SHE became one of the biggest pop stars of the Nineties after her 1993 debut single Dreams topped the chart, but after the hits dried up in the Noughties Gabrielle virtually vanished from the music scene.
Hampered by self doubt — partly as a result of having to cover her lazy eye with her hair or an eye patch — by 2009 she had stepped back from music for a more conventional life raising her two children.
Now 51, Gabrielle is ready to rekindle her pop career after reaching the semi-finals of ITV’s The Masked Singer with a string of performances based solely on her sensational voice, not her looks — which were hidden behind her stifling Harlequin disguise.
She said: “I’ve been plagued by insecurities. Because being younger, I didn’t have that confidence, and I have this lazy eye, although I have it covered with an eye patch.
“Apart from when I was feeling hot and out of breath, I felt like a million dollars in that costume.
“It really was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“I’m 52 this year, and I’m not afraid to say it loud and proud — now I’m more accepting of myself.
“I’m middle aged, and having the best time of my life.”
But Gabrielle admits the production team had to “talk her down from a ledge” when she first put on the Harlequin costume.
She said: “That first day was probably the most emotional day of my life, because I threatened to quit.
“I was screaming, ‘Oh my god I don’t want to do this. It’s too heavy and I feel hot’. You know, ‘Call the lawyers!’ and everything.
“I feel I was menopausal. Men, what do they have? Women have it all — we go through childbirth, the menopause, monthlies — what the hell!”
Gabrielle has certainly had challenges in her life.
She suffered in her childhood with an eye condition, which she felt compelled to cover up when she shot to fame in 1993.
Things went well initially. Dreams got to No1, she released her debut album, Find Your Way, then after giving birth to her son Jordan in 1995, she released a second album, Gabrielle, in 1996.
But in the same year her world fell apart when Tony Antoniou, her former lover and Jordan’s father, murdered his stepfather Walter McCarthy with a two-foot-long Japanese sword.
Gabrielle was arrested and taken in for questioning despite having nothing to do with the crime.
Then she was left to pick up the pieces when Antoniou was jailed in 1997.
So when she released her third album in 1999, it was appropriately titled Rise — and spawned a hit single of the same name.
That was followed by a greatest hits album in 2001 and the single Out Of Reach, which was made famous by featuring in the hit film Bridget Jones’s Diary.
But by 2007 and the release of her fifth album, the hits had dried up and she decided to focus on Jordan and her four-year-old daughter, Patricia, and she didn’t release another album for more than 11 years.
Performing on stage on The Masked Singer was a great way to reacquaint herself with a mass audience — partly because she was hidden by the outfit.
Gabrielle said: “When everybody was talking about what the costume was going to be like, the moment they were talking about Harlequin, I just loved the idea that you couldn’t see my shape.
“I have this big, beautiful skirt, the blouse, the corset underneath, cinching me all in. And then the mask itself. I just loved the idea. It just felt regal and fabulous.
“I was just like, I want to have fun, and I really loved that costume.
“Sometimes I did worry they were going to not make me look good, because I’m a big girl, so you wonder how you’re going to come across. But it’s funny, I said to someone I would have had it for my prom, I would have worn the whole get-up.”
Despite having won two Brit awards — in 1994 for Best Breakthrough Artist, then in 1997 for Best British female — Gabrielle says she still doubted her vocal abilities on the show and was crippled with nerves.
She said: “I was scared initially because it’s so out of my comfort zone — it’s not one of my shows. I don’t do things like that.
“When I’m appearing at my own shows, it’s because people are coming to see me, they know what they’re getting. And all of a sudden, it’s like a singing thing — it’s like, ‘What, it’s a competition? I can’t be entering singing competitions!’ I actually didn’t think I’d get as far as I got.
“Because, the odd time you’d hear a voice but you wouldn’t know who it was, so I’d hear voices and think, ‘They are phenomenal. I haven’t got a voice like that’. And it was bringing back insecurities. So I was so chuffed that I made it to the semi-finals. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is really cool. So I’m enjoying this moment’.”
Yesterday Gabrielle released her latest single Stop Right Now, ahead of new album Do It Again.
The album, featuring songs she sang on The Masked Singer, is out on March 5 and she said: “I am so excited. On this album I’ve got five covers from the show. I loved doing the show so much — when I wasn’t hot, and just singing the songs.
“Taking songs from The Masked Singer and singing them and covering them was just perfect. I’ve also got five favourite covers that I love, and I’ve added two new songs. So I’m just really excited. I’m looking forward to people hearing it for the first time.”
Saturday’s semi-final saw Gabrielle perform Everything I Wanted by Billie Eilish and Ava Max’s Sweet But Psycho, before she became the ninth celebrity to be revealed, in a double elimination alongside Sue Perkins as Dragon.
In the weeks before, we saw the unmasking of Alien (Sophie Ellis-Bextor), Seahorse (Mel B), Swan (Martine McCutcheon), Grandfather Clock (Glenn Hoddle), Bush Baby (John Thomson), Viking (Morten Harket), and Blob (Lenny Henry).
And Gabrielle was as surprised as anyone to discover her co-stars’ identities.
She added: “I didn’t even know it was Mel B, I didn’t know it was Sophie, Glenn Hoddle, football manager, ex-player — how the hell has he got a voice like that?
“So I was just in awe of everybody. Until I watched it on Saturday I didn’t know that was Sue Perkins because they don’t allow you anywhere near when they’re unveiling. But how amazing was Sue’s voice? She needs to be singing more.”
Gabrielle finished filming The Masked Singer last October, then in December she caught Covid, which left her debilitated for a month.
She said: “I’m slightly asthmatic, so initially it was just a case of feeling like I was breathing through a pinhead, but it was only at times I had to use my inhaler.
“The worst symptoms for me were the headaches.
“It was excruciating and constant.
“I was taking painkillers but after a while I had to stop because it wasn’t doing anything. It wasn’t even touching the sides.
“To have a headache like that was awful. I couldn’t even raise my head from the pillows.
"I was glad to get through, it was about a month of feeling really unwell. But there are people who had it so bad, and those who didn’t make it.”
Yet Gabrielle says it was because of the pandemic that she went on the Masked Singer earlier last year — as she was bored stuck at home.
But while she enjoyed performing on this show, she vows never to do reality shows such as I’m A Celebrity and Strictly Come Dancing.
She said: “I always have approaches to do reality shows and if I’m going to do one, let it be for what I’m known for doing.
“You’re not going to get me in the Jungle.
“It seems appealing, but no, I don’t share bathrooms, I don’t do bugs, I don’t sleep outside.
“I don’t wear shorts, unless I’m going to bed in them and no one will see. I love watching those shows and watching the madness, but turning them all down is a natural thing. I’m just not going to do them.
“Strictly? Forget about that, you’d need a crane to lift me.
“There’s so many different things. But in The Masked Singer, as much as I was scared and nearly called it all off, I had so much fun.”
- The final of The Masked Singer is on ITV on Saturday at 7pm.
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