Claire Richards on her Steps audition, her new solo album and life in Surrey
- Credit: Archant
As a member of Steps, Claire Richards is a familiar face and voice on the British pop scene. And this year, as the Surrey resident tells us, she is realising her wildest dreams
Back in May 1997, a young singer nervously made her way from Middlesex to Bourne Hall in Ewell, for an audition for a new line dancing pop group.
“I remember it really well!” Claire Richards laughs. “I drove there in my little Renault 5 and I made my sister come with me for moral support. There was no Sat Nav then, so I had my little A-Z of Surrey and we made it there somehow – don’t ask me how. At the audition we had to do the line dance part first and I just thought well, that’s me gone then, because I’m not a dancer at all. I just smiled my way through it. Then we were taken off into a room to do the vocal part of the audition. I specifically remember Faye and Lee there - Lisa and H were already in the group. Faye looked so glamorous and Lee really stood out.”
Twenty-two years later, Claire, Faye, Lee, Lisa and H, collectively known to millions around the globe as the band Steps, can look back on 14 top five hits, three number one albums, a BRIT Award and 20 million record sales. They reunited to celebrate their 20th anniversary last year with their hit Tears on the Dancefloor album and a 22-date sold out arena tour. But now, Claire has stepped into the spotlight alone, with the release of her solo album My Wildest Dreams.
“This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, although I don’t think that I ever thought, when I was 19, that at 41 I would be releasing my first solo album. But I am glad that it is happening now because it is a real new lease of life for me. There was a time in my late 20s/early 30s when I didn’t sing and I wasn’t doing anything to do with music at all and I don’t think I realised how much I missed it until I came back into it. To be in love with music again is just brilliant. I am loving this and having a great time.”
My Wildest Dreams features tracks from the hand of some of the industry’s top pop songwriters which all serve to showcase her incredible vocal range and power. She has personally connected with each song on the album, giving the album a biographical feel which dips and dives through empowerment, emotion and contemplation. Claire actually shares the credits for Brave, a song inspired by her own family. Even for someone who performs with aplomb to arena audiences, the transition from ensemble to solo for the self-confessed perfectionist is one that takes great courage.
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“It has been weird doing this on my own, although strangely enough I didn’t think about that at all through the recording process. It was no different to recording a Steps album now – I don’t think we even saw each other in the same studio for Tears on the Dancefloor. But the first time I did a performance on my own I freaked out a little bit. I’m having to get used to all the focus and attention being on me, even though I am a performer. I still find it a little bit unnerving.”
Claire’s aim was to make a compelling pop album with songs that made sense to her personally and who she is as a wife and mother. Family life is all-important to Claire, who shares her Virginia Water home with husband Reece and their two children.
“We’ve never looked back since moving here in 2013. You can go for a walk around the lake and feel as though you are in the middle of the countryside and then five minutes down the road, you are on the M25 and accessible to everything. We absolutely love it here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else now. I have made more friends since I have lived here than I have in the last 20 years, probably. We’ve all made lovely friends that I know we’ll have forever. Everybody looks out for each other.
But there’s one important Surrey location that is well overdue a return visit for Claire and her Steps bandmates. Claire contemplates the idea of an excursion to Bourne Hall where the road to stardom began.
“That could be interesting, maybe we should make a documentary,” she says excitedly. “We could go back, retrace our ‘steps’!”
My Wildest Dreams is out now, via Sony Music; clairerichards.co.uk
My favourite Surrey
• Shop: Longacres at Bagshot. It has got everything – a massive craft section, an amazing butcher, local produce, a great garden centre, a florist. You go in there for one thing and you come out with a whole trolley full of stuff. It is brilliant, I love it.
• View: The lake at Virginia Water. When you first walk in, especially on a clear day and when the light is on the lake in front of you, it is just beautiful. I never get bored of it. And the waterfall is working again now, which looks fantastic.
• Restaurant: Piccolino in Virginia Water. We just love it there. Everybody takes the mickey out of us because we’re always in there!
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