Mica Paris interview - Back in the day, people grafted to become a star
- Credit: ©Tristram Kenton
Singer, actress, author and presenter Mica Paris talks about how aspiring performers can learn a lot from coming to see Fame - The Musical and her friendship with Prince.
Reality TV tells us it’s easy to become a star these days. This 30 anniversary tour of Fame - The Musical, tells it like it really is says Mica.
“These shows teach everyone it is easy, do a bit of this, a bit of that and you’re a star. Fame shows you how it’s a graft, how you have to work to become successful, to become famous.
“People come and they cry because it’s such a real depiction of what fame is; the road to it and how back in the day people worked to become successful. They worked at their craft to be successful and right now they don’t. It’s a powerful show babe.”
The singer, actress, presenter and author knows what she’s talking about. She grew up singing in her grandparents’ church and by her mid-teens was making regular appearances with The Spirit of Watts gospel choir, with whom she featured on the 1985 EP Gospel Joy.
“I think as you get older you become less afraid of being afraid. My whole life has been pushing through fear, not allowing it to control me. People go ‘God, you’re so bold’ but I was the little kid hanging off my grandmother’s skirt all the time. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel it, you s*** yourself all the time, but you get better at coping with it,” she laughs.
Singing in church sparked her transformation.
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“Of course, we were talking earlier about selflessness, of doing this to inspire people and touch people’s lives, that’s at the forefront of church, that’s what it teaches you, that it’s not about you. That’s the thing I’ve always taken from the church. I’m spiritual but I’m not religious, but the core thing there was the probably the most important thing an artist must learn - that the gift is not for yourself, it’s for others.”
At 17 Mica got her first break as a backing vocalist with Hollywood Beyond, appearing on their album If. Aged 19 she released her debut platinum-selling album So Good with 4th and Broadway Records, going on to release six more chart topping albums.
For every reality contestant that makes it, many more don’t.
“A lot of these artists, they go to number one, then they go on tour and they end up in hospital because their voices are screwed, how many times have you heard that? I was singing in every single church in the UK from the age of seven to 16 to 100 people and had no PA, half the time there was no mic,” she laughs.
“I look back and I laugh but it was normal, just another day in the office. (Reality show contestants) they’re always in rehab, counselling or some s***, it’s always the same.”
Selladoor Productions’ Fame - The Musical, also starring Keith Jack and Jorgie Porter, is loosely based on Alan Parker’s 1980 pop culture film.
It follows the lives of students at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts as they navigate issues still relevant today like love, heartbreak, prejudice, identity, pride, literacy, sexuality, substance abuse and perseverance.
“When you look at what’s going on today... Prince’s Sign O’ The Times (which painted a grim picture of Ronald Reagan’s America)… all the darkness on the telly, everything’s negative. I don’t watch the news anymore, I can’t. Nothing’s changed, it’s incredibly sad as a species that we’re still stuck.”
She remembers her first and last meeting with her friend Prince, whose records she had to hide from her grandparents.
“Before I released My One Temptation I went to see him in a private concert, an after show thing. My song was coming up like a month after that, I was just starting to come out.
“Everyone was at Camden Palace and in the middle of the show there I was, this 18-year-old kid looking up at my idol. I used to buy his records when I was younger and had to put them underneath my bed, because my grandparents… we weren’t allowed to listen to the music because he had these codpieces on and all sorts.
“By the time I got to 18 and I’m standing in front of the man I’ve been worshipping for the last three years I couldn’t believe I was standing in front of him. I thought I was going to pass out, I didn’t care that Mickey Rourke was there, Bono, Sinead, everyone.
“All that mattered to me was that he was there standing in front of me and I swear I nearly cried I was a mess. My shoes were killing me, I couldn’t even feel my feet I was so happy see him.
“Imagine all that and then suddenly the guy turns around and goes ‘you’re a singer right? You’re Mica’. I swear to God, the place was packed and I was so shocked he called me out I couldn’t breathe. Then he said ‘sing Just My Imagination’.”
A fan, Mica knew the song so well but couldn’t remember the words. Turning around she just said it was just… and held the just really long because she couldn’t remember the rest.
“People went mental, he went mental and then he started playing his guitar. Ronnie Wood came on… it was madness. The next day he called me. I don’t know how he got my number to this day. I knew him all the way to the end and I should’ve asked him ‘how did you find me’. He could always find me…”
He asked her to join his band but being signed to Island, she couldn’t. He called again, this time when she was in LA.
“I don’t know how he knew where I was. He called me at the Sunset Marquis Hotel at like eight in the morning. He says ‘I’m sending over some songs, tell me which one you like’.”
When the tapes arrived, If I Love U 2 Night was her favourite. Prince then arranged for her to fly out to Minneapolis, to Paisley Park.
“He came at four in the morning, opened the vault and said ‘I want you to listen, I want you to think about this’. I’m like how can you not like any of it, you’re f****** Prince for God’s sake. It’s amazing, all of it’s great.”
The last time Mica saw him was at Camden Palace, where they’d first met.
“Talk about full circle, I mean Jesus. It was so bizarre because I knew he was different. I hadn’t seen him for about six years at that point and they invited me to come see him.
“He just looked so thin and I said to his manager ‘what’s going on with him at the moment’. He kept going off stage all the time. I knew something wasn’t right but honey six months later he was dead. I had no idea. The three biggest shocks for me were Whitney, Michael and Prince, those three, flippin’ hell.”
Mica, who can’t stand sweet, says what’s great about Fame – The Musical is it’s not twee. This is a wake-up call for the Glee generation.
“Alan is the best... when you actually see it, all the emotional ups and downs… one minute you’re laughing, dancing; the next you’re crying your eyes out.”
Raised in working class Lewisham, she would watch Fame, willing to do anything to go to stage school.
“I couldn’t afford it man. Where I grew up, most people didn’t think they could enter that world so I was a real enigma in my community. I was going to people ‘I’m going to make it’. I was like 14 and everyone thought I was completely nuts. All they cared about was getting a kid to get a flat and I was running the other way. I was like ‘no, there’s got to be more to life that just signing on’.
“I was one of those mad kids I guess that just didn’t want the same as everyone else. I can’t say I relate to Fame. I feel like my role of Miss Sherman, telling kids who come to me for advice in real life, what to do,” says Mica who’s treaded the boards of the West End and appeared in countless TV dramas.
“This show isn’t the reality version of fame we’re getting at the moment on TV. My character, she’s hardcore, she ain’t playing. She’s a passionate teacher and there aren’t many of those left these days.”
Mica considers herself something of an ambassador, a guide for those hoping to follow in her footsteps.
“I’ve been in the industry 30 years... I say don’t do it if you’re not passionate about it because it’s not always that you’re going to be doing well, there’s going to be times when no-one gives a s*** about you. Do this because you love it.”
That tough love extends to her daughters, who are 27 and 12.
“At one point the eldest one, bless her, wanted to do it. She got signed to Island seven years ago. She was in it (the business) for five minutes and was like ‘no mum, I don’t like it’,” laughs Mica.
“Now she’s an events manager at a huge corporation, doing events all over the world. She’s moving to Saudi next year with her partner, they’re getting married, she’s a happy girl.”
Being a mum, juggling parenthood and a career, is a wonderful way to stay grounded.
“People have said to me ‘why didn’t you go down that road Mica and get smashed and mash yourself up’. Because I wanted to prove that actually I’m not going to be a statistic.
“My family, they kick my butt from here to let me tell you. My grandfather was a pastor; we were the first family of the church. I felt God was watching me all the time,” she laughs.
“I was always like ‘man, if I do anything they’re going to see even if they’re not there’. I was brought up with the conscience. It kept me on the straight. My friends at school would be like ‘she’s so strict’ but it really kept me together.
“Next year I’m 50. God is great and I love it. I love the fact I’m still in a business I love and I’m helping others.”
Mica’s branched out into presenting, writing and acting over the years, but at her core she’s a singer.
“Straight up, when I’m singing, I’ve totally left the planet. Every time I open my mouth, I’m not here, I’ve gone. But I’m very nosey and I love to explore different places, even it I make a complete twit of myself and I’ve done that.
“I did Strictly Come Dancing. Thank God I’ll never be able to do that again. My dad was like ‘Mica, you’ve got a great voice but babe, don’t dance’. I was shocking, so every now and then you get it wrong but I’m an artist and I want to explore my capabilities.
“When I’m doing radio I love hearing the stories. I’ve got a new series on BBC Radio 2 called Mica Meets and it’s me interviewing female singers, Gladys Knight and people like that.
“It’s quite interesting because the book I’m writing is about female singers, why they’re so tortured; so it’s quite interesting being on the other side…
“Everyone goes ‘oh yeah, they took drugs that’s the reason’. No, there’s always something beyond why that happened. That’s why it’s important for us to get the stories out, so the kids coming into the industry see it’s not what the TV version (of fame) is.
“It’s too familiar sometimes. I’m like ‘damn, they went through that too’. It’s crazy. You get so much growth from experiencing yourself in different situations. For me I feel like I’m discovering myself all the time.”
Mica has a new album out next year, her first in nine years.
“I recorded a new single in honour of Ella Fitzgerald with the Guy Barker orchestra last year. These are new Mica Paris songs which I just literally wrote a few months ago so I’m very excited about that.
“I always say to everyone just keep going and love what you do because, as Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead said, if you stick around long enough you get hip again. So don’t worry about the fame, all that s***. Just make sure what you do is quality and is inspiring. Once that’s your intention you will definitely be successful.”
• See Fame - The Musical, at the Ipswich Regent, October 29 to November 3.