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nne-Marie, London 2022. Photograph: Jess Hand
Anne-Marie, London 2022. Photograph: Jess Hand

Anne-Marie: ‘I want to do mad shit. But I’m also going to help people’

The superstar singer on the joy of a prawnless prawn Clapton curry and her pride in getting her bum out in a Cricklewood bingo hall

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

‘Two and nine, 29!’

We’re in Cricklewood, north-west London. Apart from the buzzing voice of a caller and the videogame warble of fruit machines, Britain’s biggest 24-hour bingo hall is silent, and stiff with tension. For 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon, it’s also surprisingly busy. Dozens of white-haired women are concentrating on their cards while single men fiddle with slots, cups of black coffee in hand. Then, one of the most visible pop stars in the UK clambers on to a table top in steel-toed high heels, bum out in a risqué black-latex bodysuit. ‘It’s that lady from “The Voice”!’ one woman shouts, and drops her bingo dabber.

‘I’ve always loved bingo,’ says Anne-Marie, afterwards. She knows all the OG calls by heart: 41, ‘time for fun’; ‘legs eleven’; 55, ‘snakes alive’. ‘During lockdown, I was the bingo person on Zoom,’ she says. ‘It was a weekly activity with friends: Monday was “catchphrases”, Tuesday was bingo, Wednesday was “teach each other something new”. Thursday was “guess the song” and Friday was “dad jokes”.’

Anne-Marie, London 2022
Photograph: Jess Hand

Lockdown Zoom seems like a universe away from where Anne-Marie Rose Nicholson is now. For the last few weeks, she’s been in full-on festival mode. ‘When I was getting offers to play shows coming out of lockdown, I was like: Yes, yes, yes!’ she says. ‘I don’t care where it is, or what time I’m doing it. I’m doing everything.’

Anne-Marie has done a lot. She was catapulted to fame in 2018 as the vocalist on Clean Bandit’s ‘Rockabye’ Number One and has since built a following of more than 9 million on Instagram, and amassed 20 million monthly Spotify listeners. She’s been nominated for ten Brit awards, released two top 40 albums, written a self-help book, and is now a primetime TV star. She’s even a black belt in shotokan karate. A textbook image of commercial success, Anne-Marie is so shiny and manufactured, it’s hard to believe there’s anything under her hyper-polished plastic-pop shell. But – of course – there is. And, just like the rest of us, she’s still working a lot of it out.

Coming home

In the 2,700-capacity Merkur Bingo in Cricklewood, row upon row of faded diamond-print chairs clash with drolly kitsch carpet and wallpaper. There are two bars (one Bavarian, one coaching-inn-meets-sticky-floored-boozer), both serving rare £3.90 pints. There’s a canteen, loading up school-dinner trays with curly fries and ramekins of baked beans. The whole place looks like an outrageous clash between Center Parcs and Las Vegas. It’s a proper adult playground and it’s extremely London. So, of course, Anne-Marie feels right at home.

When I moved to London, my eyes were opened to everything

She shows me a photo of a Vietnamese restaurant on her phone: Hai Cafe, in Lower Clapton. ‘You have to go!’ she says. ‘I take everyone there. I get the vegan spring rolls, and the prawn curry without prawns, because the sauce is so delicious.’ These days, Anne-Marie lives between east London and her hometown of East Tilbury in Essex. ‘When I landed my music deal, I had enough money to rent my Dalston flat on Sandringham Road, opposite the cinema,’ she says. ‘But I was never really there, because I was always on tour with Rudimental. I’d never had money, so spending it all on rent felt like such a waste.’

Anne-Marie, London 2022
Photograph: Jess Hand

Moving to the capital was enlightening. ‘If you’re from a small town like I was, you don't really know anything else,’ she says. ‘My eyes were opened to everything. How many people there are, how many different cultures there are. Where I was from was very white, so London was beautiful to see.’

According to Anne-Marie, her childhood was alarmingly normal: her mum was a teacher and her dad delivered pallets (‘or something’). But from early on, there was always an inkling that Anne-Marie was destined for the business of show. ‘I did musical theatre from a young age,’ she says. ‘Going to London in the afternoons and getting time off school… no one else was doing that.’

As soon as she was signed aged 17, Anne-Marie was hurled out of her theatre-kid life and thrown into the dazzling lights of pop stardom. ‘I was like: What the fuck is this world?’ she says. ‘I was so invested in musical theatre, when you become other people and sing other people’s songs. Then, all of a sudden, it was like: Who do you want to be? What music do you want to make? What do you stand for? I don’t fucking know. I’m still figuring that shit out.’

Fake it to make it

Now we’re upstairs in the mezzanine, overlooking rows of bingo tables and the flickering screen of winning numbers. ‘Three claims – fuckin’ ’ell!’ Anne-Marie shouts. In her fluffy leopard-print slippers and bubblegum-pink robe, she’s appropriately dressed for a bingo all-nighter. She dangles curly fries at her pursed lips and pours peas over her plate, looking directly into the camera lens before plonking her finger into the baked-bean sauce and plopping the lot over her Pukka Pie. She moves from pose to pose seamlessly, rolling off answers to interview questions with no hesitation. It’s clear that those years of media training have paid off.

Anne-Marie, London 2022
Photograph: Jess Hand

But she’s not always felt this breezy. ‘I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome, like, for ever,’ she says. ‘So when I first got asked to do “The Voice”, I was like: Are you serious?’ Anne-Marie joined the ITV show as a judge and singing coach in series ten. You know the one: Sir Tom Jones, and Olly Murs, all perched in those big red chairs ready to smack the button of approval at a blind singing audition. ‘I get nervous for the singer,’ Anne-Marie says. ‘My last contestant, Craig [Eddie], suffered from bad anxiety and depression. I gave him the same advice people have given me: you need to step back and enjoy it.’

Anne-Marie has spoken openly about suffering from anxiety (‘I never used to be able to walk into a room first because I didn’t want people to look at me’) – and thinks that being a coach helped her to finally come to terms with it. ‘I started to actually enjoy what I do,’ she says. ‘It’s a guilt thing. You feel like you’re wasting someone else’s opportunity if you’re not having fun with this career, while someone else is chomping at the bit to try and be where you are.’

Standing on a table in the middle of a bingo hall today with my bum out was one of the proudest things I’ve ever done

Worried that people would think she’d become ‘just a TV personality’, it wasn’t an instant ‘yes’ when she was asked back to do the eleventh series of “The Voice”. ‘But, actually, I feel like the show helped people to get to know me as a person,’ Anne-Marie says. ‘It’s quite hard to show your personality when you’re just releasing music.’

Churning out Top 40 hit after Top 40 hit, it’s unsurprising to hear her admit that being a pop star can be stifling, personality-wise. But she also has an unsaid self-awareness and DGAF-attitude in knowing that some people will dismiss her for being ‘just pop’. ‘I could have only sung songs written by someone else,’ she says. ‘But it doesn’t bother me if people don’t see I tried really hard at writing a song. If they don’t appreciate it, I don’t get mad. As long as I know that I’m speaking my truth and that it could touch one person, then I’ll do it.’

The missing piece

Whatever that ‘truth’ might be, we’re still finding out. Over the last few years, Anne-Marie has been on an emotional rollercoaster of reinvention. ‘I was all over the place, angry at everyone and not a very nice person,’ she says. Lockdown was a turning point. She hit a low, reached out, and found a therapist that clicked. She scrapped an entire album and wrote a new one that was released last year, aptly named ‘Therapy’. ‘The [scrapped] album had become less about what I wanted to put out to the world and more of a conversation that I could actually just have with people,’ she explains.

Thanks to therapy, Anne-Marie has learned to think about life more logically. ‘My therapist described everything as a jigsaw – I loved it,’ she says (the singer notoriously requests a puzzle on every rider, to do after each show). ‘Each piece connects to another, but there are other bits in between that you need to fully understand it. There’s so much work to do. It’s not like you have five therapy sessions and you’re sweet.’

Working herself out has been the biggest puzzle of all, and now she feels like she’s ready to finally join the pieces together. ‘I realised I had deleted the entire me [through therapy], instead of just removing the cunt part,’ she says. ‘What can I learn from being a kid with anger issues but also someone who’s really spontaneous? I need to take bits from the therapy version of me and the cool teenager parts of me. That’s the person I want to be for the next decade: I want to be crazy. I want to do mad shit. But also, I’m going to be kind and help people.’

Making some noise

That’s where the music comes in. Her new single, ‘Psycho’, featuring Manchester rapper Aitch, is a snappy beat-driven anthem with an infectious piano riff and vexed squeals of ‘I’m the psycho?’ ‘Words are triggering,’ Anne-Marie says. ‘I’ve always been a very emotional and obsessive person. Now I believe in standing up for myself – there’s no bad in saying how you feel. This song is finally saying it to all the boyfriends I’ve had: I wasn’t the problem, you made me feel like I was, and that was damaging.’

Anne-Marie, London 2022
Photograph: Jess Hand

While still being as lyrically relatable as her back catalogue, ‘Psycho’ is less the tropical-tinged nostalgia of ‘2002’, more fiery female empowerment. It’s a bold statement. Anne-Marie’s reclaiming the term, rewriting the word for a generation of self-aware girls so they don’t have to go through the same mistakes she did. ‘I want kids to be able to listen to it and feel strong,’ she says.

After her photoshoot, Anne-Marie looks fresh: her hair’s combed into bunches, she’s make-up free, and wears an enviably comfy-looking baggy tee. ‘This music feels like the next version of me,’ she says. ‘Standing on a table in the middle of a bingo hall today with my bum out was one of the proudest things I’ve ever done. There’s no way I would have done that last year.’ Chuckling about the day on our way out, Anne-Marie is gleaming: it’s eyes down for her next round. 

Anne-Marie’s new single ‘Psycho’ featuring Aitch is out on Fri Sep 9. ‘The Voice’ airs every Saturday on ITV at 8pm.


Photography: Jess Hand

Hair: Aaron Carlo using Living Proof and Color Wow Hair

Make-up: Francesca Brazza at The Wall Group

Stylist: Thomas George Wulbern

Look one 

Bodysuit: Chronomatic Latex; tights: Alberta Ferretti x Wolford; shoes: Alexander McQueen; rings: Alligheri

Look two

Bralet/cardigan: Blumarine; trousers and skirt: Diesel; shoes: Natasha Zinko; jewellery: Chanel

Look three

Jacket: Alexander McQueen; shirt and tie: stylist’s own; skirt: Charles Jeffrey Loverboy; shoes: Doc Martens; socks: Wolford; jewellery: Alighieri

Look four

Dress: Shushutong; shoes: Roberto Cavalli; socks: Uniqlo; jewellery: Susan Caplan, Alighieri

Special thanks to everyone at Merkur Bingo, Cricklewood.

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