Singer, Loose Women star and single parent Jamelia has had a life of contrasts – career success but personal heartache including domestic abuse in a teenage relationship. She tells Gabrielle Fagan her daughter gave her a sign that she should look for love again
While she’s won success as a singer-songwriter, model and outspoken panel member on Loose Women, romance has only ever seemed to bring pain and unhappiness for Jamelia.
The mother-of-two has been open about the physical and emotional abuse she suffered during a relationship in her teens with her first boyfriend, and five years ago, a marriage to footballer Darren Byfield broke up after only 18 months, but she reveals she’s now ready to look for love again.
“You have to wait until you’re ready again for a relationship and I think I definitely am now. I also feel older and wiser about men,” says the 34-year-old, who’s been seen causing a commotion as one of eight celebrities currently competing in ITV’s Bear Grylls: Mission Survive in a Central American rainforest.
Although in the reality series she’s patently been fearful of the physical challenges and struggled to cope with some of her team mates, at home this resilient woman is celebrating what she describes as a “new-found confidence and contentment”.
“A few years ago I was still beating myself up about certain things or mistakes I’d made in my life and at times it was very confusing, but now I feel my life is like a jigsaw which has fallen into place,” she says.
“I never regret anything, but I wish I hadn’t gathered the information about life in the way that I did. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. So these days l feel blessed, fortunate and proud of myself.
“I’ve had some well-documented negative, awful things happen to me, but also some amazing, unbelievable things and I’ve come through as a survivor with two wonderful children, friends and a great job. I’m definitely still someone who believes in happy endings, the fairy tale and romance and it just really would be nice to complete the puzzle with a nice man.”
That desire for a partner is quite an admission for a woman who, over the last few years, has prided herself on her self-sufficiency and single-mindedly focused on her TV and music career and raising her daughters Teja, 14, from her first relationship and Tiani, 9, from her marriage. She even home-schooled them for six years.
Ironically, it was a small sign of her children’s growing maturity which proved the trigger for her change of heart.
“I overslept the other day and when I got downstairs, I found my youngest, Tiani had used a recipe and made her own breakfast. It made me realise that in a few years time, they’re not going to need me in the same way, and then what am I going to do?” says Jamelia, who’s backing Warburtons and The British Heart Foundation campaign to educate people on the importance of a healthy balanced diet, after its research found 40% of school children and one in five parents don’t start the day with a nutritious breakfast.
“I decided it’s time for a relationship even if it’s just a distraction from the fact that the kids are growing up and will one day fly the nest! I still have dreams of a whole family unit, I really, really do. And even though my biological clock isn’t ticking, if I found the right man I would love more children.”
On her wish list is “someone honest, genuine, and who also adores me! He needs to be prepared to take on a strong woman because I’m definitely not looking to be looked after, I’m still very ambitious. I can cope with life, so I’d just like someone to complement it.”
Her independence and inner strength was honed in part during a challenging childhood in Handsworth, a deprived part of Birmingham which in the Eighties and Nineties experienced riots. She was brought up by a single mother, Paulette Davis, who became pregnant as a teenager. Her father was largely absent from her life and spent time in prison.
Jamelia, whose remarkable talent won her a contract with a record label when she was only 15, has admitted she felt “scared” she’d jeopardised her promising future by becoming pregnant at 19, but now credits motherhood with motivating her. She’s won four MOBO awards and had nine BRIT award nominations and had eight top ten UK singles, as well as appearing in her own documentaries, including Jamelia: Shame About Single Mums, and undertaking numerous presenting roles.
“Of course, I didn’t plan to be a single parent but my girls made me aware of my potential and undoubtedly supercharged my motivation,” she says.
“They made me realise I had a responsibility to be a role model for these two little people, and every single day that pushes me forward. So far I feel I’ve done all right as a mum because they’re fantastic children and doing very well.
“I’ve always been completely open with them about my own experiences and the abuse and things I’ve suffered, in an age appropriate way of course, because it’s important to be honest. My journey was appropriate for me but I hope my daughters don’t have to make the same jigsaw to come to the same conclusion.
“I’ve encouraged their relationships with their fathers, because my lack of a relationship with my dad caused me to go out there and look for something that was missing in my life. It’s possible my choices of partner would have been different if I’d had a present father.”
Now her elder daughter is a teenager she’s ultra-conscious of helping steer her through those demanding years, and drawing on her own experiences to help give her perspective. “Of course I’m open to Teja making her own mistakes – that’s how you learn. I just don’t want her to make a mistake and feel that’s the end of her world. I tell her you can always go on and make things better.”
Making things better as well as “making a difference” is why she relishes her role on Loose Women, and her commitment to the show is unshaken, despite a barrage of Twitter abuse and threats following an encounter in January with former Coronation Street star, Ken Morley. He had allegedly made sexist slurs and used the word “negro” on the Celebrity Big Brother show.
“The reaction to my tackling Ken Morley about his behaviour really shocked me. I’ve never had trolling like that in my life before, literally hundreds and hundreds of horrible tweets insulting me and physically threatening me. It was scary – at one point it made me frightened to go out,” she admits.
“But I’ve never been someone who backs down or cowers in a corner. I had a Twitter rant and urged people to remember there’s a human being at the end of a tweet, and then I moved on and vowed never to let that sort of thing get to me again. Anyway, I love Loose Women although initially I was petrified about being on it because I worried about holding my own with all these older women with huge life experience. But I’ve experienced so much in my own life, I’m confident in my opinions and hope I can inspire confidence in other women who relate to me for whatever reason – because I’m black, a single parent, a singer, or a strong woman.”
Facing and coping with challenges – she took part in the Bear Grylls show to show her daughters “what I was capable of” – have served to heighten this glamorous, articulate woman’s resolve.
“When I was young, I was filled with a lot of doubt which either stopped me doing something or prolonged something which shouldn’t have been prolonged,” she reflects.
“Doubt definitely kills more dreams than fears but now I trust my gut instinct and know I can get through pretty much whatever life throws at me and I’ve had a blast so far. Two things stand out for me as a huge sign of how far I’ve come from the Jamelia who grew up in a single parent home, with her mum on benefits until she was seven, and a dad in and out of prison, to the Jamelia who was able to introduce her mum to Prince Charles and her children to Nelson Mandela. That’s just amazing and something I couldn’t have dreamt of that when I was young.
“At the end of the day, I truly believe in looking at life through rose-tinted glasses – it’s my coping mechanism and it allows me to always look for the good in any situation and if it hurts me or causes me heartache, I look for the lessons. If you do that, experiences can only enrich you and help you move forward. That’s what I’m teaching my girls.”
Warburtons and The British Heart Foundation have joined forces to educate the nation on the importance of a healthy balanced diet. Pick up a special donation pack of Warburtons wholemeal and raise funds for the BHF. Visit www.bhf.org.uk