It is, I would say, something of a welcome wonder that Sophie Ellis-Bextor has lasted so long. She must be admired for her survival skills and an ability to pop up just when you think she’s disappeared for the last time. Her popularity is not entirely inexplicable but it is still quite some task to put a finger on exactly what it is she does that so appeals (admittedly to some, not all). Her success seems to ebb and flow on a tide that is thoroughly unpredictable and follows no traditional laws of trend. Go into any charity shop and you will invariably find a copy of her first album; along with ‘Permission To Land’ by The Darkness, ‘Saints and Sinners’ by All Saints and ‘Monster’ by REM (there’s something to keep you busy this weekend). It is worth noting that all those albums have their merits but none of them seem to have enough merits to want you to keep hold of them. Still, I like her.
Don’t worry, this isn’t strictly a love letter to Sophie Ellis-Bextor, though I’d be a liar if I said there wasn’t some kind of strange, other-worldly fascination. I was once sitting on a Bakerloo Line train, minding my own business, only to look up and watch with a lot more than a little interest as Sophie and her mum, Janet Ellis, walked on together and sat right opposite me. I’m not really sure what was going through my mind at the time. I would have been in my mid 20’s and pathetically shy so there was no fear of me leaning forward and saying something witty and flattering, so instead I just did that stupid thing where you look to your extreme left or right a few times purely to take them in on the return sweep. Regardless of what was no doubt a frightening lack of subtlety neither seemed bothered by me – one must remember that she was then a rather famous person and her mum had foxed me twice: Doctor Who and Blue Peter – and so I regarded the whole experience as something of a coup. It is still my most highly prized celebrity spot moment, definitely better than the time I saw Christopher Dean in the wine aisle of a Sainsbury’s. In our ongoing competition Wifey swears blind she once sat at a table next to Benedict Cumberbatch and that he pinched her Wasabi peas which, I hope, is not a euphemism.
Moving on, I have owned at least 2 of S.E-B’s albums and as far as I can remember I think both were eventually released into the wild (let me check………oh, yes I do still have her debut – ‘Read My Lips’, which reminds me of a joke about Helen Keller wearing tight trousers). I must have thought I’d outgrown her, but time and again she wriggles back into my ear and then appears on a screen somewhere, with that posh, porcelain skin and voluminous-in-a-nice-way face of hers. She always dresses like a well-appointed, 50’s housewife on a night out and she has never, at least to my knowledge, ever said anything horrible about anyone; even if she did I’d most likely find it in myself to forgive her and I imagine she must draw a great deal of comfort from that.
There are other reasons to be smitten. She can hold a tune pretty well and she does seem to get given magic pop sprinkles to sing – often borderline cheesy Euro disco, almost always in fact, but with an English restraint which somehow seems to melt the cheese away. An ex of mine had a very irrational hatred of S.E-B, to the extent that she decided one day that she hated the bassist from The Feeling solely because he had married her. That their marriage seems a happy and enduring one (and rare, given the context) is also the source of some admiration, though his Wikipedia page states that they had their first child 8 months after they met, which suggests either quite a lot of premature, an appalling lack of protection or the mastery of time travel. Whichever it is, it doesn’t really matter.
When I started writing this all I had was the fractured remnants of a tune I stumbled upon as I drove to work this morning: her finest hooks are very hooky indeed and the tiny tot, pop starlets of today should consider her something of a mother figure. Wow, I thought, that’s pretty catchy, and then recalled that a fortnight ago I’d winced on hearing her doing a terrible acoustic version of ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’. So she’s not perfect and she’s never going to conquer the whole world, and yet she seems to have a complete mastery of the world she has created for herself, and that is somehow just as impressive. I like that she doesn’t feel the need to saturate the airwaves with endless piss poor music and instead just picks a moment, possibly from a polka dotted hat, and enjoys it and then gets back to the other important things in her life. Give me her over Ariana Grande or Rhiannon any day. Not that I’m going to buy another album – it’ll just end up in a branch of Help The Aged.
G B Hewitt. 17.01.2020