At the age of 12, singer Alexandra Burke won her first talent contest on BBC’s Star For A Night, but her career really took off when she won The X Factor in 2008, beating boyband JLS and performing with Beyonce in the final.
Since then she’s sold more than four million records, is in the process of putting together her third album and has proved herself as a West End star with performances in The Bodyguard and Sister Act The Musical.
She has music in her blood, largely thanks to her mother Melissa Bell, who was a lead singer in Grammy winning group Soul II Soul. The 29-year-old was devastated when her mother died in August, just as she’d achieved their shared dream of competing on Strictly Come Dancing.
Here, Alexandra chats to us about social media trolls, dealing with loss and the nerves she suffers before dancing.
How do you look after your health and wellbeing?
“A couple of years ago I realised I’d put on a few pounds. It was happy ‘love weight’ because I was in a good relationship and in a settled place in my life.
“Since then, I decided it was time to take my health more seriously, because my mother suffered from diabetes.
“I dropped around three dress sizes by going to the gym six times a week and eating more healthily. I’ve dropped another size on Strictly because 10 hours training a day is so intense.
“I have a strong faith and I meditate. To de-stress in my dressing room I burn essential oils – lemongrass for my anxiety and lavender to relax. I aim to be positive, enjoy life and give it 100% and be thankful for every day.”
How do you feel about your dance partner, Gorka Marquez?
“He’s such a fantastic person and we’ve got such a great connection that I haven’t experienced before. We share the same star sign, Virgo, so we’re both perfectionists who love to work really hard and know when it’s time to chill.
“It was his first year on Strictly last year and he went out in week three, so it’s lovely we’re both going on this journey for the first time. We want to make amazing memories and create something that’s unforgettable to us personally. I know we’ll be friends for life.”
What’s it been like appearing in the show just after the loss of your mother?
“It’s been such a weird, tough time. The whole journey has been quite emotional, because of what I’ve gone through and am still going through. My mum wanted me to be on the show, so this her dream as well as mine.
“In my head I always keep my family within me as they’re so important to me. If they’re not in the studio, they’re with me spiritually. Gorka’s just been such a fantastic person to lean on during this time.”
Do you think you could be the first person to win The X Factor and Strictly?
“I would never jinx it by answering that question! My motto is ‘have low expectations but high hopes’ and my mum always said: ‘What’s for you will never pass you by.’ The X Factor was scary because it’s life-changing and I bared my all on the show, which makes you feel vulnerable.
“This is scarier for me because I’m out of my comfort zone and don’t have a song or a microphone to lean on. People say that I’ve done shows before so I’m experienced, but Strictly is completely different. It’s well out of my control, which being in the dance off in week 10 proved. I’m so nervous before each dance, I have sweaty palms and my knees knock together.
“I feel the pressure of not wanting to let Gorka, my family or myself down because I love the show and have wanted to be on it for years.”
How have you dealt with the criticism on social media claiming you’re not ‘genuine’ and that you and Gorka have had ‘rows’?
“You have to take it with a pinch of salt, but there have been days when I’ve broken down. I can’t help sometimes reading the negative comments people have written on social media about me, and it can upset me, because I’m only human.
“I’ve been on stage since the age of five and I’ve always wanted this career. I feel so lucky to have it, but there are downsides. I’ve been taught to have a thick skin and I try my best to control my feelings.
“It’s just such a shame that some people can’t see how hard I’m working – there’s nothing fake about that. Gorka and I know what the truth is and it’s sad that untrue things are made up.”
What does Christmas mean to you?
“Christmas means everything to me. I also think it’s a time to help others which is why I’m supporting a TK Maxx and Cancer Research UK Kids Teens campaign to raise money to help fund research into children’s cancers.
“My mum always made Christmas special, but our most memorable year was in Bahrain, where we lived for a few months. All the family was there and it was out of this world.”