’
If you know one thing about Adele, know this – she likes to talk.
There’s no subject out of bounds and, relative stranger or not, ask her about her recent failed relationship and she’ll tell you everything.
When the whirlwind following the release of her debut, 19, subsided in early 2009, things went wrong for the effervescent Londoner and her then partner.
This was April, but it wasn’t until December of that year she felt ready to put pen to paper and reveal all in song.
‘I just had to wait and be ready to be honest with myself. And to properly articulate what I wanted to say,’ she says. ‘Otherwise it would have been 19 Volume 2. I needed that light bulb to come on.’
From there, it was a relatively quick writing process, which involved Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash), prolific British songwriter and producer Paul Epworth, Dan Wilson of Semisonic and go-to American tunesmith Ryan Tedder, writer of Leona’s Bleeding Love, among countless other global smash hits. Ryan was such a fan of Adele’s, that he worked on her album for free.
‘I first met Ryan in a lift in the States with about 100 balloons. He said he knew it was me because he recognised my laugh. Scott Mills had made a clip of it on his Radio 1 show, which he’d heard while in the UK,’ she says.
Indeed Adele’s laugh is the sort of filthy, unmistakeable cackle that’d make Catherine Tate’s sweary nan blush.
‘Anyway, he came in the lift, popped loads of the balloons and said we had to work together,’ Adele continues.
Adele cites Wanda Jackson, Yvonne Fair, Andrew Bird, Mary J Blige, Mos Def, Elbow, Tom Waits and Kanye West amongst others as key influences on 21, which was released in January.
Of all the songs on the album, it’s perhaps its first single Rolling In The Deep that demonstrates how far Adele’s come since her 2008 debut.
Bold and powerful, where before she’d been mellow and vulnerable, the song is still an ode to lost love, but it’s no I-miss-you-and-want-you-back ballad. Instead, it’s a two-fingered salute to her ex, chastising him for leaving her, taunting him for what he’s left behind.
‘I’ve got a lot more self-worth on this album,’ she continues. ‘Not that I didn’t have any before, but I was so expectant when I was 18 or 19. I honestly thought I’d die if something went wrong.
‘That comes with age, so even if life is making you feel suffocated, it’s not the end. I was so offended when my ex thought I’d never recover from us breaking up, I got dressed up, went out and went clubbing a lot.’
It’s hard to believe Adele is just 22. Not only is she much more mature than when we met to talk about her debut a couple of years ago, she’s achieved so much; two million album sales, a couple of Grammy awards, a Brit and numerous other gongs and nominations.
Adele won the inaugural Brits Critics’ Choice award in 2008, awarded to an up-and-coming artist who shows promise for the following year. Subsequent winners have been Florence + The Machine, Ellie Goulding and Jessie J.
Today, she has three songs in the UK Top 40 singles chart and occupies position one and two of the album chart.
She also performed recently at the BRIT Awards and Comic Relief.
Thankfully she doesn’t seem to have let success go to her head. Her only demand for today is the odd fag break and a can of Coke. When her drink does arrive, she opens the ringpull with her teeth.
‘I can’t do it with my hands because of my long nails,’ she says, reacting to the odd look I’m giving her. ‘And I can’t ask you to open a can for me because I’ll look like a right diva!’
All this candid talk, though. Doesn’t she ever get tired of baring her soul?
‘Not at all, I like it. I find it comforting, even,’ she replies.
‘I avoid confrontation at all costs, and it’s easier to write a song about someone, because then it becomes anonymous. I couldn’t sit down in a room with someone and tell them what I think, but I can sing about them.
‘It’s like very cheap therapy,’ she says. ‘I didn’t have to pay a psychiatrist £1,000 a session!’
With the distance now between her and her ex-boyfriend, it’s warming to hear she’s not bitter about the experience, but can draw on the positives.
‘He made me so passionate for things in life; myself, him, food, wine, music, culture, literature – and life in general. I’ve never met anyone like that. Hopefully all that would have happened without him, just growing up and that, but he changed me and put me on the right path to who I’m going to be, to who I want to be.
‘I’m 22 now, and the years between now and when I was 19 have been so big, so much has happened. I’ve changed so much, but for the better.’