Stacey won’t let fame change her
A SHRIEK echoes down the phone, as the ringing in my ear fades I hear Stacey Solomon giggle: “Oh my God, I just got ran into by a big goat, sorry.”
The 20-year-old X Factor finalist, who came third in the 2009 series, is enjoying a day at Colchester Zoo with her two-year-old son Zach.
“He loves animals, he’s walking through this goat pen and... oh God,” she mutters again as the animals continue jostling her, “I’m more scared than he is; it’s hilarious.”
With an infectious laugh and bags of energy, she’s exactly as she comes across on screen; still a Dagenham girl at heart unchanged by her sudden shift in fortune.
“I honestly just feel really lucky to have done what I’ve done and to be doing what I’m doing right now; I don’t think it’s stressful at all,” she says.
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Given her high profile, the goats can’t be the only ones interested in the star in their midst?
“Everyone’s really nice, they always ask for a photo and stuff but you don’t mind. We get here really early. I’m here, like, as soon as it opens and we get round so it’s never busy anywhere I go; it’s nice.
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“I think I’m the luckiest girl in the world and I wouldn’t ever moan about it or anything like that.”
The single mum’s X Factor experience was – to use a popular reality show term – a journey.
Everybody, including the judges, was shocked by her amazing performance of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World in the first round of auditions.
Simon Cowell, never the easiest man to please, told her: “I’m rarely surprised but I have to be completely honest with you, that performance took me by surprise. I think you’re really, really good.”
Fellow judge Cheryl Cole added: “I don’t know why I had a pre-conceived idea, but I didn’t think it would be that good. Thank you.”
It wasn’t the first time Stacey had auditioned for the hit ITV1 show, previously failing to make it past even the first stage.
“It was my third time, third time lucky,” says the former shop and bar worker who – under the mentorship of Danii Minogue – was the last woman standing come the final.
“I think I was probably just a bit more mature and older. They [the judges] know it’s, like, really hard and what you have to go through is really tough stuff. They wait for you to be at a level of maturity.
“I mean it’s a lot of hard work, I don’t think people quite get how much hard work it is sometimes - but at the same time you have the time of your life, it’s unbelievable.”
So, how exactly has the former Havering College national diploma in performing arts student’s life changed?
“I feel exactly the same; I still go home to the same house, the same family and friends, so it’s lovely.”
The best of both worlds?
“Yeah, exactly, I’m very lucky. Before X Factor I would get up, take Zach to nursery and then I’d go to college and then I’d go home and then to work. Now I get up, spend the day with Zach sometimes and go to work singing.”
Stacey doesn’t find balancing life as a mum and pop star hard.
“I think if you really want something you do it. I love being a mum and I love music, so I put equally as much effort into both and I love every single minute of it.”
How does Zach feel about seeing her on telly?
“I don’t think he knows any different,” she laughs. “He looks at me and says ‘mummy’ but I think it’s like a moving picture to him. He doesn’t know what it is or what it means or anything.”
It must be hard for her to grasp, though, going from serving drinks one day to singing with the likes of Michael Buble the next?
“I’m exactly the same girl. This is my dream, I don’t take any of it seriously because one minute it’s there and one minute it’s not. So I still stay exactly the same, everything else is just a massive bonus,” she adds.
“My friends and family are just really happy for me. I think everyone is still in a daze, no one knows how long it’s going to last - they’re just really happy for me and making the most like I am.”
Singing with Canadian crooner Buble in the final week was one of – in Stacey’s words – a million highlights during her X Factor ride.
“It was unbelievable,” she gushes; the rest of the sentence lost amid more shrieks as the goats return.
“He’s like the coolest man on Earth and so good at what he does. Literally the minute he got into the studio he was like ‘right, this is what we’re going to do. It’s going to sound like this, blah, blah, blah and then he was just done. He was so amazing and such a lovely guy.”
Of course, appearing on arguably one of the biggest shows on the planet thrusts contestants into the sometimes unforgiving glare of the media spotlight.
Even now Stacey’s still not sure how she copes, choosing to just ignore it and let people write what they write.
“It’ll die down and then sometimes it will flare up, I don’t think it matters so it doesn’t really bother me at all. I concentrate on the singing or whatever I’m doing at that present time and I just forget about everything around me.”
She finds some of the stories about her amusing.
“I love reading that I’m going out with people; like it’s Stacey and Olly [Murs, her fellow Essex-based contestant and 2009 runner-up] or Stacey and Jeff [Brazier, Jade Goody’s ex]; I find that really funny.”
Rumours of blossoming romance in the X Factor house between her and Murs had fans salivating.
“Yeah, everyone said that,” she says, “but it wasn’t true.”
We were chatting just after the gruelling 57-date X Factor tour and she’s clearly enjoying some downtime.
“Not at all,” she laughs when I ask if she’s sad it’s over.
“You’re on the show, then you come off and you go straight on to the tour; it’s really lovely, actually.
“It’s like being in a family because, I mean, you’re in the competition so long – you really get close to people, definitely.”
She’s still in touch with many of her fellow, former contestants and she’ll be reunited with Jedward, Jamie Archer and Danyl Johnson when they appear at Ipswich’s Christchurch Park at the Big Friday spectacular on July 9.
“Yeah, it’ll be lovely to see everyone again; I can’t wait. I’ve never met Diversity [the Britain’s Got Talent winners who’ll also be performing] so it should be wicked because they’re from where I’m from.”
She’d also just released her debut single, a cover of the Glenn Miller classic At Last which was made popular by Etta James, in aid of the Royal Air Force.
“That was quite a big thing for me and I’m going to carry on recording, working and see what happens,” she adds as her thoughts turn to life after the X Factor.
She’s brimming with as many ideas as she is energy, setting her sights on theatre and TV work alongside building her music career.
“Hopefully in a few years I’ll have a nice house and Zach will be at a really nice school. We’ll be a little family and it’ll be really nice.”