My chat with Cleo Higgins

CLEOPATRA, coming at ya!

Hands up who remembers that pop refrain from the late Nineties?

Well, Cleo Higgins all grown-up at 33, is quite literally going to be coming at ya – as the lead female in Thriller – Live! at the Cliffs Pavilion this week.Cleo Higgins interview with Katy Pearson

The show – created to celebrate the career of the King of Pop – is now in its seventh year and has played over 3,000 shows globally, to 2.5 million fans and visited over 26 counties.

But musical theatre was not an avenue that Cleo had any real yearnings to explore.

Instead the ex-girl bander, who rocketed back into the public eye on TV show the Voice in 2013, was lured by the temptation to spend time belting out some of Jackson’s hits – including Can You Feel It, Off The Wall, The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal and Beat It.

When we chatted her voice was super-husky – having been a bit under the weather – but enthusiasm for the show positively radiated down the phone line.

“I am a major, major Michael Jackson fan,” she says.

“Musical theatre isn’t really my thing… but Thriller – Live? Well, that’s not really musical theatre is it?

“The show’s just huge – it’s become a thing of its own. The music – Michael Jackson’s songs are just so strong. His fans just love it.”

What can the audience at the Cliffs expect?

“Well, wear comfortable shoes,” she laughs.

“You won’t want to be sitting down, you’ll want to be on your feet. This isn’t a sit and watch show – you feel like dancing along in the aisle? Go for it. That’s what we want you do be doing!”

“I love it. Even when I’m not on stage I’ll be dancing, be grooving with my dresser in the wings backstage.”

Jugging life as a mum-of-two (her eldest Chika Li Ché is 14, and her little boy Taylor James McKenzie, nine) with being on the road isn’t the easiest of lifestyle choices.

“I think I’m actually super woman sometimes, I don’t actually know how I do it,” she laughs.

“It’s tough, so tough and it does take its toll on you. But we have such fun. I’m always messing around – poking the dancers when I shouldn’t be and stuff – we’ve sort of become our own family.”

So after having hit pop stardom with the eponymously named sister act band, Cleopatra in 1998, and branched out by recording two duets with tenor Russell Watson in 2000, what inspired her to have another whirl on the pop merry-go-round in 2013?

“The Voice is about the voice. The problem I had is as soon as someone saw me, or heard my name, they immediately thought of the band, that vibe.

“I’m actually a better ballad singer, but record labels still seem to want me to be a pop singer, all upbeat and shaking my booty.

“I actually thought about doing the first series of the Voice, but my mum was like, ‘You don’t want to do that!’ and so I didn’t.

“But then when it was on TV my mum was ringing me going, ‘I’m watching this show and oh my god, you should do it!’

“Because I’d watched the first series I was just sooo nervous when I did go on.

“The rehearsal for the Voice was actually when I had my first panic attack!

But you’d been performing for years by then?

“I know, I know,” she agrees.

“But I think you get more insecure with age. You have all these hang-ups that you just don’t have when you’re younger.”

She need not of worried through. Her “blind audition” performance is famed for getting the fastest chair turn ever – she had barely sung one note when Jessie J span round to watch her belt out Love On Top.

The other three followed and she eventually picked Will.i.am’s team, going on to reach the semi-final stage of the reality show

But despite her own success on reality TV, She is not exactly a fan of the format.

“I hate, hate, hate HATE the whole X Factor ‘vote for her, she’s got the best sob story’, people should vote for the music, for the voice.”

Right now though Cleo is focused on the show and loving challenging Michael Jackson in her own diva-esque way.

“It’s just great. Every night I worried when I get to the key change in Earth Song – and every night the audiences just love it.

“It’s the best feeling. You can’t beat it.”

Thriller – Live! is at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, from Monday, February 22 to Saturday, February 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets from £23.50. To book, go to southendtheatres.org.uk

Interview first published in the Echo newspaper

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