Beverley Knight, 38
An award-winning soul singer, Knight took the UK soul scene by storm in 1995 with her debut album 'The B-Funk'; recent hit singles include 'Greatest Day', 'Get Up!' and 'Shoulda Woulda Coulda'. She lives in London with her fiancé
Considering the number of connections we have, it's ridiculous we didn't meet earlier. We're both from Wolverhampton, we shared the black British-Jamaican experience and we grew up around the same community – though she was from a different generation. I knew her as a singer who lived locally, and I even saw her in our local department store when I was about 10. She was browsing the perfume department, with a big smile on her face and looking resplendent with her massive hair, but I was too shy to ask for an autograph. It was seeing her sing on Top of the Pops that changed things for me – it set me free. I remember thinking, "This is amazing, that's just what I want to do and if she can, I must be able to."
She did properly crafted, groove-based songs and I had that in mind with my first track, and the next thing I knew I had a hit on my hands. She kept hearing snippets about me from mutual friends and her label as this other girl from Wolverhampton. But we were always just missing each other – I'd leave a meeting with my label a few minutes after Jaki came in, and as I got my career going in the mid-1990s, she was doing her thing in Japan. So it was her kids I met first. Her two children, Natalie and Ryan, were fans of my music and came to my show at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2004. At the end they introduced themselves, but it was me who was the excited one.
I finally got to meet her in 2009, after being asked by a Wolverhampton charity to take part in a gala Jaki was involved in. When I finally stood face to face with her, it was like time had stood still. I told her everything: how much she had influenced me, how I'd almost met her...
We both know we've now made a long-lasting friendship and when we're together we're two Black Country girls. When she speaks she has a far stronger accent than me but after I've been with her for a few hours I go into her half-Jamaican, half-Wolverhampton speak.
Because we share the same roots, it feels as though she could have been my mum's younger sister. I'm still the adoring fan, but eventually I will get over myself and she'll just be our Jaki from the other side of town.
Jaki Graham, 54
A soul singer who rose to fame in the 1980s with top 10 tracks such as 'Could it be I'm Falling in Love' and 'Set Me Free', Graham had an international hit in the 1990s with her cover of Chaka Khan's 'Ain't Nobody'. She lives in Wolverhampton
We'd known about each other off and on for quite a while. In the early 1990s I was on Japanese [record] label Avex and away touring and the staff there were all talking about Beverley as they distributed her music, and I was like, who is this girl? I found out she was from round the corner from me and I started collecting her music. She had an edge to her voice, a really distinctive sound, which I loved. I started leaving messages for her and we sort of became pen pals. My kids met her before I did, at one of her concerts in 2004; our paths didn't actually cross until a charity event a couple of years ago, but by then I felt as if I knew her; we were like kindred spirits – we had mutual friends and we knew so much about each other's backgrounds and, of course, we came from the same broad community.
I've met a lot of people I now know were just acquaintances, but with Bev it was always going to be different. Face to face she was everything I thought she'd be and more: warm, down to earth and bright, with no airs and graces. I have no time for stardom and she's old-school too – brought up in the same way I was, with nice family values.
When she told me about how I inspired her, I was so pleased to be seen as a role model. I thought, bless her heart for saying that. It's hard as a black womanin this industry, especially back in the 1980s. I didn't have any British artists to seriously call on back then and I didn't feel that my label ever believed in anything I was doing.
Beverley has opened her arms and said, "Come into my family", and I've done the same. When we get together now we are both big talkers, nattering about everything, from world events to our music to family.
With her new album [of classic British soul tracks], she's flying the flag for what I did back in the 1980s, and keeping that music era alive; it was the backdrop to her growing up and she's clearly embraced it. When she said she'd like to feature my track "Round and Around" I was like, "Oh baby girl, that's wonderful." She's made it her own and will make a new generation of youngsters aware of my tracks.
'Soul UK' by Beverley Knight is out on 4 July on Hurricane. She tours the UK in November (beverleyknight.com)
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