It's a Friday afternoon and I am at Winter Wonderland.
Winter Wonderland is a magical cash-absorbing place that springs up every year — during the winter — in London's Hyde Park. It's a complete end-to-end festive experience, by which I mean you can buy loads of sweets then go on fairground rides to sick them up again.
And you might say "hang on this is just a normal fairground with mulled wine everywhere and a bit of tinsel on its head" but that would be cynical and not in the Christmas spirit so shame on you.
Look, there's ice skating!
What a beautiful place Winter Wonderland is.
Having said this, it's only a beautiful place if you really love Christmas.
But you know who really loves Christmas, right?
Leona Lewis loves Christmas so much that she has made an album all about it. Or maybe she's just pretending to like Christmas so she can convincingly flog a Christmas album. Either way, she wants to meet me at Winter Wonderland for an interview.
My original interview request was that Leona and I meet up and get "really pissed" but, as is the way with these things, this request morphed into something else (my next suggestion was "how about we just drink Christmas booze like Bailey's"), then something else ("what about a mince pie taste test") and now here we are at Winter Wonderland.
Still, who wouldn't want to hang out with Leona for an afternoon? Just the two of you, LOLing your way around Winter Wonderland, cherishing each second of this special time you spend together.
Well readers I've got some sad news for you on that front because when I eventually locate Leona I discover that she is already filming an interview with SB.TV which makes the promise of special time together rather less exciting. It's almost as if rather than just wanting to spend quality time with me she's turning the whole thing into a promotional stunt.
I feel sad.
Leona does not feel sad.
(After this picture was taken I said to Leona that you could probably bend over in front of the mouse and recreate the famous 'Miley and Robin Thicke' VMAs pose, and instead of looking mildly disgusted she offered to do exactly that for a picture. Except she said she would only do that if I also 'assumed the position', and if I then let her tweet the photo to all her followers. I'm afraid I let you down here because I completely bottled it. She was definitely up for it as well. Apols.)
Anyway we have a sit down in a big shed that bills itself as an 'après-ski' lodge which seems a bit ill-judged as we haven't even eaten a yoghurt by this point, and we do an interview.
To kick things off we talk about when she started thinking about making a Christmas album.
“I decided to do it around February and made it over the summer,” is what she says on that topic. “I expected to walk into Biff’s studio and see Christmas trees and jumpers. I walked in and there was nothing. He’d put some fairy lights up for me in the vocal booth, but that was it. The air conditioning was on so it was quite cold, I suppose. That’s kind of Christmasy, right?”
(She’s clutching at straws here.)
If the last album had been more of a success, would you be doing this Christmas album now?
“Well,” she says, “I’ve been wanting to do a Christmas album since my first album was out, but I couldn’t because I had to prove myself a bit first. Then after the third album I went on tour and it was after that that we stated properly talking about doing a Christmas album. Doing a Christmas album allowed me to do something with a Motowny sort of feel.”
“You know Jingle Bells?” I say.
“Yes,” says Leona Lewis.
“Where are you on the whole ‘one horse open sleigh’ business?”
(The reason I am asking this is that Leona Lewis is pretty fond of horses and in the past has voiced some serious concerns about the welfare of these beautiful beasts.)
“I don’t like it that much,” Leona says of the controversial ‘Jingle Bells’ lyric. “The horses in Central Park really upset me. It depends how they’re looked after really. On one hand Jingle Bells is a classic, on the other hand there are animal rights issues and there’s nothing to say it can’t be rewritten to take into account more progressive views. Maybe it could be a battery-powered sleigh? It is the 20th Century, maybe it should be changed.”
Actually it’s the 21st Century but given the Olde Worlde surroundings of Winter Wonderland with its various lodges and Traditionale Foode Outletes, you can see why Leona’s mind is wandering back through time.
Re the present day, I ask her about her plans for Christmas 2013.
She says she’s going to see her family — IN WALES — which she does every year. She hasn’t done the I’ve-properly-grown-up-now-guys thing of having her family to her place yet, and I warn her off, detailing the woes of a prawn cocktail meltdown I endured last Christmas. She does a pretty good job of looking interested while I describe melodramatically scraping an unwanted starter into the food bin, but as I continue waffling and I notice a look of despair creep across her amazing face something tells me she’s wondering if it’s too late to get SBTV back. Anyway I conclude my anecdote with the observation that there’s “nothing like Christmas to bring out passive aggressive family issues”. This seems to ring a bell. Ding dong merrily on high, goes the bell in her head. (That’s a Christmas reference.)
“But it happens, you know,” she agrees. “You don’t see them for ages, then you’re all shoved together and you’re supposed to get on. Well that doesn’t happen in my house — there’s screaming kids, fighting, people getting slapped down for cheating at board games.”
Leona seems extremely offended when I ask if she cheats at board games and explains that she wins a lot not because she cheats but because she’s competitive. And then I say that if you’re really competitive then surely cheating has to be part of your arsenal, but she’s having none of it. “I like to win fair and square,” she says. And that is that.
The big Christmas question is whether Ellie Goulding should buy Leona a Christmas present to say thank you for ‘Burn’ which, as you know, was originally recorded by Leona. So I ask that question to Leona and she laughs and then she says this:
“What’s THAT supposed to mean? Well, I know what you’re referring to. Actually, I’ve recorded quite a few songs that other artists have done really well with."
At this point I probably should have asked her to list all the hits she nearly released because that would have been quite interesting but instead I simply ask if this means Rihanna should give her a present as well.
“They should all, clearly, buy me Christmas presents,” Leona declares. She is joking. But is she? Yes she is. “The thing is, if I had released ‘Burn’, I don’t think it would have gone on to do as well as Ellie’s version. It wouldn’t have worked for me. It just wouldn’t have. It was meant to be hers, I’m glad she did it, and I think she did it really well. I really like Ellie Goulding, I’m a big fan.”
Yes but would you like a present from her?
“I’d like a present from everyone! I want a present from you?”
Very well Leona, what would you like?
“I’d like a gramophone,” she says, adding that she hadn’t played old records on a record player before messing around with one in Biff’s studio recently. “I tried to steal his but he wouldn’t let me,” she says, suddenly looking a bit sad. “So I’ll have top get someone to buy one for me.”
And who should get a potato in their stocking?
“There’s a guy who gave me really bad road rage the other day,” she says. She’ll later talk about this with Metro. “He was so aggressive. He was driving along in his big white van and he overtook me really quickly. I get mad with men who get aggressive when they’re driving.”
I ask if Leona, when faced with the problem of people overtaking, then drives really close to them, secretly hoping that they will have to suddenly brake. And hoping that she can then sail into the back of their vehicle, knowing that when the driver gets out and starts ‘giving it all that’ she can calmly say, “well, if you hadn’t been a dick and overtaken me I wouldn’t have been able to smash up the back of your vehicle”.
“Alright, calm down!” she laughs.
We talk a bit about the album she wants to record next year: she’s going to work with Biff again, she reckons, but she’d also like to work with The Smeezingtons and Bruno Mars. But that’s not very festive so we circle back around and discuss festive tunes, specially Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Underneath The Tree’ which as all sensible people know is seven different kinds of amazing.
When you first heard Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas song, I ask, what did you think?
“I really liked it,” she says. She’s pretty convincing. She might even be telling the truth. Who can say?
“I feel like it’s much more standard than mine — it’s what you’d expect,” she adds. This will probably be interpreted as ‘shade’ by The Ladies And Gentlemen Of The Internet but actually Leona doesn’t mean it in that way as the following clarification proves: “It’s beautiful, and beautifully produced. But I feel like mine is coming from a different angle.”
Did you think, just a bit, “fuck you Kelly Clarkson, Christmas was supposed to be mine this year”?
“I didn’t no,” she laughs. “That takes the love out of it, doesn’t it? That takes the soul out of it. I am competitive but toward my fellow artists I feel like there’s enough Christmas to go round..”
The X Factor winner adds: “Trying to do something better than someone else isn’t why I got into this.”
But were you not a bit fucked off?
“Not at all! And I wasn’t even supposed to release my Christmas album in the US, then at the last minute the American label heard it and were really into it, so it’s coming out there too. So that’s cool for me.”
We move on to the topic of Christmas shopping and January sales.
Being a global songstress do you still wait for the sales every year, or can you now just get stuff full price?
“I never used to wait for the sales,” she says. “Don’t forget I worked at H&M — and I vowed to myself I would never buy anything in a sale, ever. I like things nicely and neatly laid out before me. Even if it means I need to spend a little more. My mum and dad had a shop when I was younger and I hated it when they put on sales. I went to a sample sale once. I almost got taken out by this one woman who had a sparkly dress I had in my hand.”
Was it Ellie Goulding?
“YES! AND SHE WORE IT ON THE X FACTOR! No, it wasn’t. But I won. I got the dress. But you don’t want to be getting into fights in sample sales, do you?”
Our special time together it coming to an end because Leona probably has to talk to Gigwise or something so I finish things off by wondering out loud whether the world be a better place if one year in every ten years they banned Christmas, threw anybody buying a present in jail, and instead insisted that all money was given to homeless charities.
“That would be amazing,” Leona decides. “How can we enforce that?”
Well if you want to ban Christmas you need to sit down with David Cameron, I say, and have a discussion.
“About banning Christmas? I don’t think I’d want to ban Christmas per se, I don’t think that would go down very well, but spending money on presents is something I would like to ban. Celebrating Christmas is allowed. Buying presents is not.”
And with that, it’s time to take some photographs of Leona in a variety of madcap festive locations.
I ask Leona if she is ready to go and pretend to have fun. She doesn’t like the idea of this.
“Can we not have actual fun?” she says. “I don’t want to pretend.”
The above mentioned ‘Christmas, With Love’ album is out now.
Here it is on iTunes.