'I gave away a fortune to get my soul back':
Joss Stone on her fight for artistic freedom
By LOUISE GANNON FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 22:00 BST, 14 July 2012
PUBLISHED: 22:00 BST, 14 July 2012
UPDATED: 12:07 BST, 18 July 2012
Her debut album The Soul Sessions alone made her one of the UK’s richest musicians. But now singer Joss Stone has revealed she is ‘down to nothing’ after handing back most of her fortune to record company EMI to buy herself out of a contract.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday’s Live magazine, Joss, 25, once thought to be worth £10million, says: ‘I don’t have that kind of money,’ adding she was ‘flat even’ when she left the label.
Joss also tells of how Sir Mick Jagger, with whom she now performs in the group SuperHeavy, once asked her out on a date and she turned him down.
Before Adele, before Jessie J, before Amy, before Florence, there was Joss.
She has made more albums than any of them (her record sales tip 11 million), she has sung with Mick Jagger and Elton John and at command performances for Aretha Franklin, James Brown and – just a few weeks ago at the Jubilee Pageant – the Queen.
Tom Cruise has made her tea at his house, while Mick Jagger gives her history and literature lessons (‘He’s the best tutor, one of the cleverest guys I know,’ she says).
At 25 – that’s a year older than Adele and Jessie and a year younger than Florence – Stone is about to release her sixth album, The Soul Sessions Vol 2, which marks a return to the phenomenal sound that launched her in Britain and America a decade ago.
The venue for our meeting is not, however, beside a glistening pool in LA or even a luxurious London hotel suite.
No, I’m standing on the battered doorstep of a small music venue in Exeter. It is raining and Stone is nowhere to be seen.
The friendly bar staff at Mama Stone’s (her mother’s club) grin and roll their eyes before tracking her down on her mobile.
She’s on her way, in her car. For someone who supposedly ranks 27th on Britain’s Young Rich List with a reported £10 million fortune, this is pretty unusual.
In fact, three years ago Stone gave all her money back to her record company, EMI, to get out of her contract and win her fight for artistic freedom.
‘I don’t have that kind of money,’ she says.
‘It all went when I left EMI. I was flat even, down to nothing. I wasn’t even down to a million in the bank.
'What I had left was my house and three flats in Exeter and that was it.
‘Money is the thing that people hold over you but to me it was just cotton balls. Don’t let it suffocate you. Don’t let yourself need it that much. I just thought: “I’m free. I’ll go out and play some gigs and earn my living.”’
Stone’s arrival is preceded by two dogs – a poodle called Dusty and a rottweiler called Missy – and lots of apologies.
Her mum, Wendy, appears and soon the table is piled with steaming coffees and oozing enchiladas.
Stone – born Jocelyn Stoker – tries to stop the dogs eating the food. On the diva scale, she doesn’t even figure.
‘I do the red carpet, the dressing up, the limos when I have to, but that’s work and it’s the part of the job I can’t stand.
'On an everyday level, I don’t dress differently, I don’t live differently.
'I can go on a train, a bus, walk into a shop and no one will look at me because I’m not walking around with hair extensions, make-up and some ridiculous outfit. I hate that, it always makes me feel uncomfortable.
'You don’t have to do that just because it’s what people expect you to do. Do what you want.’
Many stars profess to be normal but Stone appears to have her feet genuinely on the ground.
She drives a Renault Kangoo and owns a camper van, smokes the occasional roll-up and recently spent several nights sleeping on a hospital floor by the bed of her war-photographer friend, Paul Conroy, who was rescued from Syria after the bomb blast that killed the journalist Marie Colvin.
When she recorded last year with SuperHeavy, the supergroup featuring Stone, Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart, Jagger waxed lyrical about her.
'She’s the best type of a girl,’ he said. ‘She’s not one of those broody, moody girls.
'She talks all the time, she sings her bloody thoughts all the time. You can tell her to shut up and she does and she’ll laugh about it.
'She doesn’t even really know how good she is. And she’s got integrity, a lot of it. You don’t see that a lot.’
In the decade since she erupted onto the scene with Soul Sessions, Stone’s gone from being an academically challenged comprehensive schoolgirl (she passed just three GCSEs) to walking the red carpet in diamonds, singing for President Clinton, signing a multimillion-pound record deal and winning Grammys and Brits.
She was also a guest at the Royal Wedding.
‘I know William and Harry – I’ve done performances for them. You can talk to them like normal people because they are just totally lovely and do everything they can to make sure there’s no atmosphere around them.
'I still haven’t met Kate but I’d love to. I know she is a lovely girl.
‘And you know what?’ she says, pulling a face.
‘I was kicked out of school. They kicked me out because I was singing. I’d been on television and spoken to record companies. They told my mum I should stop.
'I remember having a conversation with my maths teacher and he was saying I needed to get my head out of the clouds and realise that I wasn’t going to be a singer.’
Stone, as befits a true hippy chick, doesn’t do bitter.
‘What’s the point?’ she says. ‘I know a lot of people don’t like me. I annoy people for some reason but why think about it? Why worry about it? You’d just go mad.’
I suggest this is because she doesn’t live up to the superstar dream. People want to see their stars dripping in diamonds.
‘Maybe,’ she says, then she laughs. ‘They put diamonds on you but it’s only to wear for a night. It’s so uncomfortable.
'At Elton John’s wedding I was put in diamonds. I didn’t even ask for them, but you can’t kick up a fuss. I was on the dance floor with these silly things on, dancing my little butt off, when I felt my ears and one of them was gone.
'So then I scrabbled under all these people’s feet looking a right idiot trying to find this diamond, feeling sick because if I don’t find it then I’d have to pay for it.
'Thank God I did. It’s just way too stressful. I’d rather wear a £2 pair I’ve got at home.’
So she couldn’t be Lady Gaga? ‘Definitely not. I’d try but I’d fail. Couldn’t do those shoes.’
Or Madonna? ‘Never. I’d be really bad at being Madonna. I’m also a really bad dancer.’
Britney? ‘I couldn’t car crash. My parents are too good for me to do that.’
One thing she can do is sing.
‘I am so, so happy with this album,’ she says of The Soul Sessions 2. The first Soul Sessions was an entirely different story, however.
‘I was terrified all the time, I was 14 or 15 and I knew nothing except how to sing in tune. I was clueless. People would rave about the songs but I spent a lot of time in tears.
‘I was a kid. I was a bit like a freak show. I had this massive voice but I didn’t know what to do with it.
'I’d go back and I’d listen to the music I loved – Aretha, Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight – and I’d cry because I knew my voice wasn’t anything like theirs. I couldn’t vocally control myself. I could just belt it out and that’s what I was told to do. I hated my voice and that just made me miserable a lot of the time.’
Born into a middle-class family with three other siblings, she only started singing at the age of 13 because they couldn’t afford to keep her horse, Freddie Mercury Fire Fly.
‘I wasn’t academic but I knew I could sing. I’d been watching this talent show on television, Star for a Night, and I thought, “If I do that I can earn money and keep Freddie.” I made a CD, Dad took me to the show’s audition and they paid me £75.
'All I thought was, “Wow, I can make money from singing.” It wasn’t enough to pay for the horse but it was a start.’
She won the show and was catapulted into the music business.
Even though she lives in Devon, Stone still regularly flies off to Nashville, Los Angeles and New York.
She might be performing at the Grammys one week or collaborating with Jeff Beck the next.
When Jagger asked her out to a club, she said no.
‘I said, “Mick, people will talk.” He laughed. I think he was only joking anyway.’
She agrees that British female singers are enjoying a purple patch and smiles at the thought she might have paved the way.
‘Maybe that’s why I had it so hard. But it’s great. I’d love to sing with Adele, Birdy (the 16-year-old UK vocalist) and Corinne Bailey Rae.
'I love to hear girls all singing together – it’s just so beautiful.’
When she’s home she works with artists and bands such as Yes Sir Boss (debut signings to her small record company, Stone’d Records), paints and hangs out with her family. She’s low-maintenance in every way.
‘I think if you get to drink champagne at 15 and then that’s all you get given, what you really crave is water.
'I never liked the attention, I never felt comfortable in that starry environment – I was a kid and I just felt out of place.
'I’d walk to some big ceremony, then they’d put me in a limo and make it drive ten yards to the red carpet just so on television it looked like I’d arrived in a big flash car. I always felt it was so totally fake.’
And there have been unwanted headlines, too. Two men are to stand trial next month in connection with an incident at Stone’s home last year.
For legal reasons, she’s unable to talk about it, and will only say, ‘I have enough people around looking out for me and that’s because of where I live.’
In fact, she still lives in the house she grew up in, buying it after her parents’ divorce five years ago.
On the plus side, her stardom ensures she gets to meet her heroes.
‘Tom Cruise was very sweet to me,’ she says. ‘He called up and asked if he could meet me. My mum and I went to his house. He made us tea and we just chatted about music and film.
'Looking back I can see he felt I was some young girl right out of her comfort zone who just wanted a bit of home.’
Other encounters were less comfortable. Meeting Aretha Franklin was ‘terrifying’ she says.
‘Aretha is the queen of soul and she acts like the queen of soul. She is exactly like you’d expect her to be. I was 18, I had to sing for her and I was terrible. I over-sang because I was so scared. She is my absolute musical hero.’
She says she is now happy with her voice and this year will embark on a world tour. The new album has brought her back to where it all began, although she admits it’s only recently she’s been able to enjoy the album that made her famous.
‘Now I listen to it and it makes me smile because what I hear is a young voice that has all this potential. It brought me to where I am now.
'I’m happy. I might not be the singer people expect but I am me and I’m doing it my way.’
‘The Soul Sessions Vol 2’ is out on July 23