X Factor runner-up Rebecca Ferguson on regrets about dating One Direction's Zayn Malik and her new album

As if Rebecca Ferguson's crippling shyness wasn't enough to test her post-X Factor mettle, a glut of hangers-on and bad advice threatened to derail her career before it had begun

Standing on stage at Under the Bridge, a small west London music venue, Rebecca Ferguson looks at once nervous and in consummate control as she leads an enthusiastic crowd through her hour-long set. The sweet smile she offers up, however, is often at odds with the songs she is singing.

Her new single, "I Hope", for example, begins with the line: "I used to hate you so easily". The smile disappears completely (and necessarily) as she debuts another track from her new album, Freedom, entitled "My Freedom". She looks unambiguously downcast, and with good reason. The song is not a happy one.

"Do whatever you gotta do so you can feel like you're winning on me," she sings. "You won't take the freedom out of my life."

At its conclusion, with applause rushing up to greet her, the smile, beatific now, returns. "Ah, thank yis," she says in her thick Scouse accent. Then, promptly rearranging her face once more, she adds: "This next one's about bullying and oppression…"

It is probably fair to suggest that X Factor finalists rarely sing songs about bullying and oppression. But then Ferguson, it transpires, has much to gripe about.

Four days earlier, we meet in her PR's office. She is tall and elegant, her fake eyelashes lending an unexpected glamour to what is otherwise an ordinary Friday morning. As she sits and gets comfortable, she admits there is much she cannot talk about, however much she'd like to. She can't, for example, discuss her former management company, Modest!, whom she left last year and who are currently suing her for breach of contract. And neither can she discuss, individually, the people who scammed her out of £100,000 over the past two years. Police enquiries are still pending.

"I'm not allowed," the 27-year-old says, hesitantly. "I can't, legally. Let's just say I attracted a lot of… erm, false friends, false accountants, false solicitors. Just false people all round, really."

To suggest that Ferguson has been through the mill since coming second on The X Factor in 2010 (losing out to Matt Cardle) is to understate matters. On the show, she was a cripplingly shy 23-year-old single mother of two and, in her own words, "such a nice person; that's how everyone saw me. I suppose that's how I attracted these people. I was too giving, too trusting."

Review: Rebecca Ferguson's new album Freedom

This is why Freedom is such a stark album. As with much that comes from Simon Cowell's stable, it boasts the rather anonymous high-gloss sheen of any modern soul record, but this doesn't, mercifully, mask her exquisitely husky, old-school vocal, nor the stinging sentiments that soar in songs like "Fake Smile" and "Hanging On". This is, in its own way, a protest record.

"It's pretty much about depression and frustration," she says, summoning up a hollow laugh. "You know, this amazing thing happened to me – I actually became a singer – but mostly I was just surrounded by vultures and absolute bastards. And I had to deal with it, or go under."

Born in Liverpool, Ferguson had always wanted to sing. But by 17, she was unexpectedly pregnant. "I don't think sex education went down very well in my school," she giggles. "I was terribly naive." Two years later, she found herself the single mother of two. She continued, off and on, to sing, and knocked lucklessly on the doors of every record company in London. She tried out for The X Factor twice before, and also Britain's Got Talent, but with no luck. On these occasions, however, she refused to ply what is expected of all entrants on TV talent shows: a sob story. On the last occasion, the way she tells it now, the sob story was effectively pried out of her.

"In the interview, they asked me why this was so important to me, but they thought I was just faffing about when I said I love to sing. So they asked me about my kids, and that was it. I broke down in tears." At this point, she relates, the interviewer was jubilant. "He just said, 'Great! We've got it!'"

The rest is so much predictable TV history, Ferguson cast as the broken-down bambi whose overriding wish could only be granted by viewers phoning in and voting for her. Which of course we duly did, in our hundreds and thousands. A year later, her debut album, Heaven, was showered with critical praise, while Matt Cardle's was routinely dismissed.

Heaven went on to sell a million copies. "Amazing," she says now."My dream had come true."

But it rapidly soured. Things started to go wrong, she believes, during the X Factor tour, when she started dating One Direction's Zayn Malik (the group had come third in X Factor 2010).

"That was my first mistake. I was 23, he was 18. Of course, if it was a 23-year-old guy dating an 18-year-old girl, no one would have batted an eyelid, but this way around was a big deal, apparently. I didn't realise that. I was just a hippy, free-loving person, but that's not a good thing to be in this industry. You can't just follow your heart."

They parted shortly afterwards, and Ferguson subsequently amassed all sorts of new friends, each of whom, in some or other capacity, offered to work for her. "I was like this energy source being drained by them," she says. Foolishly, she rarely questioned their motives. If one such "fake accountant" suggested they needed money for something, she simply wrote a cheque. I ask her what she thinks of it all now, and in response, she merely blinks, her eyelashes fluttering like nervous spiders across her face. "Legally, I'm tied up, I'm not allowed to say anything," she says.

She is now managed by Craig Logan, formerly of Bros – who famously had their own financial problems at the height of their success – and life, she says, is better these days. She is happy, at last.

"The whole experience has toughened me up. Singing for me is a blessing, and I'm not about to waste that blessing just because certain people tried to ruin it for me."

She says, with relief, that she is sleeping well at night now. For the longest time, she wasn't. "I still wake up and have a little panic, but I go back to sleep quickly afterwards. That's a good sign, I think."

'Freedom' is released on 2 December by RCA/ Sony Music

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin