Features

Fleur East on who Walthamstow made her

As she prepares for her first headline show in years, the singer speaks to Victoria Munro about growing up in the borough

Fleur East (Credit: Piotr)

When it comes to her career, Walthamstow’s Fleur East feels like “a cat with nine lives”, she says.

In a career spanning almost two decades, the singer and radio presenter has competed on X-Factor twice, signed and parted ways with a major label, toured with producer DJ Fresh and, last year, made the grand final of Strictly Come Dancing.

She had the misfortune of seeing her second album Fearless drop just three days before the UK entered its first Covid lockdown but, thankfully, she’s not run out of lives quite yet.

Fleur’s latest single Count The Ways was released in January, while her third album will come out by the end of the year, and she’s playing her first headline show in years at Islington’s Union Chapel this month.

She spoke to the Echo about growing up in Walthamstow, the area she called home for more than three decades.

“Growing up here kind of made me the bubbly person I am now,” she said. “I always want to talk to people, make friends and be really sociable – that was the essence of Walthamstow and still is now. Everyone feels like one big family.”

Fleur’s family home was off Shernhall Street, which is home to her old church and all her schools “from nursery to sixth form”, and she “loved that everything was so close”.

She said: “Before school, everyone would knock on my door and we’d all walk together and afterwards a massive group would come back to my house to sit and watch MTV.

“On the weekends, I’d go to the market or hang out at Selbourne Walk [now 17&Central shopping centre], my first job was at the Topshop there. I used to go to Sun On Cafe in the market every single lunch time, that was my place.

“So much of my life is still in Walthamstow. Anyone I meet from here, you just have this bond, there’s a real sense of pride being from here.”

(Credit: Piotr)

This sense of solidarity meant that, when she bumped into E17 lead singer Brian Harvey in a Greggs early in her career, he was quick to offer some advice to a budding singer.

She said: “E17 was the only group in the area that had made it big so they were a huge inspiration for all of us growing up. They made it so that meant we could too.

“[Brian and I] ended up having a curry together, he listened to all my music and gave me some advice. He saw from early on there was something there and was confident I would have a career.”

It’s a feeling Fleur says was shared by many of the people she grew up with, adding: “Everyone who knew me always knew I was going to sing, none of the people that went to school with me are surprised at what I’m doing now.

“I was always sure, I just didn’t know how I would get there. I did my first singing lessons at age 10 or 11 in the music school in Walthamstow Village, which is still there, and I did a few shows at The Standard.”

Her early passion was “really encouraged” by her parents, who both loved music. “We listened to it every day in the house: Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Earth, Wind and Fire, Madonna.

“They were musical in that sense and both claimed they could sing when they were younger, but I don’t understand where that vocal talent disappeared when they got old,” she joked.

Much like her first album Love, Sax and Flashbacks, released in 2015 under Simon Cowell’s label, Fleur’s latest single is heavily inspired by the 70s classics she grew up listening to at home.

She said that, while her sound is “still in the same vein”, her new music is “more mature, more laidback” than the work she was creating as a younger and less confident artist.

She said: “I learned a lot signed to a major label, I was very inquisitive and wanted to know how everything worked. Now, doing it on my own is very liberating, I can be more playful with things and I’ve got a lot more say.

“There was a period where I had been trying so long, doing all the right things, in the right circles and it just wasn’t happening. Then X-Factor came along and I burst onto the scene in a really big way – went all over the world, did all the things I dreamed of doing – but it just didn’t last long at that level.

“But, having experienced that, I’m now in a position where I have more control of what I do and I’m more comfortable and secure in who I am as an artist. Before I used to write from other people’s experiences, now I’m writing from my own.”

Accordingly, Fleur hopes her show this month will be a good opportunity for people to “get to know [her] a bit more”, adding: “I don’t want them to leave with it just having been another show. It’s about my past, my present and my future.

“I’ll have a live band and there’ll be a lot of dancing as well, I want to put the Strictly training to good use.”

Asked if she’d been keen to perform again at The Standard, due to reopen soon, she added: “I would love to. Anything happening locally in Walthamstow, I would be there.”

Find out more about Fleur East and buy tickets to her show on 16th March on her website here.