Leona Lewis: On the sunny side

The multi-platinum selling former X Factor winner takes on her first movie role in Walking on Sunshine

Here comes the sun: Leona Lewis, left, in Walking on Sunshine

Here comes the sun: Leona Lewis, left, in Walking on Sunshine

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 00:00

Leona Lewis has a four-octave mezzo-soprano vocal range. Why can’t she try a little harder at being a diva? She ought to stick her nose in the air and use an antibacterial handi-wipe when she shakes hands with journalists. But no. Instead she thanks you over and over for “taking the time to talk” to her.

She ought to rack up florist bills with more zeroes than the GNPs of smaller World Cup qualifying nations. But no. She spends her money on Brentwood’s Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Essex. She should, after eight years in the limelight, have managed a couple of substance abuse or sex scandals. But instead, she is famous for vegetarianism, minding her Ps and Qs and turning down a seven-figure sum from Mohamed Al Fayed to open a Harrods sale; well, they are the only British department store tacky enough to still sell animal fur.

What’s wrong with you, Leona Lewis? Are you broken? Why won’t you let fame go to your head? Just a little bit?

“It’s a mixture of my mum and dad,” she laughs. “I never forget how hard my mum and dad worked to give my brother and me the opportunities that we had. It’s normal and natural for me to be polite to people. That’s how I was brought up. I always remember where I come from. It would be stupid of me to forget that.”

Leona Louise Lewis was born and raised in Islington by multiracial community-minded parents. Her dad, Aural Lewis, of Afro-Guyanese descent, worked with youth offenders; her mum, Maria Lewis, is a social worker and ballet teacher with Welsh, Irish, and Italian ancestry: “I had an Irish grandfather,”Lewis notes, “but I never knew him.”

As anyone not lately escaped from a cloistered silent order will know, Lewis first came to fame as the winner of the 2006 X-Factor final. She remains the show’s most untouchably successful export: her debut album achieved platinum sales 10 times over in the UK; she was the first British female to top the US Billboard 200 album chart in more than 20 years; she has hit the number one spot in more than 30 countries; she sang Whole Lotta Love with Jimmy Page at the 2008 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in Beijing,

She must have very different conversations with fans depending on where she is in the world?

“Definitely. In the UK and Ireland people come up to me and call me Lee, my nickname. They know me. They feel closer to me. They have a claim. In the US it’s a bit less familiar. Only real, real fans will ever know I was on The X Factor. They don’t have that prior relationship. So it’s a different reaction.”