“Welcome to the aftershow party!” bellows Jessie J, cocktail in hand, as I’m ushered into her inner sanctum. It’s midnight, we’re in a 5 star hotel suite in Cork and she is sprawled on a sofa, holding court. She has just played a gig in front of thousands of screaming fans – a few of whom are loitering, hopefully, downstairs in the lobby. At Jessie’s feet sits a masseuse, who is gently rubbing madame’s tired tootsies. The rest of her entourage are scattered around the room, while hotel staff wheel in trolley after trolley of gourmet room service orders, which nestle grandly under silver cloches. A treadmill sits forlornly in the corner. So far, so popstar. Yet… everything is not quite as it seems. That cocktail turns out to be a carrot, orange and ginger juice (she’s no drinker). The masseuse is working on Jessie’s foot because it’s still swollen from when she broke her ankle in 2011 and performing exacerbates the injury. And she has NO idea why the treadmill has been put there. “I didn’t request it,” she says. “All I ask for is a room with a door that locks and a full-length mirror.” When I suggest that an aftershow party is not an aftershow party without someone throwing a TV out of the hotel room window, she is horrified. “Oh my god, I would NEVER do that!” she exclaims, in her broad Essex twang. “It’s so disrespectful! My hotel rooms are usually tidier when I leave them than when I arrive – I’m always cleaning and dusting. It’s my way of de-stressing. I tidied up before you arrived because I didn’t want you to see it messy.”
This is not what I was expecting. My diva radar had been on high alert over the previous few days. Jessie cancelled our first interview in London, but not until I’d waited for her for 45 minutes. Then I am told to fly to Cork, where she is playing one of a selection of summer festivals. I’m promised she will talk to me after her soundcheck. She doesn’t. I’m told she will now talk to me after the show, late into the evening. I cross my fingers, and try not to dwell on the fact I have to leave for the airport at 5.30am. And then, finally, at midnight, in the nick of time, I am granted an audience. “The biggest misconception about me is that I’m a diva,” she says, fiddling with the toggles on her black hoody. “I’m not. I have my moments – sometimes you have to put yourself first because no one else will. If I’ve been working for 20 hours and sung 6 times in a day, then I will ask the hotel reception to turn my phone line off, and I’ll sleep.” In the flesh, she is gregarious, quick to poke fun at herself and endearingly open. She’s also prettier than her tough-girl posturing leads you to expect – all Bambi lashes, mile-wide smiles and those never-ending legs. That buzz-cut, which she undertook to raise funds for Comic Relief in March, has magically softened her face, as has her recent decision to pare down the slap. “I want to be more of a woman and look like myself. I wanted to tone it down,” she notes. Jessie also likes a chat. A lot of chat. Let’s just say there can’t be any donkeys left in Cork still in possession of their hind legs. You don’t need to ask a question as such, merely mention a topic, and she’s off, like a greyhound out of the traps, barely pausing to draw breath.
Tonight’s big discussion point? Motherhood. Go Jessie: “I always say children only know what you teach them, so teach them well. I’m so honest with my nieces and nephew, I talk to them like they’re adults. I hold my six-year-old niece’s hand and say: ‘You have to set an example to your little brother.’ My sister says I’m going to be a very spiritual, philosophical parent. I see children in my future, 100 per cent. VERY soon.” Unfortunately, there is one stumbling block on this maternal mission. “Obviously, I need to find someone to have kids with first!” she guffaws. But she’s deadly serious about being broody, and has clearly thought about it a great deal: “When I shaved my head and turned 25 something changed in me. I started thinking that with everything I’m doing, I want my kids to look back and say, Wasn’t mummy amazing? I’ve really started thinking about what I’m leaving for them.” The one topic I’ve been told to steer clear of tonight is her sexuality, which has been the subject of speculation. Last year an unauthorised biography claimed Jessie is a lesbian who pretends to be bisexual for fear of alienating fans. Tonight, however, she talks only about men. She says that she sees herself taking the conventional path: “I’d LOVE to have kids and get married. I look at my mum and dad and know how lucky I am to have parents who are still flirting after 33 years. They’re so happy together but happiness doesn’t just happen you have to work for it and adapt your lifestyle to make love work.” That man has to be Mr Absolutely Totally Right, though. “I won’t settle for anything less. Love is something you shouldn’t underestimate – that one person in the whole world you’re going to choose to spend the rest of your life with. I’m not going to rush. The time will come. The right person will appear and it will be amazing. I dream about it and whatever I dream about happens,” she says, eyes flashing with determination. Are men scared of her? “No, not any more. I think I looked so scary around the time of [her debut 2010 hit] Do It Like A Dude, but I think I’m more approachable to men now. I hope so anyway – I want men to flirt with me!” she smiles. “I just need to meet that person… at the airport – that’s the only place I ever am. Maybe someone on security,” she says, peals of laughter ricocheting around the suite.
Her parents – nursery school teacher Rose mother and social worker Steve – are clearly a huge influence on the girl they named Jessica Ellen Cornish. “My dad has taught me about the enjoyment of life and how precious it is,” she says. She walks the walk as well as talking the talk on this: she spent much of her childhood in and out of hospital with heart problems and suffered a stroke at 18. None of this got in the way of her dream to be a star – and like the girl said, if she dreams it, it happens. It was a no-brainer, really: as a child she sang all the time, beautifully and extraordinarily loudly. It was the thing she was best at by a country mile. And so followed a childhood starring in TV ads and West End productions; teenage years attending the star-moulding Brits School in Croydon (her lunchtimes spent singing with classmate Adele); a misfiring attempt at being in a girl group; a very successful stint as a songwriter in LA and, finally, a solo record deal. And so in 2010, Jessie J elbowed her way into the spotlight: fearsome and uncompromising, with her black bob, lipstick embellished with gold studs and forthright, don’t-mess pop anthems. Her album Who You Are sold XXX copies [CHECKING WITH PR] worldwide and in 2011 she became a judge on The Voice, BBC1’s primetime Saturday night singing competition, a move that propelled her from quite famous popstar to household name. When we meet, she’s just announced she’s not signing up for series 3, thus sparking a media frenzy. It seems there’s no big tale to tell though: “They sent the schedule through and for 40 of the 42 days they needed me for filming, I was on tour. I had to think, what am I prioritizing – my music or The Voice? I wouldn’t be on that show if it wasn’t for the music. I have to get back to the core of who I am. I need to be on stage singing, not watching someone else,” she says. She has cracking America in her sights, and is finishing off her second album, which will be released this autumn: “It’s an eclectic record: gospel, ‘80s, lots of pop, lots of guitar. And there are more grown-up moments.” It’s a safe best she won’t be imploring us to do it like a dude any more.
What’s striking about Jessie J is that she’s so unwaveringly confident, against a backdrop of female starlets being picked to pieces and scrutinized at every turn. And as she is someone who wields so much influence – the crowd at the Cork show were predominantly young girls, many dancing along with their mothers, squealing with excitement – this is a brilliant thing. She gives her fans a pep talk from the stage about finding peace with their perceived flaws, which gets the loudest cheer of the night. “I’m surrounded by strong women – my mum, my sisters and my friends, “ she says, back at her suite, as she removes the saucer-sized gold hoops from her ears and snuggles into the sofa. “There’s a difference between sitting around moaning and making the most of what you’ve got. There was a photo of me in a magazine recently and people were commenting on how I had no boobs. I was like, thanks, I know that. I’m 100 per cent happy in my skin. It’s what I’ve got, why not enjoy it?” Is she a feminist, I wonder. “It seems such a strong word, but yeah I am,” she says. “I definitely believe in equal rights and women being as powerful as men. Yeah!”
And there’s more. So much more. She good-naturedly scrolls through her mobile phone contacts list picking out the most famous ones for my entertainment: “Katy Perry! Brandy AND Monica! Stella McCartney! Elton John! Will.I.Am! Mel C!” She discusses her hatred of salad “(It’s not food!”). She says that she once wanted to be a hairdresser (you can just imagine it). She mentions how her fellow The Voice judge, Tom Jones, always smells fabulous. She confides that she occasionally treats herself to a Celine bag even though the cost makes her feel a bit sick. She sheepishly admits she’s so obsessed with ten-pin bowling she’s even got her own bowling shoes. It’s time for a little less conversation and little more action. It’s 1am, her chips are getting cold under their silver cloche – and that TV won’t dust itself.