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Edinburgh Hogmanay performer Sophie Ellis-Bextor on Christmas, kitchen discos and 25 years in pop

© Laura LewisKitchen disco queen Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Kitchen disco queen Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Sophie Ellis-Bextor invited millions into her home every week during lockdown for her wildly popular kitchen discos.

Performing pop hits with husband Richard Jones – the bassist with The Feeling – she lifted spirits and gave people something to look forward to during the drudgery and worry of the pandemic.

Now she is preparing to throw open the doors to her home again but this time it is strictly for family as she prepares to host Christmas. As a mother of five boys, the festive season is always busy for Ellis-Bextor but it’s also one of her favourite times of the year.

“Like lots of families, Christmas is mainly about all being together and playing games and having a nice dinner,” said the 43-year-old star, who is mum to Sonny, Kit, Ray, Jesse and Mickey, who are aged between three and 18.

“We have everyone over to ours, which the kids love because they get grandma over and Richard’s parents, and my brother and sister and their other halves. There’s lots of people and fun to be had. It’s a good time. We start the day with Buck’s fizz and finish it with a mulled wine martini.”

While Christmas will be a private party, Ellis-Bextor will be back on stage doing what she does best as the countdown to Hogmanay begins. She is performing in Edinburgh at a new family event on December 30, called The Night Afore Disco Party, as the capital begins its world-famous New Year celebrations a day early.

The singer will perform in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle at Princes Street Gardens, with Clare Grogan’s Altered Images also on the bill. “It’s going to be really fun,” Ellis-Bextor smiled.

“I love working around New Year’s Eve anyway, because my favourite thing to do is singing and partying with people. Everyone goes big for Hogmanay so I’m expecting a lot, but I also understand that I’m doing The Night Afore, so I reckon my job is to get people in the party spirit.

“I played a festival with Clare in the summer – Party At The Palace in Linlithgow – and they were so good, so I think we’ll have lots of fun. Clare is like me and likes a little sparkle, so we’ll both probably be wearing our sequins.

“I’ve been to an Edinburgh Hogmanay before – two of my girlfriends were at uni in Edinburgh, so I came up for it when I was about 20. It was such good fun and a great atmosphere. I’ll go back home the following day to be with my kids on New Year’s Eve, so it’s nice to do this show because it feels I can do both things.”

Juggling a pop career and being mum to five boys is something Ellis-Bextor takes seriously and it is what inspired her hit podcast, Spinning Plates, where she speaks with busy working women who are also mothers.

“The podcast probably takes up the biggest amount of space after music, because I need to think about the guests, research them, and try to have a conversation that is worth it.

“I’ve loved doing it. At the stage of life I’m at – in my early 40s and in the thick of raising kids but also trying to make sure I have enough room for all the things I want to do – I’m always curious about how other people feel about it. I love the fact it features people from all different walks of life, from someone who performs autopsies to Mel C to Mary Berry, but everyone has something interesting to say. Basically, I’m just gleaning lots of wisdom!

“I have it easier than most because I’m able to take my kids to work and can pick and choose the things I do a little more – I don’t have a boss, so to speak – but I still have to ensure I’m giving myself permission to go for the things I want to go for, because sometimes that whole mother guilt thing is hard.”

Sophie, Richard and family enjoy a singalong on Instagram

Life has been good in 2022 for the singer, who is the daughter of former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis and film-maker Robin Bextor. She has toured the UK and Australia, released a single and live album, brought out the paperback edition of her autobiography and even wrote a cookery book, Love. Food. Family: Recipes From The Kitchen Disco, with her husband.

“The cookery book is something I pitched to publishers five or six years ago but no one was interested,” she explained. “Both of us have always loved cooking and we each come from families that cook, so we always had this idea of wanting to do a cookbook, not just with our recipes but those of Richard’s dad, who was a chef, and my mum and our old nanny and all the extended family.

“For the autobiography, it was a massive privilege to put my story across and it’s not something I thought I would get to do – I surprised myself by saying yes when I was approached. I enjoyed the process and of writing from the heart.

“It was fun to go back and reminisce about the embarrassing, wild and wacky things that have happened but to also include things that are more private. I felt it was like going back in time and giving my past self a bit of extra support. 2022 has been really fun and I’ve enjoyed all the projects and seized them with both hands. I’ve been doing what I do for a long time and it’s not lost on me that it’s an amazing thing and I’m lucky to do what I love.”

Ellis-Bextor has been in the music business for 25 years, being signed in 1997 as part of indie band Theaudience, who released four singles before being dropped by Mercury Records while they were working on their second album. She would go on to collaborate with DJ Spiller, providing the vocals for No 1 Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) in 2000, and then launched her solo career the following year with album Read My Lips, which featured mega-hit Murder On The Dancefloor.

Reflecting on her quarter-century in the business, she said: “There’s a part of me who is still that 19-year-old who was dropped from her first record deal and didn’t believe anything would happen afterwards. That instilled a real desire to seize all the chances I get, because that period where it went away was quite a defining feeling, when you think it’s gone for good.

“I’m as much in love with music now as ever and the kitchen discos I did were a part of that, because I wasn’t just singing my songs but songs that gave me happy memories.”

The community that built up around Ellis-Bextor’s kitchen discos, which she first streamed on her Instagram page on March 27, 2020, took the singer completely by surprise.

“It’s bonkers – I’m still trying to get my head around it. It’s hard to explain the feeling of doing something from your home and knowing there was a big community out there but I couldn’t see them, so now that I’m going out on stage again and sharing the gigs with live audiences, it’s crazy to wrap my head around the idea that a lot of those people came to my house during lockdown.

“It was an opportunity to distract ourselves and do something a bit fun and silly, because everything else was so stressful and heavy. We’d spend time planning it by chatting about song choices and what I was going to wear, and I needed that to basically keep me happy.

“I’m really glad people came around and that it meant something for other people, too. I know I sing for a living but the discos weren’t really about that; it was more about what I do to make myself feel better when I’m feeling a bit discombobulated. It was lovely that all those things I was using as a tonic resonated with people and I think that’s why it was so special for me, because it came from the heart.

“Music is such a powerful thing and I’m excited to see what happens next but I’ve also been really, really enjoying what is happening now.”

Tokyo trip inspires new direction

Sophie and mum Janet Ellis in Japan in 2020
Sophie and mum Janet Ellis in Japan in 2020

Her last studio album was in 2016, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor says the spring of 2023 will see her release her seventh record.

“It’s finally happening and I can’t wait,” she said. “It has been the longest process because I started writing it before everything went wonky in 2020, so it’s an album which kind of encapsulates that mood, but also has reflection and hope and looking forward.

“It’s come out even better than I hoped, which is a lovely feeling. Getting to step back after chipping away at something for so long and saying, ‘Oh, I really like how this has come together’. I wrote it with Ed Harcourt – this is our third together and we always planned on doing three albums, so this is the final one, for now.

“It was inspired by a trip I had coming up – I went to Tokyo for the first time in February 2020 and began writing it the month before, inspired by the idea of what it might be like.

“The sound is quite synthy and a little prog-like in places but it still has its pop head on – I can’t stray away from that. I always have to try to write myself songs that are fun to sing and have lovely choruses, and while it’s definitely more experimental it hopefully still has a spring in its step.”

Sophie Ellis-Bextor performs at The Night Afore Party, Princes Street Gardens, December 30, as part of Edinburgh’s three-day Hogmanay celebrations. See