It's a summer evening in a classy London hotel.
The first thing you notice entering the suite Stevie Nicks calls home ahead of her first British solo show in two decades is a scattering of large, lit, white candles. It's daytime, but in terms of ambience they speak volumes. Because if Stevie Nicks, poet-sorceress of the popular imagination, is ever off-duty, she won't let it show.
From a young age, Stephanie Lynn Nicks was a dreamer. Even when working as a waitress or a cleaner in Hollywood to fund the failed debut album she recorded with her lover Lindsey Buckingham in 1973, Nicks was already imagining herself a romantic gypsy princess. This persona took flight in 1975 when the Buckingham-Nicks duo were recruited into Fleetwood Mac, transforming the washed-up British blues band's fortunes. Despite legendary narcotic excesses and mind-boggling inter-band relationships, Fleetwood Mac reached unimaginable heights with the sensual, scarf-swirling singer Nicks as their talisman. Their 1977 record Rumours remains one of the top 10 biggest-selling albums of all time. And, as she launched a parallel solo career in the Eighties, Nicks never left magic and mystique behind.
Today, all the accessories you'd expect are present: the crescent moon pendant, the lacy black blouse, the ankle-snapping stiletto boots (a habit adopted so she wouldn't look so tiny sharing a stage with the giant Mick Fleetwood), and, on the third finger of each hand, a ring encrusted with dazzling diamonds. At 63, she remains a rare beauty: that silky blonde hair, those sultry eyelids, and those flared nostrils into which she once joked that she'd shovelled "so much cocaine you could put a big gold ring through my septum". Sometimes she'll speak a syllable which flutters into the honeyed vibrato you've heard on "Sara", "Seven Wonders", "Rooms on Fire" or "Dreams". When you meet Stevie Nicks, she doesn't disappoint.
Curling into an armchair draped with a sheepskin rug, she begins to explain why her new album, In Your Dreams, comes 10 years after her last. In 2005, she spent a long, difficult day at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC, to which badly injured soldiers from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are invalided. Her eyes well up at the memory. "I can honestly say I walked in there, Stevie Nicks, a rock'n'roll star, without a care in the world. And I walked out of there a mother. With a whole lotta children."
Ever since, Stevie's been a frequent visitor to army hospitals, a rock'n'roll Florence Nightingale, giving autographed iPod Nanos to patients loaded up with songs she chose herself. The experience inspired a song on the new album, "Soldier's Angel", whose royalties will go to the Walter Reed rehabilitation centre. She carries a British Legion poppy in her handbag to honour the British fallen, too. She's very clear that supporting wounded soldiers does not imply an endorsement of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. "It does not! You take them cake and iPods, and you sit on the end of their beds while they tell you their story. You're not going there to say 'I don't believe in this war!'"
Another recurring theme on In Your Dreams is the idea of love as fleeting. "Certainly it is for me, in my life as a travelling woman who is never anywhere for long, and will be gone the morning after the big show. There's a line on In Your Dreams that goes 'I'm always in and out of your light', and to lovers, ex-lovers, people we used to love, people we don't even love any more, I'm saying 'You'll never be rid of me, I'm right down the middle of all your dreams'."
Without any prompting, Nicks brings up Buckingham, whom she met as 16-year-old at school in California and stayed with for 11 years.
"It's like Lindsey and me: no matter how many children or grandchildren you have, Lindsey, I'm always gonna be there. Lindsey has these three marvellous children, and that has given him unconditional love, which is what he always wanted. I couldn't give him that. But I know a lot of Lindsey's songs are about me, because a lot of my songs are about him. I call us 'our Miserable Muses'. In a band like Fleetwood Mac, you have arguments, and it makes for great art."
She's warming to her theme, the slightest smile playing about her lips. "So is he sorry that our relationship broke up in 1976? Yes. And if he had to do it all over, would he not move to LA, and maybe try to find our record deal in San Francisco? Yes. Because we both believe that we might still be together. Probably not, but it's possible .... When we're together, and people see the two of us walking towards them, we are a force of nature. Absolutely."
The first Fleetwood Mac song I ever heard was "Tusk", the berserk tribal majorette march which was the title track of their notoriously deranged 1979 double album, the making of which Nicks remembers as "13 months of hell". When asked for her memories, she doesn't hold back.
"Well, here's a big one for ya. I had started to see Mick Fleetwood romantically. I had a very dear friend whose name was Sara [Recor] who just went after Mick. And they fell in love, and the next thing, Sara's husband is calling me to say 'Sara moved in with Mick this morning. And I just thought you might wanna know.' That was three months into a 13-month album. So I lost Mick, which honestly wasn't that big of a deal because that was a rocky relationship. But losing my friend Sara? That was a huge blow. Sara was banished from the studio by the rest of the band ... No one was speaking, and I wouldn't even look directly at Mick. That went on for months. And it was great fodder for writing! The songs poured out of us."
Her early solo career brought the prospect of another potentially combustible relationship. It's rumoured that the keyboards on her 1983 single "Stand Back" were played uncredited by Prince. "I wrote 'Stand Back' based on 'Little Red Corvette', and if you actually listen, you'll hear it. He's a little magical being, a real god-creation. In the Eighties, he kinda wanted to have a relationship, and I just wanted to write. And I knew that if we had a relationship, we wouldn't write."
There's a persistent rumour that Lindsay Lohan has plans for a Nicks biopic. At the mention of Lohan's name, Nicks snaps. "Oh please! She's in the slammer. She's not gonna be doing anything except hang out at the morgue or go straight to the big house! You know what? I wish for her to straighten herself out and become a really great actress. People say, 'Do you wanna talk to her?' and I say 'No', because you can't talk to drug addicts. People said that to me too, and I didn't really listen."
Stevie knows whereof she speaks; she underwent rehab in the Eighties for cocaine addiction, and then in the Nineties for Klonopin dependency.
We return to the defining relationship of Stevie's life. During every Fleetwood Mac concert, there's a poignant moment when she and Lindsey Buckingham slow-dance around the stage. Does she have any idea what that does to their fans?
"It kills them! It's the fairytale happening. Of course they love seeing that connection. It's Beauty and the Beast. And who is the beauty and who is the beast? Am I the beast, and Lindsey the beauty? It's quite possible."
Two beauties, perhaps?
"Two beasts," she replies under her breath.
Stevie Nicks plays Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, London, tonight, as a special guest of Rod Stewart. 'In Your Dreams' is released tomorrow on Warner Bros