She’s the Queen of British Soul, has won several MOBOs, been nominated for BRIT and Olivier awards and the Mercury Music Prize. She was awarded an MBE in 2007. Fast-forward through these incredible highlights of Beverley Knight’s amazing career and you understand both the public and music-industry love of the Wolverhampton-born star.
She has recorded with the greats, performed for illustrious names, challenged the status-quo and created songs that are the soundtrack to our lives. Notably she has sung at Black Pride and a private audience at 10 Downing Street, at the request of then Prime Minister’s wife Sarah Brown, supported Prince during his UK residency at the O2 Arena and one of his infamous after-parties, and even performed at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.
With a natural transition to musical theatre in 2013, Beverley has had lead roles in West End shows The Bodyguard, Memphis – for which she earned an Olivier Award nomination – and Cats. Most recently, in September 2018, she took on the role of Emmeline Pankhurst in Sylvia, a musical to celebrate the life of Sylvia Pankhurst and the centenary of the
Suffragette movement, at The Old Vic. It was a role which attracted criticism for having a black actor play Pankhurst, but, characteristically strong and resolved, Beverley merely dismissed the reproach and got on with delivering an A-list performance to the show’s sell-out audiences.
Determination and resilience are undoubtedly part of Beverley’s make-up, and traits which have helped her on her life journey. A musical legend, the girl who was raised in a strict Pentecostal household by Jamaican parents has come a long way. Gospel music was the starting point for Beverley’s love of music and, although pop music was frowned upon at home, soul legends Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin were early inspirations that saw her penning songs at just 13.
At 17, she began performing in Wolverhampton clubs and her talents were spotted shortly after by an A&R man who signed her to his record label, Dome, after hearing her perform as a backing vocalist for an emerging local artist. The break was exactly what she needed and the energy and passion shows in her first album release, The B-Funk, which was hailed ‘the best British soul album ever’. The rest, as they say, is history.
While lesser stars have been tagged as divas, Beverley Knight is one of the most humble people in show business whose love of music is still at the heart of everything she does.
Her early influences also shaped a lifelong spirituality and empathy which are second nature to her life. “Growing up in an evangelical-Christian household, life was gregarious and open,” she says. “It was natural and expected that you should go into the community and do things to help people. This gave me a spiritual awareness that we are just a speck in the ocean and that you need to make your life count. It also taught me empathy and to consider how it is to walk in someone else’s shoes.”
A moment of reflection of all that she has achieved was realised at a sell-out concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall in May, and the event was also recorded for a live album. “I look back at the past 25 years and remember how it felt before my career took off,” says Beverley. “It feels so long ago but at the same time it feels like yesterday. I tend to think of life in terms of tours and since the beginning I’ve identified every stage of my life through music.
“Music is in my blood and is the centre of everything. I’ve never suffered from stage fright as it’s always been home and the place where I feel most comfortable. I’ve been on stage forever, since playschool and church, performance is in my blood.
“The 25-years concert was a really fun night and an opportunity to create something special to celebrate the moment with some of my hits, fan favourites, some show music and popular songs. But it’s more than just a back catalogue, it’s my life over a quarter of a century! It was wonderful to perform to an audience that I know has been there from day one, and it was an electric moment.”
Waiting in the wings and a constant support to her demanding schedule is Beverley’s husband, James O’Keefe, whom she married at Goodwood House in 2012 and describes as her soulmate. “James is brilliant at helping me to cope, to breathe and to take one day at a time,” she says. Like Beverley, James is passionate about health, fitness and nutrition, and as their busy schedules permit the two enjoy spending time at Juicy Oasis. Beverley was one of the first guests at the launch of Jason’s Juicy Mountain retreat in Turkey and later Juicy Oasis, and over the years the couple have become firm friends with Jason and the Juice Master team. “When we first went to Juicy Mountain we loved it,” she says. “James and Jason hit it off and they are great broskis who love hanging out together, they are so similar in their outlook on life. Jason is a dear, dear friend and we have shared so much together
“For me, Juicy Oasis is just an amazing place to be and completely different to Juicy Mountain. It truly is an oasis and the most beautiful retreat with a wonderful spa, and we’ve been every year since it opened. It is a real credit to Jason and it’s the place where I have learnt to switch off. You have to know when to say this time is just for
you, and that beautiful river, the sunshine and the team at Juicy Oasis help you to focus on recharging your batteries. Going, you are frazzled but you come back feeling like a retuned radio. I love the idea of spending time improving yourself physically and mentally. It’s a place to let go of fear and things that can hinder you in personal development – it’s a real eye-opener of an experience.”
Beverley has always been mindful of health and fitness, but in 2017 underwent a hysterectomy as a result of being diagnosed with uterine fibroids. “It was the year that made me think, ‘You’re not superwoman’ – the doctors acted quickly and my feeling was to do it and then concentrate on getting back to fitness. We went to Juicy Oasis while I was recovering and while I couldn’t do heavy weights I used the lake to strengthen my abdominal muscles and focused on getting better.”
Beverley bounced back, 100 per cent committed to rebuilding her strength and endurance, both of which are evident in her amazingly honed body. At Juicy Oasis, she and James enjoy the full range of activities, including walking and hiking. “I’ve always loved all types of fitness and at Juicy Oasis there’s so much to inspire you to try something different. Juicy Oasis is where I first tried yoga – I can’t say it’s my favourite go-to, as I love high-energy exercise, but it was good to take up a new challenge. James
constantly dedicates himself to self–improvement and I am in awe of the way he regularly challenges himself.”
Post-retreat, Beverley maintains her fitness with a variety of exercise. “I go to the gym most days and do a mixture of weights to promote testosterone to prevent everything
sagging!” she laughs. “I also do cardio to maintain my stamina, and I love high-intensity interval training which leaves me feeling incredible. I have to remember to stretch afterwards, but my relationship with yoga… well, let’s just say I’m still on the journey!”
Juicing is also part of her daily routine. “We have them every day, usually a blend in the morning and a juice in the afternoon,” says Beverley. “I like to get my greens in and I love beetroot, which helps keep my blood pressure in check. It’s so pure and you know you are getting the nutrients your body needs. Nutrition also makes a big difference to my skin and hair and I keep my sugar intake as low as possible.”
Looking and feeling incredible, at such a defining moment it might be tempting for Beverley to feel she has accomplished all she set out to as a young soul singer. “There’s still so much that excites me,” says Beverley. “I am doing a lot of festivals over the summer and working on a new musical for 2020. I’d like to do television or film – maybe a Netflix show or even Peaky Blinders, I’ve got the accent! There’s so much still to do and it’s what keeps me going and excited for what’s to come.”