Julia Fordham: From Hollywood to Hayling

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REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

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She sang with both Peter Gabriel and Pete Townshend earlier this year. But Julia Fordham’s last gig was at a school head teacher’s retirement.

‘I did a rewrite of Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic for the retirement of the principal of my daughter’s school,’ explains the singer who is originally from Hayling Island but now lives in LA.

STAR Julia Fordham pictured at Hayling Island beach.

STAR Julia Fordham pictured at Hayling Island beach.

‘I live at the school these days,’ adds the star who has sold three million records worldwide and, when we catch-up on the phone, has just packed off eight-year-old Marley for her school sports day.

Julia started her career singing in local pubs like The Black Dog, Havant, and on Radio Victory jingles.

She went on to become a backing singer for Kim Wilde and Mari Wilson, before launching her own hugely successful solo career, with hits like (Love Moves) In Mysterious Ways and Happy Ever After.

Julia left Hayling for Hollywood and now lives in Topanga Canyon, a lush green paradise on the outskirts of LA.

‘It’s a very beautiful long winding hill,’ she explains. ‘It’s not an island, but it’s like getting on and off an island, so I’ve recreated my youth on the south coast of England,’ adds the 50-year-old, who’s still regularly recording albums and travelling the globe for shows.

She’s particularly big in the Philippines, although she couldn’t really understand it when she first toured there.

‘I hadn’t really sold any records at all there, so I couldn’t figure out why we had a tour there,’ she remembers.

‘As it turns out, it was the leading bootlegging country at that time. One person would buy your music and copy it for everyone. So, you could be huge there, even though there were no record sales on paper.

‘When I arrived, I discovered that I was a national treasure. I’d written songs that connected with people. Invisible War was a real anthem for them because the Marcos regime was in full swing and they felt like they were waging an invisible war.

‘I was treated like Princess Diana. The staff all lined up to meet me outside hotels and I was on the front page of national newspapers.

‘My Best Of went triple-platinum in the Philippines but you’d never know it, I’ve never seen a penny.

‘But I love them, not just because I’m grateful. I like the people, the vibe, I really like being there,’ she adds.

Back then, Julia often travelled with her dad, Roy, who is now 84 and still lives on Hayling Island with his wife Muriel, 80.

Julia returns to see them once a year and she likes to revisit her old haunts in Portsmouth and Southsea when she’s back.

‘I recently took Marley to the fair at Southsea,’ she says. ‘I went there with my granddad when I was eight. Now I’m taking my own child on the same rides!

‘I love that seafront. I have the Malibu seafront now (we live right near the beach here), but I think we have a pretty fantastic esplanade at Southsea and I love the cobbled streets and terraced houses of Old Portsmouth.’

Julia is in Southsea again next weekend, when she’ll be playing two shows at The Cellars at Eastney as part of her first full UK tour in 20 years.

She also has a new album out.

Under The Rainbow is a compilation of her old favourites re-recorded in a stripped back acoustic fashion and featuring a new title track.

It’s another collaboration with the man who produced all her early albums, Grant Mitchell (who, coincidentally, used to live on the Isle of Wight).

Despite having Grant on hand for the tour, Julia admits she’s a little nervous.

‘That’s my personality type,’ she explains. ‘I want the shows to be wonderful, perfect, special.’

‘I’m particularly excited about The Cellars shows,’ she adds.

‘I haven’t played in Portsmouth for years.

‘On Saturday it’ll be full of friends, relatives, acquaintances and old colleagues, so it’ll be a right old knees-up.

‘It’s a real family affair too. My parents will be coming and my sister, who also lives in LA. I might even try to get my old band back together, The Noble Crooners. Although we were called Bootleg when I was with them...’

One thing’s for sure, it will be a far cry from her gigs with Pete Townshend and Peter Gabriel earlier this year.

In January, she was asked to sing when Who star Pete was honoured with the prestigious Les Paul Award at the annual Technical Excellence & Creativity (TEC) Awards.

Then, in February, she was chosen to perform with Peter Gabriel at a fundraising concert for an African orchestra.

She explains: ‘Last summer in America there was a piece on 60 Minutes featuring an orchestra in Africa.

‘It was seen by superstars like Ben Affleck and they paid for the orchestra to come over on a fundraising mission.

‘Peter was asked to sing with them and they were looking for an accomplished female British singer, so I got to sing with him.

‘It was rather exciting. People like Angelina Jolie were in the audience.

‘The Congo is one of the poorest and most troubled nation in Africa. When things went belly-up, this pilot lost his job, so he learned to play an instrument. He became a conductor and got an orchestra together.

‘It was a real highlight of my musical life performing at this event. And it was a fantastic start to my year because I’m a huge fan of Pete and Peter.

‘No more Peters have been forthcoming with exciting offers so far since then, but I’m very busy with my own things.’

· Julia Fordham plays two shows at The Cellars at Eastney next Friday and Saturday from 7.30pm. Saturday’s has already sold out. Tickets for Friday (July 12) cost £21 in advance from (023) 9282 6249 or thecellars.co.uk or £23 on the door.