'Heartbreak makes you stronger': The secret sadness behind Pixie Lott's success
From pop star to Strictly sensation to leading lady in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, PIXIE LOTT seems to have led a charmed life. But, as Louise Gannon discovers, she has drawn inspiration and motivation from family heartbreak
Pixie Lott wears DRESS, Rochas. RING, Monica Vinader. MAGGIE THE CAT, stylist’s own
The idea of re-creating a role made iconic by Audrey Hepburn would be pretty terrifying for even the most experienced of actresses.
But for Pixie Lott – who by her own admission is an ‘absolute acting novice’ – the offer to play flighty good-time girl Holly Golightly in a new stage adaptation of Breakfast At Tiffany’s was a chance to grow up and prove that she is more than just a pop star.
At 25, she’s aware that she is viewed by millions as a frothy confection of chart hits and Strictly Come Dancing cha-chas (she narrowly missed the 2014 finals); her ascent from stage school to stardom as effortless as her sunny smiles.
But like Holly – whose glamorous air masked a life of hardship – Pixie’s drive and ambition have been honed by personal sadness: she lost both her adored grandmothers and had to watch her brother battle with a devastating illness which doctors told him might leave him unable to walk.
‘My life has definitely not been without some really big heartbreak. But it’s those struggles that make you stronger and keep pushing you on to prove yourself even more.’
Pixie was launched in 2009 as the Pollyanna of pop music, permanently upbeat, effortlessly pretty, scandal-free with a style that remains – like Taylor Swift’s – firmly on the wholesome side of sexy.
Pixie wears DRESS, Fendi. COAT, Belstaff. BRACELET, Bee Goddess
Her appeal was like Marmite: some loved her because she was an old-school role model for girls, while cynics felt she was a pop puppet whose strings are pulled by shadowy marketing men.
The youngest of three children, Pixie was born Victoria Louise in Kent and brought up by her mum Beverley and stockbroker dad Stephen (she was nicknamed Pixie for her diminutive stature). No one in the family had any experience of showbusiness.
‘No pushy parents,’ she laughs. ‘More a little kid pushing her parents. I never gave up.’
But in the same year as she won both a scholarship to Italia Conti and her first small role in the West End production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, her brother Stephen was diagnosed with Perthes disease, a crumbling of bone in the hip that meant he could be confined to a wheelchair for life.
‘My family is incredibly close and it was devastating. I remember sitting in the kitchen crying with my mum and my older sister Charlie-Ann.
'We didn’t want Stephen to see us because it was important to be brave in front of him, but none of us could believe it was happening.
‘Stephen and I have always been best mates. He’s 11 months and three weeks older than me so he’s almost like a twin. We did – and still do – everything together.
'He had pains in his leg but had no idea that it was going to be so serious.’
Pixie wears DRESS, Miu Miu. EARRINGS, Lola & Grace
After seeking a second medical opinion, her parents found a doctor who performed major surgery on Stephen.
Pixie began raising money for a Perthes charity by singing at local events.
She recalls: ‘What I remember most was that it was frightening and awful to go through, but my parents and my brother threw themselves into absolutely everything they could do to make things better.
‘They were just so positive and Stephen never complained. He was determined that he was going to get better.
'After his operation he was in a plaster cast from his chest all the way down to his leg. We’d go out as a family to Pizza Express and he’d be in a wheelchair and we’d all try to make it as much fun as possible.
‘We all got involved with the charity. I sang at events, my mum organised fundraisers, Stephen followed every exercise he was meant to and within two years he was able to walk.
'A few years ago  he ran the London Marathon. He’s my inspiration. I watched him overcome something that could have changed his life for ever and it makes you realise nothing is impossible.’
Pixie is that rare creature – a woman who knows exactly what she wants and goes all out to get it. Confidence has never been an issue. But it has, she points out, been a choice.
She recently unearthed a diary she kept when she was seven, all frizzy hair, thick glasses and gappy teeth.
‘I love Oliver [Cheshire, right]. We’ve grown up together and I’m glad I met him early on because you can get to a stage in this business where you can’t trust people,' said Pixie
‘I’m going to be a pop star when I grow up,’ she wrote.
‘There was never any other option in my head,’ she says. ‘As a kid I used to watch documentaries about Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and I knew that was what I wanted. I’d work out all the steps it took to get them where they were.
'I was fascinated by them going to auditions, learning dance routines. Even when I was ten I was thinking I needed to hurry up.
'My parents were thrown because I was this kid with a fixed idea. I never doubted I could do it.
‘I went to every audition I could. I had more rejections than you could imagine but I always thought one thing might lead to another, which is what finally happened,’ she says.
‘I was relentless. I’d take time out of school saying I had a dentist’s appointment, I’d lie about my age – whatever I thought would work. I learned as much from a rejection as I did from an acceptance – you just have to keep bouncing back.’
By 15, she was signed by one of America’s biggest music producers.
At 18 she had her first number-one single and a top-ten album, and the rest is history: two more albums, seven top-ten singles, a model boyfriend in the form of Oliver Cheshire, a permanent place on the fashion show front rows, and a waltz through to the quarter finals of Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 (there was a public outcry when she was voted off in favour of Blue’s Simon Webbe).
She says, ‘Doing Strictly was one of the best experiences of my life. It was the first time I’ve ever felt terrified of going out to perform, because you want everything to be perfect.
'But the best bit was feeling part of a team. Everyone was so kind – I still miss it. I keep in touch with Trent [Whiddon, her dance partner]. He’s become a real mate.’
Her approach to Breakfast At Tiffany’s reflects her ‘can-do’ spirit. When the offer of the lead role in Richard Greenberg’s stage adaptation came, she didn’t think of critics waiting to see her implode or fans wanting another album.
‘I didn’t think about Audrey Hepburn. I didn’t watch the movie version,' said Pixie of appearing on stage in Breakfast At Tiffany's
Audrey Hepburn as Holly in the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany's
She didn’t even worry that the weight of a stage performance rested on her shoulders and her name, or how she’d be compared to Hepburn.
‘You can’t think like that,’ she says. ‘I didn’t think about Audrey Hepburn. I didn’t watch the movie version. I didn’t want to intimidate myself. I just thought: “This is a dream role and I’m going to go for it and play Holly my way.”
'It was a bit like doing a cover version of a great song. You can’t replicate it; you have to just do it with self-belief.’
The show, directed by Nikolai Foster, has been touring the country and will transfer to the West End at the end of this month.
Early reviews have been positive: ‘Lott brings a raw and emotional edge to her performance,’ said one. ‘It’s a different Holly to Hepburn’s, there’s none of the saccharine innocence, and it works as a result.’
Pixie says, ‘I was excited by the chance to do something different. I was very clear that if I immersed myself in the role, then everything would be all right.
'I spent years at a performing arts school, I’ve done a small TV part [she played an aspiring singer in an episode of Inspector George Gently] and I know I’m a grafter.’
She is at pains to stress that this move into theatre is not the end of her music career (‘That will always come first; I’m working on new music at the moment’), but she was determined to put in the hours so as not to fall on her face.
The play – which also stars Downton’s Matt Barber (Atticus Aldridge, on-screen husband of Lily James) as the narrator figure (named Fred by Holly, and made famous by George Peppard in the movie) – is much more faithful to the book.
‘It’s set in the 1940s, unlike the film which is set in the 60s. I took in as much as I could about Capote, about Holly, about 1940s America. I love the style of that era – I’ve fallen for that whole fitted, vintage look.’
The play reflects the darker, sadder tone of Capote’s novella where the story of Holly’s troubled past is featured heavily.
But when she needs to find the deepest emotions within herself, Pixie does not think of those awful times with her brother – ‘because that was something we all got through’ – but the loss of both her beloved grandmothers to Alzheimer’s within two years. Her maternal grandmother Amelia died in 2012, the same year her dad’s mum Peggy (who died in 2014) was diagnosed.
‘It was heartbreaking,’ says Pixie. ‘She [Peggy] was the one who encouraged me when I was little and was there when “Mama Do” [Pixie’s first hit] came out. She was so happy for me.
'One of my worst days was singing to her in the nursing home. She had her eyes closed and my dad was saying to her, “Just blink if you know I’m here,” and she didn’t. That broke my heart. We both sat there with tears rolling down our faces.’
When she needs to tap into emotion on stage, Pixie relives those moments.
‘It’s set in the 1940s, unlike the film which is set in the 60s. I took in as much as I could about (Truman) Capote, about Holly, about 1940s America. I love the style of that era,' said Pixie on Breakfast At Tiffany's
‘It’s really draining, especially doing two shows a day. I go back there in my head. Losing my nannies is the saddest I’ve felt.
‘The worst thing anyone can go through is the loss of someone you love. I’m terrified of losing any member of the family.
'Everything that has happened to us has brought us closer, and then you worry even more about everyone.’
Those who think of Pixie as a pop puppet would be wrong. This is a woman who is stronger than she looks and who operates in her own way – as is apparent when she shows up (alone, bang on time) for our photo shoot.
Although open about her emotions, she would also far rather laugh than cry. She giggles as she goes into an explanation of a photograph that hit the front pages earlier this year when she stripped out of her salopettes and into a bikini on the dazzling white slopes of the Swiss Alps.
‘I was making a video for a new single – I don’t think the press realised that.’
She doesn’t take anything or anyone for granted. Before we sit down to chat, she closes her eyes, puts down the Chanel handbag and checks the names of everyone she has just met.
Her press officer tells me she’ll remember them for months. If you want to study a work ethic to rival Madonna’s, spend an hour in her company.
Pixie was an A-grade student at school, and the motto she lives by (and repeats to her fans) is one given to her by her father: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’
Despite achieving top marks in her GCSEs, it was her choice not to go down the university route.
‘I believe that if you have a dream you should follow it, whatever it is. I don’t think I missed out, because I’ve loved doing everything I’ve done.’
So far she has failed at nothing, if you discount a somewhat disappointing response to her third album Pixie Lott in 2014, which marked a departure from her uptempo pop style.
‘It’s actually my favourite,’ she says. ‘It’s a lot more emotional, maybe more grown up. It’s still the one I feel is most about who I am.’
And that’s the thing: Pixie has grown up. She is halfway into her 20s and in it for the long haul. Her savvy decision to do Strictly let her broaden her appeal to an older audience, the same mixed demographic who will want to see her in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
The role of Holly, who hovers between child and woman, could not have been more perfect, and her look – the platinum blonde in a 1940s little black dress – will instantly dispel ideas of Hepburn.
‘People think of Holly as brunette,’ she says. ‘But she was described as a blonde by Capote. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play her.’
Unlike Marilyn, Pixie has a secure and settled love life. She was just 19 when she met her boyfriend Oliver through friends.
‘I know I was really young,’ she says half apologetically, ‘but I didn’t feel that young because I’d been working for so long and I just knew we were right for each other. I’ve got pretty good instincts.’
It is no surprise that she remains super-glue-close to her family and that her relationship with Oliver – with whom she shares her London home (‘I live in flat number two, just like Holly’) – has lasted throughout the years of fame.
‘People always ask me about getting married but we’re not at that point yet. We’re too young. We have crazy jobs, crazy schedules, and we don’t need to rush.
‘I love Oliver. We’ve grown up together and I’m glad I met him early on because you can get to a stage in this business where you can’t trust people.
'He is my family. He’s incredibly supportive of me. I’m aware of what that means and how lucky I am. We give each other freedom in what we do but we also like being together.
'My parents have been together for 29 years and I do think there is more pressure on me and Olly because it’s a relationship that’s out there in public. But we’re really happy as we are.’
Her plans, post-Holly, are perhaps inspired by Truman Capote’s tale. There will be a new album, a new city and a new challenge for Pixie Lott.
‘I want to go to New York to live. Oliver’s up for it. It will be an adventure. I have this sense that it’s something I have to do.’ Holly would be proud.
Pixie is starring in Breakfast At Tiffany’s on tour in Dublin and Plymouth and then at Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, from 30 June to 17 September, breakfastattiffanys.co.uk
WHAT ARE YOU READING?
Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the novella by Truman Capote. I’ve carried it with me for months.
LISTENING TO ?
‘Drinking in the West End’ by Kano. It’s incredible.
Beyoncé. She sings, she dances, she acts. She always handles herself with absolute dignity.
WHAT CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?
Music. It’s why I wake up every morning.
I’m excellent at staring. I can stare anyone out.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE BETTER AT ?
Ice-skating. I fall down all the time. I’d love to be able to ‘float’ on the ice.
A pair of Ziggy Stardust-style Miu Miu boots. My homage to Bowie.
The Walking Dead, Vinyl and Thirteen, which stars Jodie Comer, who I played opposite in Inspector George Gently. She is going to be massive.
Dolce & Gabbana. The designs fit me perfectly, are beautifully made and make me feel special.
Be nice to yourself. Go for a facial or a massage.
Like Holly, you can’t go wrong with a little black dress.
SONGS THAT MEAN THE MOST?
The tracks that were played at my nannies’ funerals. ‘The Way We Were’ by Barbra Streisand, ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ by Harry Nilsson and ‘Albatross’ by Fleetwood Mac. I wrote ‘Cry and Smile’ for them.
Styling: Jodie Nellist. Hair: Larry King at Streeters. Make-up: Lisa Valencia at Carol Hayes using Smashbox.
Additional photos: Matt Baron/Bei/Shutterstock, Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount/Sportsphoto, Uli Weber
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