Singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor is visibly proud of the Lego creation that sits on the shelf of her vibrant family kitchen.
Twisting her camera to show it on Zoom, she enthuses: ‘It has a sushi restaurant at the top, a clothing shop, a little comic shop… it’s really gorgeous…’
So who carefully constructed this Lego masterpiece during lockdown? Was it her boys — Sonny, 17, Kit, 12, Ray, nine, Jesse, five, or two-year-old Mickey? No, it was Ellis-Bextor herself — and she freely admits it was one of the coping strategies to help her through a tumultuous 18 months.
‘I think there’s a bit of mindfulness in that because, really, it’s about giving yourself mental space and letting your worries fade away,’ she says.
‘Every night I would sit down and just for 10 minutes build more of this Lego. It was important that I had something just for myself and it kept my brain calibrated. I was given it for Christmas 2019 and I remember saying to my husband Richard, “Oh, I need some time on our own just to do it.”‘
Ellis-Bextor, 42, pauses and laughs before adding: ‘It really is a case of be careful what you wish for!’
Kitchen Disco became a national institution during lockdown (Picture: Instagram)
Over lockdown, this previously private family was made famous by Ellis-Bextor’s weekly Kitchen Disco, which became a national institution.
Filmed live each Friday by Ellis-Bextor’s husband, producer/songwriter Richard Jones of The Feeling, it involved her belting out disco classics and musical favourites while stepping over a crawling Mickey and serenading her older sons as they donned animal heads or dinosaur suits.
The weekly ‘disco’ became a go-to for millions stuck in isolation.
But behind the glitter and the laughter was the reality of a large family in a confined space.
‘We went into our family’s lockdown a little ahead of the national one because my second one down was coughing at school, so they sent him home as a precaution, and that meant his brother Ray couldn’t go back either,’ Ellis-Bextor recalls.
‘So I picked Ray up from school and said, “I’m sorry, darling, you’re not going to go back into school for the next couple of weeks,” and he just burst into tears.
‘It was a horrible and scary time, and suddenly we were at home not seeing anyone. We quickly tried to move on from the things that weren’t working, and home-schooling was bringing a lot of stress and tension into the house.
‘So we relaxed. I don’t know why I was expecting a successful pandemic parenting experience because there’s been no example in the past of how to parent through such a time. I think you just have to go with what works for you because, like millions of other families, you end up in an enclosed space and tensions are running high, and you’re finding ways to handle feelings of frustration or anger or sadness or any of those things.’
When she’s not grooving, Sophie is practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation (Picture: Instagram)
The answer — apart from disco balls — was mindfulness. Lessons came from an unexpected source: Ellis-Bextor’s son, Ray.
‘He tried yoga at school, which he loved, and then he started to seek out mindfulness and meditation online,’ she says.
When Ray became the proud owner of a Yoto Player, an audio device that has music, stories, podcasts and radio for kids, it fast became something the whole family shared. Ellis-Bextor says: ‘Ray doesn’t always know what’s making him sad or frustrated but this helped him take ownership of those feelings, relax and get a good night’s sleep.
‘We started listening to the bedtime meditation audio and it really worked — there was this very reassuring woman describing how you are walking by the beach, you see a boat, and she says: “I want you to put your unwanted feelings into the boat and let that sail off,” and it just seems to really work for the kids in terms of separating out things that are making them anxious.
‘Now Ray’s little brothers are into it too. I actually had three of them sharing in the bed together last night and they all listened to their Yoto audio before they went to sleep. It was very sweet.’
Ellis-Bextor is judging a competition by Yoto to bring mindfulness corners to 200 schools across the country.
‘We have all been navigating our way through tricky stuff,’ she says. ‘I know we’re not out the other side but I feel we can move forward again now.’
Disco queen Sophie’s guide to disco
Sophie Ellis-Bextor admits she is stopped in the street now by fans of her live Instagram Kitchen Disco, which has spawned a planned 2022 tour and an album. Here’s a guide to doing the disco properly…
Let the emotion out
‘I’ve never been very emotional about my work before but with the kitchen discos I constantly felt myself welling up because it tapped into something really close to our hearts, and I could almost picture in my head all the people who were watching.’
Get the cocktails in
‘There were people having cocktails at breakfast time across the world to be in tandem with my disco. I know in real life that most of the time I am singing out of someone’s phone but I was very happy just to be this twinkly thing in the corner.’
Be a bit silly
‘The disco was about being a bit silly for silly’s sake and I think all the animal masks became part of that. The kids jumped around and it was as much about a catharsis as anything else — half an hour to shake things out.’
Audio platform Yoto has launched a nationwide competition to bring Mindfulness Corners to 200 schools across the UK. See yotoplay.com