Gabrielle: ‘Why I nearly quit ITV's The Masked Singer’
Widely-watched television programme The Masked Singer looks like a lot of fun, but that wasn’t entirely the case for highly successful singer-songwriter Gabrielle.
Her character ‘Harlequin’ proved to be very popular with audiences during the show’s second series, ever since she debuted with her impressive take on Rihanna’s Diamonds.
While some guessed that the artist behind the mask was Gabrielle, 51 – who first broke through back in 1993 with her number one hit Dreams – for many it was their first introduction to one of the UK’s finest voices.
Having departed during the semi-finals (a heavily pregnant Joss Stone went on to win), Gabrielle still has plenty going on to occupy her time. Her new album Do It Again, for example, was released on Friday, March 5 via BMG.
Largely consisting of covers, Do It Again features first-rate studio recordings of five of the songs that Gabrielle performed on The Masked Singer, from elegant twists on recent favourites such as Billie Eilish’s Everything I Wanted and Harry Styles’ Falling, to revisiting classics such as Smile by Nat King Cole and Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car.
The 12-track album was produced, mixed and mastered by Ian Barter, who has worked with Amy Winehouse and Paloma Faith. It also features Gabrielle’s interpretation of other iconic compositions, such as Killing Me Softly with His Song – memorably recorded by both Roberta Flack and The Fugees – Sam Cooke’s Bring It on Home to Me and Proud Mary, originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The upbeat soul-pop of the album’s first single Stop Right Now is romantic but also realistic, as it explores the idea of doing all you can to save a faltering relationship. It’s one of two original tunes co-written by Gabrielle, the other being Can’t Hurry Love.
While it might not come as too much of a surprise that Gabrielle opted to cover the likes of fellow soul singers Roberta Flack and Sam Cooke, the decision to tackle songs by Harry Styles and Billie Eilish may come across as rather more ‘left-field’ choices.
“I love Harry Styles,” says Gabrielle, who won an Ivor Novello Award in 2008 for ‘outstanding song collection’, “and I remember totally falling in love with the song Falling when he performed it on the BRITS.
"Those were stunning vocals and while I can’t ever replicate what he did, I just love the song so much that I wanted to put my own little stamp on it. Then Billie Eilish, I totally adore her – she’s got the most phenomenal vocals, a great singer-songwriter and I just love the song.
"So the songs that I was choosing, yes, people wouldn’t have expected them but I love them so much.”
The friendly and outgoing two-time BRIT Award-winner (Best British Female and Best British Breakthrough) will be coming to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on November 19, all being well.
Gabrielle is fiercely optimistic that the gig will go ahead. “Now, I’m saying when not even if,” she states firmly, “because if is a dirty word in my vocabulary – if it happens, no, when it happens!
"I’ve just got to encourage everyone to put it out there in the universe that things are going to move past these crazy times and we’ll all be back to normal sooner than we think. That’s my way of thinking and I’m sticking to it.”
She adds: “I think we need to be positive in a time where it’s just been crazy – you’ve got to hold on to some positivity.”
The star reveals that the new album was inspired by her stint on The Masked Singer, which also featured the likes of Morten Harket of A-ha, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Lenny Henry, Glenn Hoddle, Sue Perkins and Mel B.
For Gabrielle, one of the reasons to take part was simply that it was “another opportunity to go out there and sing”. She went in there thinking “how hard can this be?” but admits: “I didn’t have a clue! I was deluded; it was a lot harder than I imagined it to be, but it was still fun in the end.”
Stories emerged in the press that Gabrielle almost quit the show. “That’s right,” she says. “Prior to the first day, you’re doing rehearsals, you’re doing Zoom calls where you’re working with a voice coach with the idea of trying to alter your voice so people don’t recognise it’s you – clearly I didn’t do a very good job because from the first week after my first performance, people were like, ‘Gabrielle!’.
“I didn’t think I sounded like me but clearly I am the deluded fool in the corner here... but yeah, it was one of those things.”
One story suggested that Gabrielle had to – figuratively – be “talked down from a ledge”. She says: “The reason I ended up having to be talked off a ledge was I was quitting, because when you’re doing rehearsals and all that kind of stuff, you’re having fittings for your costume but it’s not until the first day of filming where you actually get to have the mask on.
“It was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know it was going to be this heavy, I didn’t know I was going to be this hot, I didn’t know I was going to be freaking out and feeling claustrophobic and things like that.
“Basically, it was an awful experience inside for me initially – and then having to try and sing and mask your voice, and all the things that I felt I was battling. By the time I actually went to sing, I think I’d forgotten all the things I was meant to do. I’m blaming the circumstances under that costume!”
Gabrielle reveals that none of the contestants knew who anybody else was. “You don’t get to see anybody, you’re not allowed to talk to anybody,” she says, “and when you do see someone they’re in costume, so you have no clue.
“I was being talked off a ledge because the first day, I was like, ‘I didn’t sign up for this, I can’t sing, I’m going to make myself look absolutely awful on TV. I’m going home, I don’t want any part of this – talk to my lawyers!’.
“But people on the show are incredible. All the people behind the scenes that you don’t see. There’s very few people you’re allowed to talk to, but those people were able to come to my dressing room and try to talk me into staying.
“Everyone was trying to accommodate me and show me how to get air inside the mask, but everyone’s going through the same thing. Where my eyes were, I had these two meshes and I had hand-held fans pressed over where my eye sockets were so I could get air. It wasn’t just me, I just think I was the biggest baby. I wanted to run, I thought, ‘I can’t do this!’”
Happily, Gabrielle, whose notable catalogue of hits includes Rise, Out of Reach, If You Ever (with East 17) and Give Me a Little More Time, was talked into staying and she went on to finish fourth. “I’m glad I didn’t run off like the big baby I am,” she says.
“I didn’t think I was a big baby until I did this show; I thought I could take anything. I put it out there in the press that I would rather have given birth again than have to go through that. Maybe it was a case of unknown territory, out of my comfort zone, not feeling that I could do a good enough job singing in those conditions – but recognising now that everybody else was going through the same thing.
“But some people are more affected than others, and I put myself at the top of that – even though Joss [Stone] was pregnant, as we found out later on. She’s just amazing. But I’m glad that I didn’t leave because at the end of it all, it was incredible.
"I’m glad I did it and got to live to tell the tale. It was fun, in the end.”
Do It Again is available now. Gabrielle is scheduled to play the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday, November 19 at 7.30pm.Tickets: £38.50, £30.50, £102, £120 (VIP package). Visit cornex.co.uk.
For more on Gabrielle, go to gabrielle.co.uk.