For live music fans and nightclub lovers, the coronavirus pandemic stole away a summer of sun-soaked festivals, sweaty mosh pits and unbridled joy set to disco classics. And for those who also make a living from music, it also took away their bread and butter.
Some, like Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga, released dancefloor albums anyway. Others fruitlessly announced concert dates and pushed them back every time a lockdown was extended. And in the case of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, some invited us into their households and staged a concert in their kitchen.
Sophie and her husband Richard Jones of The Feeling began throwing their ‘Kitchen Discos’ last March as a pick-me-up in the early days of lockdown. Sophie, dressed to the nines in sequins worthy of the stage, sang her own hits like Groovejet and Murder On The Dancefloor alongside cover versions of Crying At The Discotheque and My Favourite Things, and her husband filmed on his phone for Instagram Live, all while their five sons, between the ages of two and 16, played on the floor and dashed around the living room. The result was a much-needed dose of sparkle and silliness; a concert stuffed to the gills with bangers from an under-appreciated popstar clashing with the chaos of home-schooling. While there have been breaks in the series, a year on, Sophie’s Kitchen Discos are going strong.
‘The first one, we just thought would be a one-off, and I honestly thought people would make fun of me because I put on a sequinned catsuit and kids were everywhere and I just thought, there’s a very good chance this looks like a woman going through some kind of breakdown,’ Sophie told Metro.co.uk.
‘I wasn’t expecting the positive feedback. And I wasn’t expecting the way it would make Richard and I feel, actually. We felt like we’d done a real gig, in a weird way. It was like having a non-alcoholic drink, it tricked our brains.’
It can’t be easy holding a half-hour gig in your kitchen, attempting to put on a show while dodging crawling babies and toys, but a year in, Sophie has shed her nerves. ‘It’s really fun, there’s a nice community of people who always join us as well as new people coming over who haven’t been before. It’s just been a really positive thing for us and it’s a tonic to distract us and let us be silly. That’s one of the things that’s been in short supply the last year, the chance to have fun and be a bit daft.’
It’s also been a treat for Sophie, not least getting to choose what songs she’ll cover. Her Kitchen Discos so far have seen her take on everything from Lorde’s Royals to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, and the 41-year-old calls her song selection her ‘happy place’. ‘Zoom karaoke classics has done very well out of me,’ she laughed. ‘The lovely thing about choosing songs to sing is that if you can think of it, there’s a backing track for everything. Julie Andrews to Madonna to Madness to Bugsy Malone, I’ll sing anything.’
Of course, her sons are just as big a part as the appeal of Kitchen Disco as her vocal stylings are. Sonny, 16, Kit, 12, Ray, nine, Jesse, five, and two-year-old Mickey dance along with their mother some of the time, and ignore the concert that’s going on in their house on other occasions. Mickey often wants to be picked up while his mum is singing Take Me Home; sometimes it’s hard to see which child is running into shot because they’re wearing an animal mask.
Sophie said: ’I don’t make them come it all, I just say “Mummy and Daddy are gonna do one of our discos on Friday, do you think you’ll come?” Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they say no, it’s totally their own free will. I’ve got no interest in raising performers.
‘Sometimes they’re not in the mood, sometimes they’re not there, sometimes they have a bit of a meltdown and it’s all fine. I don’t even want them to think that anybody’s watching.’
None of Sophie’s children have shown musical ambitions yet – ‘but I’d be very surprised if literally none of them played an instrument’ – but that doesn’t mean there’s not star quality there. Kit has become a bit of a TikTok star after taking over his mum’s verified account to make his own videos and ask her increasingly ridiculous questions out of the blue. ‘He asked me the other day, if one brother killed another brother, would I still love them,’ Sophie laughed.
The UK is on track to ease lockdown restrictions this summer, and that will mean an end to Instagram live concerts – but instead of ditching the Kitchen Discos entirely, Sophie is taking the show on the road. ‘I thought I was just doing this until I can get back to the thing I normally do, but actually, it grew bigger than that, and I want it to have its own stage. I want to basically throw open the doors to our house, but have people come in, and just have a party – I think we really need it. I want people to leave with a lighter step than when they came in, and it’s my job to make that happen.’
She added: ‘I’m just really looking forward to not singing into the back of Richard’s phone.’
Before that is possible, though, Sophie is relishing any chance for human interaction, and her latest attempt at that is delivering pints of Heineken 0.0 through windows via a cherry picker. Sophie teamed up with Heineken for their newest campaign, and happily announced that she’s now able to pull a proper pint.
‘Whenever I’ve had my fits of sobriety, whether by choice or by pregnancy, I’ve found [Heineken 0.0] to be a really nice [non-alcoholic drink],’ she said. ‘I’m not drinking every day or anything like that, but I enjoy the punctuation of having a nice drink. But there’s other ways to have a drink when it’s not actually a non-alcoholic drink.
‘There’s science behind it too. When you have a drink, it doesn’t affect you for about 20 minutes anyway, but when you have a drink, you think, oh, that’s lovely, it’s like a reward. But that happens whether or not there’s alcohol in there. You can still get that nice feeling at the end of your day and have that boost without actually having booze.’
People can get a chance for Sophie to deliver them a pint through their windows, but even for those who miss out, the star has been in their living rooms this year not only through Instagram, but on The Masked Singer.
Sophie, dressed as Alien, was the first celeb to be unmasked on the second series of the kooky ITV show – and she was robbed, according to pretty much all of Twitter. However, Sophie was pretty happy to be off the show and away from the quite frankly petrifying costumes.
She said: ‘I had no idea who anyone was, I was guessing along with everybody else. I was really bad at guessing.
‘The daftness of it, it was really fun, and it worked even better this year because we all needed a bit of silliness. I preferred watching it on telly, because in real life I found some of the costumes really quite freaky. The grandfather clock, that really scared me.’
Following the runaway success of the show, ITV has commissioned The Masked Dancer – where celebrities will bust a move while disguised as various ridiculous creatures. But with experience on both The Masked Singer and Strictly Come Dancing (she reached the final in 2013 with Brendan Cole), could Sophie attempt to fool the panel again?
‘Oh my god, can you imagine? I think for The Masked Dancer, they’re probably looking for people that are actually proper dancers. I’ve only really got about four moves, little shimmies and stuff, so I don’t think I can offer very much in the way of variety. But sure, I’ll definitely get dressed up again, I have no shame.’
For a chance to get a visit from Heineken’s Wind0.0w Service, visit the website.
The Masked Singer series 2: Who is behind each mask?
With the nation more or less confined to their living rooms every Saturday night, The Masked Singer has proven to be something of a lockdown 3.0 saviour. While the performances are of course a draw, most of the fun lies in guessing just who is behind each mask. Here are the clues and theories so far:
- UNMASKED: Alien was Sophie Ellis-Bextor
- UNMASKED: Seahorse was Mel B
- UNMASKED: Swan was Martine McCutcheon
- UNMASKED: Grandfather Clock was Glenn Hoddle
- UNMASKED: Bush baby was John Thomson
- UNMASKED: The Viking was Morten Harket
- UNMASKED: The Blob is Lenny Henry
- UNMASKED: The Dragon is Sue Perkins
- UNMASKED: Harlequin is Gabrielle
- UNMASKED: Robin is Aston Merrygold
- UNMASKED: Badger is Ne-Yo
- UNMASKED: Sausage is Joss Stone