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Sunday Herald (October 2001)

She doesn’t shut up. Present Gabrielle with a simple query and her mouth goes into overdrive. She hits the ground sprinting, talking so quickly she can hardly draw breath, and then she stops, asks herself a question, and answers it with another huge tirade. And when she’s not talking, she’s laughing. Rattling big sister laughs that make you want to sit down and lap up the gossip. Gabs by name, gabs by nature.

Thing is, she’s not dishing the dirt on her fellow celebs. She’s recalling a life that would have a more fragile soul in tears. Her story is heartbreaking. The only man she’s ever loved dumped her the day after she’d given birth to their son, telling her she was too fat. A year later, he was arrested for murdering his stepfather. She was taken in for questioning and appeared in court. The papers called it The Gabrielle Trial. She broke down giving evidence.

It’s tempting to see her bright and breezy demeanour as a defence mechanism and even Gabs herself agrees up to a point. But it’s not a case of “If she didn’t laugh, she’d cry”. She’s done plenty of crying. She spent a long time staying indoors, thinking people were “evil”. Even now she says “If you looked up humiliation you’d see my picture in there. Humiliation, humiliated, everything.” But after a while, the tears ran out. She won’t ever cry again, she says. Not now.

Instead she talks. And she laughs. And she’s honest about it all, only stopping to say “But that’s another story” when you get too close to the bone. She talks about how her new single “Don’t Need The Sun To Shine (To Make Me Smile)” is about “being in love. Which I’m not at the moment, but I tell you what, if I was, that’s how I’d like to feel. I know, I’m such a soppy cow.” I haven’t uttered a word.

When was the last time she was in love?

“Years. Years years years years years years years years years ago. Years ago. But I’m an old bag now. These things don’t happen to you when you’re an old woman who has kids.”

People don’t flirt with her, because she’s “intimidating. I take no shit.” She doesn’t put up a barrier, though. She just comes over as a mum and a singer, nothing more. “I don’t think you could look at me in any other way. I don’t mind because it’s self-preservation. It helps.”

Why self-preservation?

“Because I’ve been through stuff in my life. You know they say it’s best to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I’ve been in love. Once. My son was conceived in love. So even though it all went disastrously wrong after that, I’ve got something that can never be taken away from me. He’s my son and I love him. And if I had to do it all again just to get him, I would do it.”

You said your marriage went wrong. . .

“Married!” she leaps in. “I was never married. I was never asked and when I was asked it turns out he was already married. I don’t think I’ll ever get married. I could say all men are liars but I know that not all men are bad. I just can’t ever imagine myself being in a relationship. He’d have to be ten years older, have kids, so he’d understand totally why I’m obsessed about my son and why I would never want any more children. No one would ask me anyway.”

Does she find it hard to trust someone? “Totally. You can’t come from where I’ve come from and totally trust somebody. You’ve got to be suspicious of everybody. Again, that works as a way of preserving myself. My sanity, my mentality, my whole well being.” If Gabrielle could go back ten years and give herself a piece of advice, it would three words long. “Trust no-one! Hahahahahahaha!”

Her son, Jordon, is paramount. She’d probably quite like being in love again, but she doesn’t think it would be fair on Jordon. “I want my son to respect me. Even if a relationship lasts for three years, there’s no point. What if you go three years and then another three years with somebody? My son would think his mother’s a slapper. I’m not having it. If I ever did fall in love, my son would never know about
it. But that would be like living a lie, so there’s no point.”

Has she ever had a crush on someone and not told them?

“Totally!” she laughs. “All the time. I actually prefer it. It’s nice fantasising about a relationship. You get into one and I can’t wait to be out of it. I could go my whole life having crushes on people and never do anything. I think it’s safer. I might run out of people to have crushes on, but it doesn’t matter.”

She’s a survivor, that’s the point about Gabrielle and her music. She writes anthems about bruised love and broken lives. That’s why she was chosen to pen the theme for the Bridget Jones movie (“She’s me. I start a diet on Monday and finish by Monday afternoon. Big knickers, that’s me”). She says “if I had to lay down and die after something negative happens to me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s about being a survivor, it’s about being a fighter, it’s about not giving in.” She’s agony aunt and soul sister combined. It suits her.

Anyway, Gabs has a plan. She’s going to fall in love when she really is an old dear. She can wait. No problem.

“I believe in love, I do. When I’m seventy-five, I still want to be snogging my husband and getting my wicked way with him. People have this concept that elderly people don’t think like that. But my granddad’s seventy-five and he had an affair with a thirty something girl. In the Caribbean. I shouldn’t be telling family secrets but that was funny. My granddad’s on crutches. He needs a hip replacement.”

If only there were more people like Gabrielle in the world.


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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