Strikingly beautiful, with her sparkling brown eyes framed by her long eyelashes and an old- school style that matches her soulful voice, Rebecca Ferguson looks every inch the pop princess as she strikes a pose in designer dresses in our exclusive photo shoot. But although she oozes star quality, within minutes of meeting the talented 25-year-old it’s clear that she remains a Liverpool lass at heart. Her feet, although clad in impossibly high heels, are firmly on the ground. “The other day I got offered a
gig, I won’t say how much for, but it was for a lot of money,” says Rebecca, who was runner-up on last year’s X Factor and has just released her debut album, Heaven.
“But it was a day off and I hadn’t seen me mum and I’d promised I’d go to see my little brother and my best friend. Anyone else would say, ‘What are you doing?’ As much as I didn’t have the best of starts, and it’s important for me to look after my family, I have a relaxed attitude to money. I like money, but it doesn’t rule me. I’d much rather spend time with my family.
“Before The X Factor, I used to wish my life away,” adds the single mother of two. “I thought that if I became famous and a successful singer, it would make me happy. I’ve learnt that it’s family and friends who make you happy.”
Rebecca has a seven-year-old daughter, Lillie, and son Karl, five, from a relationship in her teens with builder Karl Dures. After finding fame on last year’s show, during which her voice was declared “world class” by the judges, Rebecca and the children moved to a rented house in Surrey so she could be nearer to London for work.
“There are certain aspects of my old life that I miss,” admits Rebecca, who was training as a legal secretary before her big break. “Things like rushing out the door with me hair in a bun, doing the school run, jumping on the bus and sitting gabbing with me college mates.”
With her newfound wealth, she also rented a house in Liverpool for her mother, Anne Jameson, 53, and Rebecca goes back to stay there as often as possible.
Her children have adapted well to their new home. “I was worried, but they took to it straight away,” she says. “They’ve got lovely friends and they love the house and garden – we’ve got rabbits in the garden; it’s like play time constantly.”
RAGS TO RICHES Rebecca didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. She has described growing up “very poor by UK standards”. But her upbringing was a loving one that gave her both resilience and an awareness of what matters most in life.
Her mother battled an illness, which meant her daughter had periods when she was looked after by family friends and foster parents. She also spent time in care homes.
“It wasn’t my whole childhood, but it just made me aware of other people suffering,” says Rebecca, who understandably wants to keep her mother’s condition private.
“It is something I didn’t really want to speak about, but then I thought, ‘I don’t think people should be quiet about it.’ Kids might look up to me and think, ‘Well, she’s doing all right.’”
After her parents’ separation Rebecca was raised by her mother. She has two brothers – Daniel, 26, and Sam, 22 – and two 12-year-old half-sisters – Natalie from her father, Dan, and Imani from her mum.
Rebecca knew from childhood that she wanted to be a singer and she forged her distinct dress sense early on, too. “We lived in an area where all the girls were really dressy,” she says. “I learnt to cheat looking expensive because I didn’t have the money. So me mum would get me little belts and things from the charity shop and I started playing with clothes and trying to re-create looks.
“I’ve always worn heels – from a dead young age,” she laughs. “Since I was in junior school, I was like, ‘I want to wear heels.’”
At 15, Rebecca became a full- time student at Liverpool’s Starlite School of Performing Arts, but then her unexpected pregnancy with Lillie two years later put her singing dreams on hold. Rebecca was told that young motherhood meant: “Your life’s over; you’re never going to become anything.”
Indeed, rejection came in 2005 and 2006, when she auditioned unsuccessfully for The X Factor, and in 2009, when she failed to impress at a Britain’s Got Talent audition.
In 2007, a producer invited her to fly to New York to audition for music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’s MTV show P Diddy’s Starmaker. Her family helped find the £2,000 for her to go, but the trip amounted to nothing. “Everyone had chipped in – me stepmother, me mum, me dad, me brothers,” she says. “They had the faith in me, which was lovely.”
She has now firmly found success, of course, but why does she think it didn’t happen sooner? “I’m starting to think that things are meant to fall into place at certain times,” she says. “I wasn’t that different, but my babies were too young, maybe. I don’t know…
“Last year I’d relaxed a bit more and went with the attitude of, ‘If it’s not meant to be…’ Before, I was really hungry for it and I would be practising for two weeks before in the mirror.”
Though she never lost her desire to sing, she did want a back-up plan. So she went to college, where she gained distinctions in all her legal secretary exams. “When I had my babies, I was so focused and it pushed me to go to college and do well for them,” she explains.
MOTHER OF INVENTION
Rebecca seems to be a great role model for young mums. One, from Wales, wrote to tell her that she’d inspired her to go to college. “I think it’s about individuals, not about age,” Rebecca says of early motherhood. “I’m really happy I had them young,” she adds. “Maybe because I was younger, my kids became like my little best mates.”
Rebecca has remained on amicable terms with the children’s father Karl, taking them back to Liverpool every other weekend to see him.
“He loves his kids, he’s a good dad,” she says. “We just want what’s best for them. We’re really mature about it.”
Rebecca was 17 when Lillie was born and Karl just a year older. “We look back on it and think, ‘God, we were young,’” she reflects. “We’re like brother and sister now. We give each other relationship advice.”
While Rebecca admits she finds it “really hard to trust people because I’ve been hurt in the past”, she did have a four-month relationship with 18-year-old One Direction singer Zayn Malik earlier this year. The age difference sparked outrage among fans of the boyband – not dissimilar to the reaction that has greeted his 17-year-old bandmate Harry’s relationship with Xtra Factor host Caroline Flack, 32.
Rebecca, who has said she and Zayn were in love, received abusive messages and says the level of attention “was hard”.
“I was newly in the public eye and honestly didn’t think people would be that bothered,” she says. “I was shocked. I’d seen lots of people in relationships where there are age gaps.
“At times it would affect me, but at the same time, a relationship is between you and that person, not you and the rest of the world.”
She harbours no bad feelings towards Zayn. “I’m happy for him,” she says. “He’s doing really well and the boys are doing amazingly. There’s no animosity. I just wish him peace.”
Rebecca has no shortage of suitors. “I get asked out a lot, yeah,” says the stunning singer, who recently confirmed that she had been asked out my some “famous-ish” names. “I’m really picky; I’m not one for dating lots of people. I fall for people. I’m a romantic. Aren’t all us girls?”
Rebecca, who adds that she’s “really open emotionally” and would like marriage and more children in the future, has poured her heart and soul into Heaven, which is being called the most critically acclaimed album of any X Factor contestant.
The praise must be gratifying for Rebecca, who co-wrote every track. “I’ve written for years,” she says. “If this album doesn’t do well, then at least I can look back and say, ‘It was me.’”
This seems unlikely, given past events. Rebecca sparked a reported £1million bidding war before signing her album deal and her debut single, Nothing’s Real But Love, reached the top ten. Her former X Factor judges Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole have also publicly tweeted their approval. Still, there are some things the singer holds even more dear. “I’ve got the kids’ nativities next week,” says Rebecca, who will head back to Liverpool for Christmas. “We were readjusting the diary because the likes of that I’m not going to miss.”
While Rebecca admits that one of her most indulgent purchases since finding fame has been “novelty beds for the kids with slides on them”, she’s determined they won’t be spoilt.
“I teach them to give,” she says. “Last Christmas, I’d just brought Lillie all these expensive presents, and her little cousin Georgia came round. Lillie was going, ‘Here, Georgia,’ giving her all these toys I’d just spent loads of money on. But I just stepped back and thought, ‘She’s learning.’”
Where does Rebecca get this admirable attitude from? “A bit of hardship and having kids young,” she says after some consideration. “I’ve seen people pass on and people I care about not be happy.
So I’ve just learnt to take each day as it comes.”