Dido: the voice of no angel is back
Eminem's 'Stan' catapulted Dido to global fame. Now a mother, she tells Matilda Battersby about her hit comeback album
If, like me, your first glimpse of Dido back in 2000 was as the heavily pregnant girlfriend bundled into the boot of a car by a deranged Eminem fan called Stan, then you might find it amusing that she called her first baby Stanley.
Her appearance in the video for “Stan”, and Eminem's decision to sample her single “Thank You” on the track, would set Dido on the path to becoming one of the biggest-selling UK stars in history, shifting more than 30 million albums.
At 41, after five years away from the limelight, Dido is back to promote her fourth album, quite appropriately titled (given her freedom from the trappings of fame), Girl Who Got Away. The record was finished a couple of years ago but Dido, who married British screenwriter Rohan Gavin in 2010, fell pregnant during production so delayed its release.
When we meet at the Ivy Club in London, Dido is onto her second pot of herbal tea (no wonder her skin is so dewy and her hair so shiny!) and I can't resist asking if there's a link between her two-year-old's name and the rather menacing character in the Eminem song that catalysed her success.
“No, of course there isn't,” she says, good-humouredly. “Everybody thinks there is. And I'm fine with that. It was such a nice era for me. But he's actually called Stanley for a number of other reasons.” Though she declines to reveal them.
Girl Who Got Away made its debut at No 5 in the UK album charts. It might be a relief for the singer whose 2008 album Safe Trip Home went barely noticed in comparison to the riotous success of its predecessors – probably because it was a rather downbeat collection of songs written around her father's death.
The new record is a return to form, although the combination of striking melodies underscored by electronic pop is safe territory. If it was intended to be a change of direction then it hasn't worked. But it contains enough feel-good Dido for the fans to come running back.
It was co-produced once again with her brother, Rollo Armstrong, who was behind No Angel and Life for Rent. The siblings, who had a very bohemian upbringing, (Dido having been christened Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong by their parents – “I don't know why, blame my mother!”) worked together for many years before her break-out success, and she toured with his band Faithless in the Nineties. Listening to her talk it becomes clear that family is the axis upon which her world revolves.
“I absolutely loved singing pregnant,” Dido confesses. “Usually in the vocal booth it's quite lonely. You're singing away and everyone else is the other side of the window. But I loved [Stanley] kicking away to the rhythm. It was just so nice having a little mate moving around in there with me. It felt really special.”
She tells me that, halfway through recording the album, she told everyone she worked with she wanted to do all her albums pregnant, “which was horrifying for everybody else”. The mother-son pre-natal collaboration was compounded when Stanley was born and seemed to recognise some of the music. “When he was just a few weeks old [songs from Girl Who Got Away] were the sounds that would calm him down the most. I truly believe he heard me singing them.”
Dido says she would like to have more kids and, when I ask about plans to take the new album on the road, she is reticent. “I'm really not sure if I'm going to tour yet. I've only got half a band together at the moment. But if I did go on tour Stanley would definitely come with me. It would be too weird not to. He's a pretty cool, adaptable kid and he loves playing the drums. He'd have a blast at soundcheck.”
During our conversation Dido comes across as natural and unpretentious. She is casually interested in everything around her. She asks almost as many questions as I do (“Oh is that shorthand? Do you have kids? What do you think?”) which is quite unusual, and endearing, in a world-conquering songstress.
She has been repeatedly compared with Adele, whose album sales (32 million) have only recently surpassed Dido's own. Would Dido like to follow suit and do a 007 tune like “Skyfall”? “Oh my god, yeah I'd love to do a Bond theme tune. If I was ever asked I would be there in a second. Adele's is brilliant. I think that'll take some beating. I love James Bond. That's the highest thing you can do, right? She's achieved everything and she's so young. Her voice is amazing.”
Speaking of her “relatively late” success, Dido says: “I worked in publishing up until I was 24 and then I started touring with Faithless and as a backing singer for a while. I didn't make No Angel until '96 and didn't release it until I was 28.”
Having found herself “in a parallel universe for a minute” trying on pregnancy bumps with Dr Dre, who directed the “Stan” music video, Dido never expected things to take off as they did. “I've had an amazing career,” she says earnestly. “I just consistently feel lucky to get to make the records I want without having someone tell me what to do.”
She talks fondly of the age “when you used to get CDs in the post” and is in awe of the availability of new musicians on YouTube. “It's much harder for artists these days. There used to be process for getting heard. Top of the Pops etc… But now you can discover anything instantly it's hard to know where to look. Although there's something nice about knowing you can just get drunk and put your whole album up online.”
Having Eminem pick her song out “completely at random” changed her life. “I got a letter from him out of the blue with a CD just saying: 'I love the track. Can I use it?' I was a proper fan but I did think for a moment: 'What's he going to have done with the song?' But it just sounded amazing.”
Dido's career thus far has been sandwiched between two very important Stanleys, the youngest of whom has “changed everything”: “I used to be really restless. I'd come back from touring and I'd want to get going again, to have more adventures... But then when I became a mum that feeling disappeared. Everything makes sense and feels right suddenly.”
'Girl Who Got Away' is out now. The single 'End Of Nothing' is out on 6 May
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