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Jamelia: 'I love representing dark-skinned women'


WHEN JAMELIA joined the panel of ITV daytime programme Loose Women last year, she knew it was far more than a personal achievement.

As a young, black woman, the British singer was all too aware that joining the all-female line-up of the long-running show would be considered a great stride for the black British community. With the concerns about the lack of black representation on British television ever present in today’s society, Jamelia’s new role was certainly not going to go unnoticed.

But for the Birmingham-born star, having a presence in the public eye has always been about more than self-achievement. Believing passionately that she was “put on this earth to make a difference,” Jamelia, who rose to prominence in 1999 with her singles So High and I Do, before scoring success with the hits Superstar, Thank You and See It In A Boy’s Eyes, feels that her success has enabled her to defy racial stereotypes.

“I’ve come against that [prejudice] on so many occasions,” says the 33-year-old. “When I first signed my record deal, people said, ‘she’s never gonna sell because she’s dark-skinned. Only light-skinned women are gonna sell’. People said that no-one would ever see me as sexy and I’d never be on the front of any magazine – but I’ve been on the cover of every magazine I can think of.

“It came from industry people, radio people, magazine editors; I remember visiting a PR company and they were saying, ‘no one’s gonna want a black girl’. I constantly questioned, ‘why not?’ And to this day, I’m still like that. If there’s something I want to do, I’m going to find a way to do it. My feeling towards all of that is, ‘don’t get angry, don’t get offended, just prove them wrong.’”

Not only does Jamelia enjoy being a representation of black women, she also acknowledges that, as a dark-skinned woman, she – much like supermodel Naomi Campbell and 12 Years A Slave actress Lupita Nyong’o – offers an idea of beauty that defies the fairer-skinned image that is often favoured in the mainstream.

“I love being a representation of dark skinned women in the commercial arena,” says the mother-of-two. “My eldest daughter is dark skinned and I think it’s very important for her and every other young, dark skinned girl out there to see that I can do whatever I want to do.

“I was told so many times that I wouldn’t be able to do this or that because of my image and I love defying people’s opinions. I love being a rebel – that’s why I’m known as the rebel on Twitter! I love proving people wrong and when my daughter’s my age, I want her to not make any differentiations between a dark skinned woman and a light-skinned woman, or a black woman and a white woman. I just want her to see herself as a strong woman who is capable of all things.”

LADIES HOUR: Jamelia with her Loose Women panellists Kay Adams (left) and Janet Street-Porter (right)

Reflecting on her role as a panellist on Loose Women, Jamelia says she’s thrilled to be part of the show, as she feels her honesty makes her relatable.

“One of the things that I believe that makes someone a great representative is being willing to display your flaws,” says the entertainer who has racked up four MOBO Awards, fronted her own hair care range Model.Me and graced the covers of magazines including Cosmopolitan and Elle.

“I would never make out that I’m a perfect human being, but I’m very confident in myself as a woman and I do believe that I’m a decent black woman who can represent black women well.

“When I first joined the show, I did feel like, ‘Ooh, I’m representing black women’, but there are a lot of other people who have responded to my appearances on the show. Yes, it was a huge thing for black women, but I also got responses from black men, young women, single mothers, people who have been in bad relationships – all sorts. I feel that as long as you’re authentic and you be who you truly are, people will relate to you.”

Explaining that she is “unashamed to talk about my mistakes and I’m unashamed of the experiences that have made me who I am,” the popular entertainer doesn’t shy away from reflecting on her past relationships.

Following the breakdown of her relationship with her eldest daughter’s father, with whom she experienced domestic violence, Jamelia later embarked on a relationship with footballer Darren Byfield, with whom she had her second daughter. The pair married in 2008 but the singer filed for divorce 18 months later.

Now single, Jamelia says she maintains an amicable relationship with her exes and that their shared focus is the wellbeing of their children, now aged 12 and eight.

ME AND MY GIRLS: Jamelia and her daughters

“I didn’t grow up with my dad; his input in my life wasn’t consistent and I’ve seen how that has played out with me as an adult,” she says. “So the worst thing for me would be for my daughters to have an adverse relationship with their fathers. Regardless of whether or not I’m still with their fathers, it’s important to me that my daughters maintain that relationship with their dads and they both have fantastic relationships with their dads.

“I don’t entertain any sort of ‘arms house’,” she laughs. “We are not having that ‘baby mother/baby father’ situation. I’m not gonna be that mother and I wouldn’t allow them to be that father. Our collective aim is the happiness and well-being of our children. So as much as it’s not the most conventional situation or a situation I would have hoped for, we’re definitely making the best of what it is and it works. My daughters are both happy, which is the main thing.”

Naturally, her daughters remain her priority in all that she does, and when she’s not doing her TV job, Jamelia says her life is pretty ordinary.

In amongst her normalcy is plenty of cooking. Having showed off her baking skills when she took part in The Great Sport Relief Bake Off last month, the multi-talented star says that she enjoys being in the kitchen.

“Cooking, baking – I love it. My girls often say to me, they feel like they live in a restaurant, which makes me very happy! I’m always making cakes and my girls love cooking as well so the kitchen really is the heart of my home.”

Reflecting further on her non-showbiz world, Jamelia says she loves the “normal” aspects of her life.

“I feel like I live two totally different lives. My livelihood is TV and singing and that kind of stuff, and my normal life is having two children, having to cook dinner, wash school uniforms, clean the house – those normal things!

“If I wanted to, I know I could have a nanny and cleaners but I really believe that having my normal life helps to keep me grounded.

“It’s one of the things that allows me to relate to the average woman and I don’t ever want to lose that.”

Loose Women is on ITV1 weekdays at 12.30pm

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