Electronica's siren is back – with kung fu moves

On the eve of Republica's return tour, lead singer Saffron talks to Emily Jupp

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The Independent Culture

In 1997, at the height of Republica's fame, when "Ready to Go" was re-released and lead singer Saffron performed vocals for The Prodigy's "Fuel My Fire", she received some advice from fellow rock goddess Debbie Harry: "Get a bodyguard."

"That didn't sit easy with me," says Saffron, whose real name is Samantha Sprackling. "I thought it was about my band and my music. I wanted to be as close to the fans as possible."

That changed when she woke up in her hotel bedroom after performing at the Roskilde festival in 1998 to find someone sneaking in through the door. "It was like a horror film. I was half asleep, my eyes were flickering and then I saw the door opening. I jumped out of bed and started screaming."

A fan had convinced the hotel staff he was her friend and got a room key. Another occasion, when a gang of men physically picked her up and started to carry her out of a club, made Saffron wary. "It was almost as if they were in a trance, they apologised afterwards but I was really angry. How dare they think that they could do that to anybody? It was really inappropriate."

The red-haired siren's fiery stage manner clearly belies her vulnerability. "It doesn't matter how strong or confident you are... I definitely became more reclusive after that... there was a time when I found it hard to be in crowds."

It's surprising, as she has always loved the limelight. Keen to make it as a dancer, she auditioned for Starlight Express when she was just 18 and had no skating experience. "I always wanted to be in Hot Gossip... I loved these sexy dancers that danced to punk music and Arlene Phillips was the boss of that scene. I knew she'd be at the Starlight Express auditions, so I went along." Arlene Phillips, now better known for her stint as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, took a risk by taking her on.

"The question she asked me at the audition was: 'Are you prepared to work the hardest you've ever worked in your life?' I trained for six months and [during that time] I didn't know if I had a job or anything – I just had to keep going. I learnt all the parts including all the boys' parts in case someone dropped out."

Republica is about to start touring again after several false starts which began in 1997 when the band's label, Deconstruction Records, folded shortly after the release of Speed Ballads, their second album. So why the long wait for a reunion? Was something getting in the way? "Yeh, me!" she giggles. "I didn't feel in my heart it was the right thing to do... bands are funny, they are kind of like your family… but it's lots of fun being together now." This time round, Saffron is better prepared for coping with over-enthusiastic fans. Five years ago, she began learning martial arts.

"I have always had a call to the east because of my background" – the mixed-race singer's mother is half-Chinese, half-Portuguese and lived in Hong Kong – "and I got into it because I was curious." Saffron knows Wing Chun, a form of self-defence. Her master was taught by Bruce Lee's master – a fact she's very proud of. "It's a female style of Kung Fu designed by a nun. Have you seen Kill Bill? Well, the moves they use are based on Wing Chun. It gives you inner confidence, so if somebody comes into your space you can dissolve the situation. I think its calmed me down quite a lot."