Not many celebrities have stood the test of time quite like Alesha Dixon. A multi-hyphenate if ever there was one, the 44-year-old has spent 26 years in the spotlight, hoarding three platinum albums under her belt, as well a Strictly Come Dancing trophy, numerous presenting gigs and a seat on the Britain’s Got Talent judging panel.
When so many others have disappeared (usually unwillingly) into anonymity, what is the secret behind her staying power? “When I started out, I was afraid of everything,” admits Dixon. “Now I’m pretty fearless, but that took a long time to learn. Looking back, I realise all that worry and fear was wasted energy and it didn’t serve me in any way.
“This industry is ruthless and so is life. I’ve been through some difficult times, like everyone. There are a lot of opinions and a lot of noise. A lot of people who think they know better than you, and in some respects they might, but you have to stick to your gut instinct and go with what you believe is right. It’s important to push yourself to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations, especially as a woman. Ask for what you want, don’t wait for it to be handed to you.”
Dixon has proven she isn’t all bark and no bite. Recently reports emerged that she and her co-judge Amanda Holden made a principled stand for women when demanding their pay be brought into line with former judge, David Walliams, on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.
“For so long women who fight for what they deserve and have an opinion have been called divas, but that’s changing now,” says Dixon. “People try to put women in that box, and I think now we are realising that there are so many incredible women around the world doing such empowering things. Slowly that perception of ‘divas’ and ‘being difficult’ is shifting to those same women being called ‘strong’ and ‘confident’.
“That’s why I’m so proud I was in Mis-Teeq. One of the things I love about us was that we were no-nonsense. We managed ourselves at the beginning, so we weren’t three people being used by a label like puppets on a string. The odds were against us because we were young women of colour, but we were headstrong and proud of it. We knew we had to fight, and we did. It really set me up for what was to come, and there were some tough days.”
Perhaps alluding to the more tumultuous period in her life and career, it is no secret that Dixon’s time in the spotlight hasn’t always been easy. In 2006 her debut solo album, Fired Up, was pulled by her record label before it even reached the shops following a number of single flops. She was subsequently dropped by the label, and that same year went through a difficult divorce from her first husband.
Yet the singer has learnt never to back down in the face of hardship or failure. “That initial flop of my solo career was a big blow,” she says. “I was gutted. But then I learnt from it and came back stronger. For me there was never an option to quit. I knew this had to work and, so I went for it. In the end it pulled off, but it wasn’t easy. There’s nothing more empowering than believing in yourself, even when all the odds seem stacked against you.”
It is clear Dixon’s “go get em” attitude is what drives her success. Having already conquered the music scene and TV, Dixon, who is now married to creative director and choreographer Azuka Ononye, and has two children, Azura Sienna, nine, and Anaya Safiya, three, has since taken that attitude to since turned her sights to the world of publishing. Her first of seven children’s books, Lightning Girl, was released in 2018, and her latest addition Luna Wolf: Animal Wizard, hits shelves next month.
“Children’s books are such a beautiful space, because there are no limitations on your imagination and where you can go,” she says. “But it’s also an important space. If you think about what children consume – whether it’s what they’re watching or what they’re reading – all these little subliminal messages play a massive part in shaping their thoughts, their feelings, how they deal with emotion.
“I really feel quite passionate about having books that reflect the real world, obviously within reason, so the children can think about that and compare it to their own lives,” says Dixon who, inspired by her Jamaican heritage, is particularly passionate about reflecting children of all backgrounds, race and families in her books.
“It’s interesting because I used to read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was younger, as well as the classics like Roald Dahl, but I was never really aware that people who looked like me weren’t included. I didn’t overthink it, because you’re just like ‘Oh kids that look like me aren’t in books.’ I was very matter of fact about it and just accepted the world that was presented to me, as a lot of kids do.
“It’s not until I got older that I reflected back and thought it was a bit weird. Then, when I started reading books to Azura, it really stood out because the same thing was happening again. A lot of books she was reading or bringing home from school weren’t necessarily representing her culture. I have to say there are so many offerings out there now which are doing wonderful, wonderful things, but I guess when you look at the percentages, how many people of colour are on the front of these books? Or the protagonist?
“We have come a long way since I was younger, but we’ve got a long way to go. I want kids to read my book and for everyone to feel included, whether they’re a different race, trying to work out how to be part of a blended family or have lost a parent. I don’t want to shy away from difficult subject matters, but I want to do it in a way that’s gentle and more palatable.”
That Dixon is devoted to her children is only too clear – when she chats to me, she is at home looking after her poorly eldest daughter – but motherhood has changed her in more ways than she’d ever expected.
“I’m much more of a sensible Sally now,” she laughs Dixon. “Which is a surprise, because I’m a rebel at heart. It was crazy, because it was this instant thing where every decision and everything that I did, my children were suddenly at the forefront. I consider them in every scenario. It’s not just about me any more, so in a way I’ve become more responsible, more considerate, more thoughtful.
“There’s that age-old question of how do you juggle being a mum and having a career, but Azura and Anaya have motivated me and re-energised me to go for new things and push boundaries. They’ve done the opposite of clip my wings. It’s amazing because they hold me accountable and they inspire me. They know I can be impatient, but I like that I’m still improving and learning. Being a parent is an ongoing challenge.”
Surely with so many accolades to her name, there can’t be much left for her to achieve?
“You know, I’ve proved that I can weather storms and come out the other end stronger,” she says Dixon. “I’m fearless now and when you realise that about yourself, there are no doors you can’t open.
“I’m releasing new music soon, but I’d also love to take hold of the creative reigns behind the scenes. I’ve got a great team around me, but I basically represent myself now, and I like having that independence. What excites me is taking it to the next level and evolving past being a talent on screen. Hopefully, I can start helping other people who are coming up in the industry, which would bring me so much joy.”
Luna Wolf: Animal Wizard by Alesha Dixon (Scholastic Children’s) is out on 2 March