Speech Debelle: The night I won the Mercury Prize

How does it feel to be the first female artist in seven years to scoop the coveted award? What do the nominees eat for dinner? And what is La Roux really like? Speech Debelle reveals all
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The Independent Culture

How did I feel when I won the Mercury Prize? Relieved. I'd been saying that I was going to win it for four weeks so I can't say that it was a shock. A year ago I was making my album "Speech Therapy" and even then I was sure I could win. Still, it was an emotional moment and I woke up the morning after laughing to myself that I'd won.

I'm the first woman to win the prize since Ms Dynamite in 2002. A woman has got to win at some point after all. Ms Dynamite's music didn't necessarily inspire me but the fact that she won the award did. It made the Mercury Prize a reality to me. I think that being black, female, and in hip-hop in the UK has got most things against it right now so in terms of my music and what I am doing, the prize is a very positive thing.

As for the night itself, it was a hectic - there was a lot of going up and down in the lift and my make-up artist and stylist were pulling at me and fixing me all the time. I arrived at the Grosvenor House Hotel at lunchtime and started to get ready in my hotel room, having my hair done by L Douglas and choosing my outfit. A stylist sorted me out in Puma for the performance. For the awards, I just wore something from the high street. My room was busy with my friends, the band, and my manager. The vibe was good and we were all laughing and joking. I was filming it on my video camera. Everybody else was really excited. I was too busy to get excited.

At 5pm, I got in a car at the back of the hotel because you have to pretend that you are pulling up at the front of the hotel for the paparazzi. I watched a bit of Led Bib from the side of the stage and then just before our performance, as Jools Holland was introducing us, there was a horrible blast of feedback. Disaster! We were live. It stopped just as the drummer started giving us the counts and we gave a good performance; in fact, we hit it perfectly.

During the evening I spoke to Natasha Khan from Bat For Lashes who was nominated for the second time. She is really nice. I also met La Roux but I didn't chat to her. I'm not sure how that conversation would have gone. I can't say I'm a fan of her music. Maybe she's heard me saying that... At the awards I sat on a table with my mum, Marilyn, my Gran, Madame De Belle (who didn't eat the main course of halibut, she is very particular) and my brother, Wayne as well as some people from my label, Big Dada. I saw them all for the first time at about 8.30pm when we sat down for dinner. It was delicious, especially the cheese tart starter and the pudding of cheesecake and sorbet.

When the lights came on for the announcement, nobody was really prepared. Jools Holland drew it out for as long as he could to build the tension. There were about 20 seconds before he said my name and I thought I wasn't going to get it. I had no idea who was going to win if I didn't – maybe Bat For Lashes. He opened the envelope and said, "This is a surprise" and then all I heard was, "Speech".

Hallelujah! As soon as I'd done my speech I was forcibly ushered to interviews but I was in a daze with a stupid grin on my face so I don't remember much. We went up to the hotel bar where the record label was throwing a party to thank everybody who had worked so hard on the album. I didn't drink that much champagne but everybody else was plastered.

Afterwards, we didn't go on anywhere but at about 4am we went to the Edgware Road to get falafel wraps and chicken noodle salad. I wanted a McDonald's but it was closed.

I've got so many plans for what I want to do in the future. It's more than just winning an award. Now it's about what the award can do for me. Yes, I've got it in my hand and I'm really happy but what I really feel is, "Yes, now I can go to the next step".

That next step is building on what I have now. When I was 17 years old, I tried to start my own record label so that's something I've always wanted to do. I had been trying to arrange a lot of business meetings but people were holding off until after the Mercury Prize. Now everyone is willing to have meetings. "Ok let's talk", they say. If I was to call my own label now and say, "Do you know what? I want to change some things", it would be much easier than before.

So how has winning the Mercury Prize changed my life? I haven't really had a chance for it to sink in yet. My mum just texted me. There are reporters outside her London house. And they want my baby pictures.

'Speech Therapy' is out now on Big Dada. The single "Spinnin'' is released on Monday and she tours from 25 September to 8 October (www.speechdebelle.com)

A blessing or a curse: Where are they now?

Pulp, 1996

'Different Class', the must-have chronicle of the Britpop years, has notched up around 1.2 million in sales. Though the band has split, frontman Jarvis Cocker, above, is still going strong: his solo efforts have won much acclaim.

Verdict: Blessing

Gomez, 1998

The Southport band won with their debut 'Bring It On', which went platinum. But the most recent releases by Gomez have not matched up to their initial flush of musical success and they have apparently gone to America to seek their fortune. They resurfaced earlier this summer supporting American rockers Pearl Jam on the European leg of their comeback tour.

Verdict: Curse

Talvin Singh, 1999

What do you mean you don't remember him? The tabla-and-electronica whizzkid was better known for his remixes and work behind the scenes with artists such as Massive Attack and Björk before his win. Since 1999, there has been little news of the reclusive star, nor attention paid to his subsequent releases.

Verdict: Curse

Ms. Dynamite, 2002

Niomi Daley shot to success when she won for 'A Little Deeper'. Things unravelled in 2006 with her arrest for a street brawl and a Naomi Award (named after Naomi Campbell's pop effort) for Worst Urban Act. She released 'A Little Darker', a collaboration with her hip-hop star brother Akala later that year. This year, she was a runner-up on 'Hell's Kitchen' and is now relaunching her career.

Verdict: Curse

Dizzee Rascal, 2003

His original spiky grime sound was a breath of fresh air when Dizzee Rascal, left, won for his debut, 'Boy in Da Corner'. Since winning he has been consistently successful, building an ever more mainstream following with his summery, poppy hits, including the recent smash "Bonkers".

Verdict: Blessing

Arctic Monkeys, 2006

A rare instance of the favourite taking the prize. Arctic Monkeys, above, didn't really need to win as theirs was already the fastest-selling debut album in British music history. Still, they've escaped the notorious Mercury curse: their third album, the darker-sounding 'Humbug' reached No 1 last month.

Verdict: Blessing