Lisa Stansfield, soul superstar, is sat in a nondescript office a few miles from her north London home, munching wine gums (the red ones are her favourite). She's wearing a fake-fur coat big enough for Pavarotti and there's a smudge of red lipstick on her full lips that makes those hazel eyes pop. Oh, and she's lost her phone. Again.
"It's probably in this coat somewhere," she laughs. And laughs and laughs.
Once we've got used to such a foghorn blast from someone so tiny, the whole room joins in. Lisa's laugh should be available on the NHS.
"There are ideas for new songs on there and everything," she frets, before letting out another cackle. "That'll be fun if someone finds it."
Lisa is 47 but you'd never know it. Her hair is the longest it's been and, with an elegant side parting, she looks all kinds of sophisticated. Her face is still pixie-beautiful and, when she laughs, still childlike. Now imagine that every sentence is peppered with something unprintable. Add in fits of giggles every minute or two plus the odd segue into stories that generally involve being down the pub.
Then remember that this is a woman whose voice is among the finest ever heard, whose writing of songs such as All Around the World is lauded and multi-award winning, who has sold 20 million records, who has sung with Barry White and George Michael, who has produced Dionne Warwick and who, when asked to join Whitney Houston on The Bodyguard's soundtrack, almost decided against it because she was "down the pub and, you know, couldn't be bothered".
But that's the wonderful thing about Lisa. She talks like some hair-netted harridan from Coronation Street in its black-and-white days. But when she sings, you get goose bumps.
Since her last studio album in 2004, Lisa has stayed mostly out of the spotlight with her husband of 25 years, Ian Devaney. There was a stint in Ireland - some say it was for the generous tax discount they give to artists but Lisa says it was to get away from the glare of celebrity - and then there was the death of Lisa's mother Marion in 2006.
"One of my biggest regrets is that towards the end, I never really sat down with her and told her things in confidence," says Lisa. "But then she was a blabbermouth!" That leads into a happy story about how Marion, giddy on her daughter's success, was nicknamed the Queen of Rochdale.
"She'd be at the checkout with this voice she'd put on: 'Good morning, I'm Lisa Stansfield's mum.' And we'd all be like, 'Oh God, she's doing it again…' But she was so lovable and would do anything for anyone. She just got carried away with it all."
Then Lisa pulls out a picture of the two of them together. The love just jumps out of it.
"I organised a big photo shoot for her 60th and we got all the family together in Manchester," she says. "We got a suite at The Lowry Hotel and everyone felt really close that day.
"The fame thing had got in the way. We weren't able to appreciate each other in the family because one of us had gone off and done something very strange…"
It got to the point where I was thinking, 'Do I really want this?' when I realised I'd rather stab myself than go through more of these pelvic examinations where they're treating you like an animal. Her mother's death affected Lisa deeply, and in some unexpected ways. Previously untroubled with maternal instincts, she suddenly felt the urge.
"It was like my body was just crying out," she says. Lisa was into her forties by then and IVF was the only option. She and Ian moved to New York and tried for four years. But the realisation finally hit home that motherhood wasn't for her.
"It got to the point where I was thinking, 'Do I really want this?' when I realised I'd rather stab myself than go through more of these pelvic examinations where they're treating you like an animal. And I do think that it didn't work because I finally realised I didn't want a child."
Lisa also admits that some people are quick to judge a woman who doesn't want to be a mother.
"You talk to some women who have children, normally the prudish and priggish ones, and they look at you as if you're guilty of something, as if you're being selfish. But there's no baby there - I'm not depriving a child of love."
And then, quick as a flash, she's off on one of her tangents again.
"A little while after Mum died, me, my sisters and my mum's best friend decided we needed to do something fun, so we booked a suite in The Ritz and got a clairvoyant in. And as we were walking into the hotel, we see Shirley Bassey. I know her so I walk over and go, 'Oh, hi Shirley!' and Shirley goes, 'Oh, hello gorgeous!' I say, 'I didn't know you lived in London,' to which Shirley replies, 'No, darling - Monte Carlo!' then she just swishes off, gets into a Rolls and drives away."
Lisa could carry on like this for as long as there's air to breathe. But then the star with the working-class roots and the heaven-sent voice, the woman who paved the way for Adele ("I don't want to sound cocky but it's nice to think that maybe I gave the opportunity to people like her"), is something of a poster girl for normal.
And what could be more normal than missing your mum? "More than anything else," she says, lowering her eyes, "I'd just love her to be here right now."
Courtesy of the Daily Express - interview by Stephen Unwin