After facing cancer twice as well as divorce, ANASTACIA is celebrating the next phase of her life. She reflects on the healing powers of Strictly, turning 50 and why she’s enjoying being ‘single with a smile’.
Spend a few hours in the company of Anastacia and the thing that will strike you the most is how often she laughs. She laughs when she talks about being tired or spending six months away from home on the world tour she began in April (‘I need to Facetime a friend to remind me what’s in my kitchen cupboards’).
She giggles when an outfit doesn’t quite work (‘this is the problem with being 5ft 2in’) or when she recalls a nightmare audience – a corporate function full of ‘guys in suits and women in taffeta ballgowns’. Surely a gig she’d want to forget? ‘Oh no,’ she says with a grin. ‘I love shows like that. You get a crowd that has no interest in the music and the challenge is to get them going. If you get one guy ripping off his bow-tie or a woman on a table waving her napkin you know you’ve scored. It’s about beating the odds.’
Chicago-born Anastacia – whose record debut ‘I’m Outta Love’ remains one of the biggest-selling singles ever – knows a lot about beating the odds. So far in her 49 years she has faced Crohn’s disease, breast cancer twice (resulting in a double mastectomy) and a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia (an abnormally fast heartbeat). Plus, she had such weak eyesight, before surgery, she could barely make out her own facial features.
‘I am not the total sum of everything that has gone wrong with me,’ she says. ‘I am the total sum of everything that has gone right. I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.’ It is the reason she laughs so much. Being tired is something she’s grateful for because it means she’s still alive. Being on tour for six months of 2017 is something she thought may never happen 14 years ago when she was first diagnosed with an aggressive – stage four – form of breast cancer.
‘It’s a hard way to learn never to sweat the small stuff,’ she says. ‘But boy do you learn the lesson. It makes you ready to face challenges – from learning to dance on Strictly Come Dancing [she was voted off in week six last year] to changing the way you run your career. The past year for me has been about being on the road. I’ve never spent so many months on a tour bus but I’ve had the best time.’
Her current album Evolution is her seventh and is a celebration of moving forward, breaking barriers and living life. Her favourite tracks include ‘Stamina’ (‘because we all need stamina in every aspect of our lives’) and ‘Boxer’ because it’s ‘about rolling with the punches, dealing with the blows and refusing to let anything knock you out.
‘Every song I write has some message of empowerment,’ she says. ‘In this day and age artists focus on the production of a song or the arrangement. But for me, my music is about my words, my lyrics – I want my songs to speak to people, to help them through bad times and to let them know anything is possible. You can survive, you can evolve. Just look at me.’ Here Anastacia reflects on empowerment after illness, her inspiration and hopes for the future.
Doing Strictly Come Dancing last year was the final piece of the jigsaw in my cancer recovery. I went through breast cancer in 2003; then in 2013 the disease came back and I opted for a double mastectomy. I made it my mission to talk openly about my cancer and about still feeling feminine – but deep inside me I knew there was a little piece missing; there was something stopping me really believing what I was saying. Strictly changed that. It was something to do with the costumes, the hair and make-up and those high heels. And something to do with my partner Brendan Cole, who made me feel wonderful. To dance in his arms, to lean on him and to dress up helped me reclaim my femininity.
I felt empowered by posing naked [in Fault magazine] last year and showing my scars to the world. I was only able to do that after I’d gone through my Strictly experience because I regained confidence in my body. Before that I would talk about my scars but never show them. I have scars on my stomach from an operation to remove part of my intestine when I was 13 and first diagnosed with Crohn’s. My cancer experience took ten procedures and five more operations. I have big scars on my back and on my side because they had to use skin that wasn’t compromised by tattoos. But my scars tell a story of survival; so they are beautiful. By showing my scars after years of hiding them, I felt I wasn’t just empowering myself but hopefully empowering other women who felt the way I did.
I have one more operation to go through to finish this journey. When they rebuilt my breasts they used muscles from my back. Those muscles still work but are now on my front and they feel uncomfortable when I perform or exercise. They also look quite masculine. I’m going to have surgery soon which will involve a surgeon snipping the nerve endings so the movement stops happening. I don’t have any fears about this operation because it is nothing to do with the cancer, it’s to do with how my body looks after cancer. It’s my final surgery – I hope.
Every one of my illnesses has given me something back. I got Crohn’s when I was young, which helped me face cancer when I was older. My cancer made me brave and my heart condition made me learn to ease my stress. I do a lot of hot yoga and I watch television to relax. All my illnesses have made me grow a great sense of humour. I don’t treat myself like a fragile thing. I don’t eliminate things from my diet. I eat well, I try to stay healthy, I exercise, I do everything in moderation. The secret of life is to keep smiling.
Sharon Osbourne was my cancer buddy and is my hero. I went through breast cancer when she was going through colon cancer. Sir Elton John introduced us and we became incredibly close because we were both going through this huge journey together. She is a teeny-weeny woman with an enormous heart and presence. I watch the way she is with her kids. She’s a tiger mother who protects those she loves and I know that in any situation I could call her and she would give the best advice and have my back. She is my idea of what a great woman should be.
I turn 50 next year and I can’t wait. I feel wiser, I feel stronger, I feel sexier and more comfortable in my own skin than I ever did in my 20s and 30s when I thought I was Miss Piggy because I wasn’t tall with blue eyes and long legs. I was 30 when I was first discovered and was told by record companies and producers that I had to say I was 23. I hated lying and after six years I came clean. Hiding my age for that time has made me very proud of my real age. When I was younger I had all sorts of insecurities. I thought I was unattractive. The older I get the more I see myself in a positive way – roll on 50.
I still have Botox but I’m not obsessed any more. In my 30s I was crazy for Botox, it was part of having to lie about my age and thinking I needed to keep up the lie. Then I stopped [when she was 42]. Now I have Botox once a year: I have a needle put into the creases between my eyebrows. I’m not going to lie about it but I’m also not going to overdo it. Once a year is enough.
I always believed I would have children but it never happened. Like most women I thought one day I would find myself pregnant. That day never came and now I accept motherhood has passed me by. I can’t be sad about it because that would be selfish. So many incredible things have happened in my life that I am grateful for. I’m not going to adopt as I have a lot of children in my life. I am Aunty Stacia and Nanny Stacia to more than a dozen of my friends’ kids. I change nappies, I put them to bed, read stories, tidy their bedrooms. My poor mother will never get to be a grandmother because neither me nor my older sister Shawn, nor my younger brother Brian has children.
My brother turned me into the most protective sister in the world. Brian is autistic but in the 1970s and 80s there was no understanding of autism. Now he lives in a special community. We speak every day on Facetime and make each other laugh. Back when we were kids people could be very cruel. My sister and I were his protectors and we were fierce. I remember chasing a group of boys who were bullying him, screaming and shouting at them – they were terrified. I cannot bear to see anyone abused or bullied. Especially children. Nothing will ever stop me jumping in.
My family means everything to me – good and bad. My father left us when I was three, which meant me and my mum and sister became this incredibly close unit. My sister works with me and I couldn’t be without her. She’s funny and honest and in this business you need someone you trust. I didn’t have any contact with my dad. He was a singer and I inherited his voice, which was a pretty big gift he left me. He died in 2005 and that was a strange time for me because I had a lot of conflicting emotions. The fact he has passed away makes it easier to resolve the relationship.
I have never been the victim of sexual harassment. I am appalled at everything that has come out about the alleged abuse of women by Harvey Weinstein but nothing like that has ever happened to me. I was older when I first signed a record deal, which I think was a positive thing because I knew a lot more about who I was.
When I got married [to her bodyguard Wayne Newton] in 2007 I believed it would be for life. And then three years later I got divorced. It just didn’t work out. There was no messy divorce. We didn’t have children so it wasn’t complicated and now our paths never cross. If I ran into him at an event I know we’d be able to hug each other, have a chat and move on. That’s pretty civilised, isn’t it?
I am single – with a smile. I am constantly touring and I have no serious relationship in my life. But I do like a bit of romance and fun, so I’m not always on my own. I don’t know whether I will ever get married again. That’s a big question and a big decision.
I am not ashamed to say my career comes first. I think a lot of women are scared to say this. In my 20s and 30s, I was busy trying to tick boxes. To find a man, keep him happy, wonder about children and have my career. In the past few years I have focused on what I do and it has really given me a lot of satisfaction. I love performing. I love writing songs. I love being on the stage. I love touring. I’m not just a singer, I’m a woman with a message about getting knocks and surviving those knocks. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to have this life.
Sir Elton has been my guardian angel. I grew up loving his music and then, when I started out, he was the first big name to show me support. He introduced me to his friends, talked about me to other artists and gave me the best confidence boost one musician could ever give to another. As a kid I was obsessed by him. When I was about six my mother told me I had to wear glasses because my eyesight was so bad. She thought she was breaking bad news but I punched the air and told her I wanted tinted glasses like Elton John.
I am an American woman with an obsession with Brits. I married a British man. My style icon is Kate Moss. The artists I love at the moment are Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Olly Murs. My greatest supporters are Elton and Sharon. One of the best things that ever happened to me was appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. I think I was born in the wrong country.
Real people inspire me more than celebrities. I love that Angelina Jolie spoke about her mastectomy, and that Kylie Minogue talked about her breast cancer. If I met Olivia Newton John I would give her the biggest hug because she – like me – has taken this disease on as a mission. But it’s the things real people do that inspire me the most. Recently I gave an award to a lady in Germany whose daughter had died of cancer; she has set up a service where women with cancer go and get dressed up and have their photos taken. I thought that was so inspiring.
Everybody has bad days. No matter how positive you are, there will be times you don’t feel great about life or about yourself. I say go with it. We can’t be happy all the time. But if you do feel like that, put on some music or do whatever it is that lifts you up. Life is about emotions and we can’t hide from them; we have to embrace them and go through them.
By Louise Gannon
- Styling: Anna Woodham at Frank Agency, assisted by Ella Crisp
- Hair: Alex Price at Frank Agency using Hair by Sam McKnight
- Make-up: Lisa Laudat at Eighteen Management using Giorgio Armani Beauty & Skincare
- Producer: Alex Ridley