When we experience heartbreak, one of the first things we run to before drinking our sorrows away with rosé and cut our hair in an attempt to reinvent ourselves, is elongate the grief stage with confronting emotional tunes and songs that’ll have us reliving every inch of a relationship, and if there is one artist in the last 10 years that has dominated the heartbreak playlist it’s singer-songwriter, Leona Lewis. With honeyed soulful vocals and a voice that’ll leave hairs raised, the enigmatic powerhouse has spent the past 13 years topping the Billboard charts with her range and ability that continues to send waves throughout the industry.
From gracing the famed X Factor stage 14 years years ago to becoming a prominent figure in the UK music scene, Lewis has had a rollercoaster of a career from parting ways with Simon Cowell’s Syco to overcoming personal vulnerabilities, the singer seemingly navigated the unforgiving scene with ease, dodging society’s ever-growing pressures and expectations. “…There’s always been different pressures,” she reminisces. “Especially in the age that we live in, where there are so many comments and there are so many opinions on what you’re doing. It’s hard not to feel that pressure and you’d have to be a very focused person not to. There were times I thought ‘Is this what I should be doing? Should I be doing that?’ but I’m quite stubborn and I do want I want.”
But while her music tugs on the heartstrings and empowers females worldwide, Lewis’ caring and nurturing nature extends far beyond the realms of music, with her ever-growing passion for sustainability and environmental change. “I remember at school when they were teaching us about greenhouse gases,” Lewis candidly remembers. “And the teacher would be like ‘Remember to turn off the light when you leave the house, and I used to go around my house switching all the lights off all the time and my parents were like ‘What are you doing?’ But I became really aware, and I knew I wanted to make a change.” While most of us do our part with recycling, selling old party dresses on Depop and using long-lasting energy-saving lightbulbs, Lewis takes it to a whole new level with her 53-acre animal rescue sanctuary and her plant-galore eco-conscious coffee shop in LA. Focusing on highlighting the importance of taking care of our planet with her various philanthropic projects worldwide, the singer uses her voice in society to not only to help others find solace but raise awareness to global life-changing issues.
As thunder clouds start to gather on a rainy October afternoon, Lewis and I chomp down on some much-need chocolate and unpack the last 14 years of her career, her activism in society and how she’s fighting for a change in the fashion industry.
(LEFT) Full look by PINKO, ring by DREAMBOUL (RIGHT) dress ATELIER ZHURA, rings by DREAMBOULE
Full look by PINKO, ring by DREAMBOUL dress ATELIER ZHURA, rings by DREAMBOULE
How’s lockdown been? Have you been in London the entire time?
So, I was in London in March and then I went to LA, and I thought I would be back to London within three weeks but I ended up having to actually stay there and quarantine there because they didn’t let anyone travel. I was there for a little bit and at the beginning, my cousin was with me and we were in lockdown together with my husband. It’s kind of crazy you know, being away from everyone. Lots of Zooms and lots of Facetime happening.
And do you feel like it has affected your creativity in any way?
At first, I was like ‘I’m just going to plunge myself into my work and then like a week into that I was like, ‘Oh, why have I just been watching Netflix every single day?’ [laughs]. I had zero creativity at first, I was going in-between binging Netflix shows and then being really scared and then binging Netflix, and then feeling a bit normal. It was up and down at first, but then I kind of got it together and started to think about what I could that was constructive.
Everyone spent like lockdown, like binge-watching Netflix for like the first 3 months [laughs].
Absolutely! It was so weird. I thought ‘This is a time to do something creative right now’, but I got sucked into a bit of escapism you know? To get out of the craziness of what was happening.
Next year will make fifteen years since you winning The X Factor, does that actually sound weird to you that It was such a long time ago?
I know, it’s mad. Someone said that the other day. It does feel like that because so much has happened, but it also feels like only a few years ago almost. It’s weird when you think about how much time has actually gone. When people are like ‘How long ago were you on the show?’ and I’m like ‘seven years?’ [laughs] Its double that. It’s kind of mad…
You skyrocketed to fame after the show, and in the whole fifteen years did you feel any pressure to change you who are or change your sound or anything like that?
I mean…there’s always different pressures. Whether its lots of opinions on what I was doing or lots of judgment on things that I was doing – especially in the age that we live in where there are so many comments and there are so many opinions on what you’re doing. It’s hard not to feel that pressure and you’d have to be a very focused person not to. There were times I thought, ‘Is this what I should be doing? Should I be doing that?’. But I’m the kind of person who is quite stubborn so once I have my sight on something, I just go for it. Although there were certain pressures, and I did feel certain things at certain times, I had a good support system around me who believed in what I was doing and what I wanted to fulfil with whatever music endeavour that I chose to do.
(LEFT) Full look by PINKO (RIGHT) Full look by PINKO Reimagine by Patrick McDowell
Full look by PINKO Full look by PINKO Reimagine by Patrick McDowell
Yeah, and you also ventured from music into business. You just opened a cafe, Coffee and Plants which in LA, what started the venture?
I’m always kind of been someone who wants to explore lots of different sides of myself, this one particular venture I wanted to do is like an Eco Cafe, so every 100 cups of coffee we sell, we plant a tree. We want to be apart of different organisations that want to help the environment with different environmental issues. Everything is recyclable, we’re all plant-based and there’s no dairy. We’re trying to be as sustainable and aware of the environment as possible. The whole motto of the cafe is based on that. We also sell plants because I’m such a plant lover, and the cafe is surrounded with plants, and plants that sustain us and clean our oxygen. I want people who come into the coffee shop to be met with a breath of fresh air and are surrounded by a healthy environment. I’ve always been interested in sustainability which is what interested me so much when we did our shoot, Pinko was using sustainability within their brand and repurposing and you know, just less waste which is something I’m very conscious of right now. I’m still learning definitely, there are still things where I’m like ‘Oh wow this is contributing to a lot of waste’, ‘This thing I’m buying is it gonna sit in a landfill somewhere?’. Like ‘Oh my god, what can I do to buy something different or support someone who’s created an alternative or support different initiatives’ you know? That really interested me, and I love that Pinko are thinking in that way as well.
What kind of first sparked this sustainability interest for you?
I’ve always been aware of my environment, and I’ve always been aware of animals since I became a vegetarian at 12. I remember at school when they were teaching us about the greenhouse gases or something like that and the teacher would be like ‘Remember to turn of the light when you leave the house,’ and I used to go around my house switching all the lights off all the time and my parents were like ‘What are you doing?’ But I became really aware. I think I was such a hypersensitive child, so I think that was always in me. But since I’ve become older and a bit wiser, I really got to know the implications of deforestation and how deforestation then de-homes a lot of animals.
What advice would you give to a young black business owner who is thinking ‘Okay, I want to start my own business’ what advice would you give them?
I was lucky enough to have finances that I could plug into my business, so I am very blessed and fortunate in that way. I feel like for other young business owners, black business owners and young people of colour that are looking to get into their businesses, I would say look at the resources around, there are loads of funds for young black business owners and young people of colour now – especially in the time we are living in. Take full advantage of that now and just go for it! Use the resources around you, friends and family to help you. Use the community you’re also trying to serve. Mine was a plant-based community and eco-based community and I tapped into them in order to create this business.
And you haven’t just been vocal about environmental issues, you also been vocal about global issues such as HIV AIDS and even like the latest pandemic. How important is it for you to like speak on these issues as well and raise awareness to these things?
I mean, I definitely am a very sensitive person and when I see things happening that is impacting my fellow people around me it hurts my heart. At the end of the day, I’m just a singer, I’m not professing to be a huge activist, I’m just someone who likes to support causes. There are activists out there, protesting day in day out on the ground and I’m inspired by that. I want to support that and whenever there is an issue I want to speak from the heart about that and how it impacts me.
One of your passions is music and the other one is sustainability, do you kind of merge the two together frequently? Or do you like to keep it separate?
I haven’t married them two worlds because its something that is kind of something I try and do in my day to day life, I guess it does come out in my music in some way.
You recently pleaded to Boris Johnson to ban fur, how did you venture into the banning of fur and going about that?
I’ve always been anti-fur, I think it’s so cruel and outdated and I think anyone who can see a protest like that and not see the humanity of it all, has no compassion and I think it’s vile. I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns and animal rights, but fur is the one thing that I think is the most horrendous side of the whole animal welfare issues. A long time ago, I got invited to one of the Harrods sale and sing, but they sell fur which is something I’m so against. So I refused to do it, and since then I’ve had a lot of people approach me and want me to come on board to help the campaign and end the sale of it. I was 100% on board! I wanted to know how this can be done. As I said, I’m just a singer I’m only just learning this whole other side of, you know how you can use your voice and platform to actually change things. It’s been years in the making and a long process, but we’ve been campaigning for a long time and we’ve called on Parliament to ban the sale of fur and be the first country to do it. I really think we can take a step in the right direction because that would be such a huge thing for animal welfare in the UK.
(LEFT) Dress by SOHEE PARK, bracelet by BULGARI, rings by DREAMBOULE (RIGHT) Full look by PINKO.
Dress by SOHEE PARK, bracelet by BULGARI, rings by DREAMBOULE Full look by PINKO.
Do kind of feel like, not you as a person, but do you think singers should use their voice to make a change in the world?
If you have a platform where you can speak out about wrongness in the world, I feel like it would be a waste not too. But I feel like also, each to their own. It depends what issues upset you or you feel need to be brought to light. With the platform I’ve earned, there are certain injustices that I see that moves me so to a point that I can’t keep quiet about it.
I’ve heard, that you’re back in the studio working on new music. I don’t know if this is true or false? [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah, its been fun because like I said, at the beginning of lockdown I was just watching Netflix all the time and then I was like “No! I need to do something!” So I have been finishing off these ideas that I’ve been toying around with for some time now, and getting it on some Zoom studio time. It’s been fun and it’s been creative and I’ve gotten to be experimental because there’s no pressure. I’m looking forward to finishing up all those ideas and obviously, I love Christmas so much so I’ve gotten the opportunity to re-promote the Christmas album!
That sounds great, I’m excited to hear that! What can we expect, from the new music?
I’ve been really experimenting by going back to my roots, using some soundscapes and using different parts of my voice. I’m a classically trained singer so I definitely want to put some of those elements into. I’m mixing a bit of soul in there as well! I’ve been working with a very different pallet at the moment, which has been fun. I’m hoping next year possibly, obviously, this year has put a bit of a spanner in the works, but yeah time to have a reset!
Outside of music what else can we expect from you? Any more campaigns in the work sustainability wise? Any more adventures?
I’ve been doing a lot of creative writing, and I have this TV concept which I’m developing right now that centres around where I grew up around Hackney, and different things that impacted me growing up, I’m really excited about that project. I’ve created a little music book for kids which I’m also really excited about. I was on a TV show a little while ago and I’ve really been getting acting and seeing what roles comes for me as well.
Wow, you’re really making sure every creative avenue is covered!
[laughs] Yeah, I’m doing it all! The year of like diversifying, life is too short. Why are we limiting ourselves and putting ourselves in a box? If I have learnt anything about myself this year, It’s just go for what you’re passionate about. The sky really is the limit, and if it doesn’t work oh well, you just move on and try something else. Life’s too short.
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