After years out of the limelight, Shania Twain is back with her fifth studio album. We caught up with the 52-year-old country star during a hectic week of promo.
Back in July 2003, she performed in London’s Hyde Park. I know because I was there, reporting on the gig for this very website.
If you’d have told either of us then it would take 14 years for her to sing there again, I doubt we would’ve believed you.
Back then Shania – no surname required – was riding the crest of a wave. She’d had hit after hit, recorded the best-selling country album of all time (1997′s Come On Over) and been the half-time act at the Super Bowl.
Not long afterwards, though, it began to go wrong. Her marriage to producer Robert “Mutt” Lange collapsed, and she developed debilitating vocal problems that forced her to temporarily give up recording and performing.
The comeback trail began in Las Vegas with a two-year residency at Caesars Palace that paved the way for a “final” tour in 2015.
Now, 20 years on from Come On Over, Shania is back – with a new husband, a new album (called Now) and a new voice.
“It is different,” she says of the celebrated purry twang that brought us tracks like You’re Still The One, That Don’t Impress Me Much and Man! I Feel Like A Woman.
“I’ve got smokier sounds I never had before, and I’ve got a lower register than I used to have before.”
The singer blames Lyme disease for her dysphonia, an ailment that causes the vocal cords to seize up when speaking or singing.
“It’ll never be solved,” she tells the BBC. “It’s a permanent problem.
“But with a lot of physical and vocal therapy, I’ve got better at understanding my voice and better at managing it.”
Our interview takes place towards the end of a hectic week that also includes appearances on The One Show, Strictly Come Dancing and Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park.
It’s almost 30 years since Jean-Michel Basquiat died in New York. Aged just 27, he’d been acclaimed as a major visual artist with roots in street graffiti. Now a big exhibition of his work has opened at the Barbican in London. His friend Jennifer Stein remembers working with Basquiat in the early days – which she thinks were his happiest.
Jennifer von Holstein – otherwise known as Jennifer Stein – is jetlagged from her long flight from Seattle. She’s in London for the new exhibition Basquiat: Boom for Real. She’s exhausted but nonetheless delighted to talk about the comprehensive survey at the Barbican of the short, brilliant career of her friend Basquiat.
These days she lives in rural Washington State in the US Pacific Northwest. Her husband makes church organs and she has three children, all of whom – she points out – are now older than Basquiat was when he died of an overdose in 1988. She says it seems a different world, but she recalls Basquiat with real affection.
“I think having nurtured a family of my own means I look back on those days with an insight I didn’t possess before. And I see more clearly what went wrong for Jean-Michel.”
In 1979 she met Basquiat at a party in a loft on Canal Street in Manhattan, where she was living. “People in the art world had been talking about a mysterious new graffiti artist called SAMO who was tagging sites in New York. Then Jean-Michel spray-painted graffiti on the interior wall of the loft and I ran over and grabbed him and said, ‘I’ve been looking for you’. And he looked at me and smiled the hugest smile in the world. He asked why I was there and I said well I live here. And that was the start of a wonderful friendship.”
Basquiat has sometimes been portrayed as having escaped poverty. In reality, he was the educated son of a middle-class Haitian-Puerto Rican family, who set his sights on a career in art. Vital to that career was meeting and becoming friends with Andy Warhol a few months after he met Jennifer Stein.
“Jean-Michel was really taken that, in my room on Canal Street, I had a whole series of baseball cards that I’d painted the faces out of. He laughed so hard and then he took the white correction fluid I was using and started to write names on the cards.” Jennifer saw that their artistic contributions together meant the cards became unusual and attractive – and might even sell.
“We weren’t much more than kids and neither of us had money. So we Xeroxed these colourful cards and sold them on the street. We carried a big placard around and shouted postcards for sale – $1!
“We did that all day and some days we’d maybe make $5 and there was one day we made $20 – that was a big deal. Most people looked at us and the way we were acting and at these crazy, arty cards and just ignored us. But I think people with a sense of humour enjoyed the way Jean-Michel and I made the cards and I’m thrilled to see them on display in London.”
Stein says the cards have mostly been hidden away for years. “But I could see that Eleanor Nairne at the Barbican was going to curate the new show beautifully and she did a great job making me see the art world would love to have these examples of Jean-Michel’s work before all the money and all the fame.”
Basquiat wasn’t even 20 when art dealers began to take notice of his brightly-coloured work, which rapidly developed from graffiti roots. Soon he had no need to walk the streets touting $1 postcards. Stein saw her friend’s rapid ascent into the artistic stratosphere.
“I understand how it happened and I watched it happen – but it doesn’t seem real. I think it didn’t seem real for him either. I feel in many ways he should have been more nurtured by the people who gave him the success. It started in an overnight flash, an explosion. Jean-Michel’s whole career was just a decade before his death at the age of 27.”
Stein says becoming a mother later gave an extra perspective on her friend’s career and early death.
“I see now that that age isn’t old enough to make sense of that amount of money and all the fame and attention. Maybe he would still be with us today if those people who facilitated his career had seen that though he was an artistic genius, inside he was really a very young person. They should have known that.”
The ennipainter’s death of a heroin overdose came when he was 27 – a fact which tended to cement his image as the art world equivalent of a rock star. Stein says the comparison is a valid one. “In many ways he was a rock star. And the more I’ve looked since at the trajectory of his life, the more I realise that in the 1980s Jean-Michel was not looked after by the people who needed to look after him.”
Stein looked on as Basquiat’s career took off, apparently without limits. “But I don’t think that part was the happiest for him. The happy time for Jean-Michel was from about the point I met him through maybe 1982 or ’83. It was that era of making the postcards. It was pre-drugs, pre-money, pre-fame. Freewheeling and being a nut – that was what Jean-Michel loved.”
Basquiat: Boom for Real is at the Barbican in London until 28 January 2018.
Joe Sugg may be one of YouTube’s biggest stars (and the brother of another – Zoella), but he still doesn’t see himself as a celebrity.
“You could probably ask any YouTuber in the UK if they’d class themselves as a celebrity, and I guarantee they’d all say no,” he tells BBC News.
“And I think that’s because we never knew it would get this big, we never knew it would become this scale, at all.
“If you’ve got someone who wants to be a singer and actor, they already know the pros and cons of that job, whereas we never knew we were getting into something this big, so it’s been harder for us to sort of deal with and go along with it.”
While he may be slightly embarrassed to admit it, Joe is one of countless YouTubers who have reached the big leagues of fame.
Earlier this year, he, Zoella and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes had to leave the launch of a pop-up shop in Covent Garden because the sheer number of fans that had turned up caused security concerns.
Today, Joe is speaking to the BBC at Forbidden Planet in London as he launches his new book Username: Uprising – the third in a trilogy of graphic novels (the first became the fastest-selling ever for a debut writer in the genre).
He talked to us about writing, vlogging, roof-thatching, and trying to perfect his Donald Trump impression.
1. Joe hasn’t written the book on his own
There was a bit of a palaver when Zoella released her debut novel Girl Online under her own name in 2014, only for it to emerge later that she had co-authored it with a ghostwriter.
Joe is avoiding any such issues by being open about the fact that he works with a team on his series of graphic novels, including a colourist and illustrator.
“I would’ve liked to have drawn it myself obviously, but time wise, because I’ve got so many projects going on, three channels to run, I knew it would be impossible, but the great thing with a graphic novel is that it’s a collaborative process,” he says.
“We’re all in contact, they’d send me over a few pages at a time and I’d go through and be like ‘This is great, but can we change this slightly, or change the expression on this face’, and it’s been great going back and forth and getting a feel of it being a team effort.”
2. He thinks it’s sensible for YouTubers to branch out of YouTube
“I think a lot of YouTubers will go into different avenues because I think that’s the smart thing to do – you can’t just rely on the one thing,” he says.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen to social media, it could be all shut down one day – not that it will I hope, but you never know.
“So I think it’s important to try out different things. So if you’ve ever had an interest or a hobby, like me with the graphic novels, explore that, see what you can do with it.”
3. He’s got his sister to thank for getting into vlogging
“Zoe started off as a blogger, didn’t want to be on camera – and that eventually turned into vlogging. I was aware of what she was doing at the time, but I was still working five days a week as a roof thatcher,” Joe explains.
“So she was starting to get bigger on YouTube and she showed me a lot of the male YouTubers, like Alfie [Deyes], Marcus [Butler], Jim [Chapman], and I’d watch them and think ‘This is the sort of stuff I can do, and have been doing throughout my childhood’.
“I appeared in one of Zoe’s videos, that was my entrance to YouTube, and the majority of the comments were saying ‘Joe should start his own channel’, and that for me was like, okay yeah, if they want it, I’ll do it.”
4. He has no plans to release an autobiography
YouTubers have been cranking out books almost as quickly as videos in recent years, many of them autobiographies – but Joe doesn’t have any plans to join them just yet.
“I would love to release a memoir at a later date. I don’t think it’s right for me yet,” he says.
“Although I’m 26 now, I just feel like I want to make the book thicker. But I can understand why a lot of YouTubers have done that – because we don’t have ordinary lives.”
He jokes: “I’ve got lots of fun stories to tell but I think I’ll wait it out, wait until I can grow facial hair, so could be quite a while off yet!”
5. He misses working as a roof thatcher
Joe’s YouTube channel – Thatcher Joe – isn’t a tribute to our former prime minister, but rather a reference to his pre-vlogging days as a roof thatcher.
“It was very much an arty job, making the ornate ridges, the patterns, I did genuinely love the job,” he says.
“It was such an important part of what I do now.
“There are a lot of YouTubers who have always thought ‘I want to be a YouTuber’, and they’ve gone into it and gotten carried away with that side of it, whereas because I’ve worked and know what it’s like to do a normal job…
“I don’t know what it is, but it kind of helps you keep it real, and know how good you’ve got it.”
6. Joe’s musical talents are no threat to Ed Sheeran
“A lot of my audience wanted me to sing, and I was like, why not give it a go – because you never know.
“But nobody heard it,” he laughs.
“Which is great; it’s been done and dusted, had a go, decided it’s not for me, moved on to the next thing.”
7. His impressions are both the most popular and most unpopular videos he does
One of Joe’s most popular series of videos is his impressions – usually of fictional characters from shows like Family Guy and Sesame Street.
“I like to think of ideas which can become a series,” he says.
“I think it’s really important to create structures and formats within my videos; things I can to return to later on.
“It’s almost like a safety net of having a string of ideas which have more longevity than just a one-off.”
But impressions are also some of the most difficult to get right, with Joe describing them as “my most criticised videos”.
“There’s always one saying ‘Oh that was a bit dodgy’. I never really get that much criticism on my videos, but on the impressions videos, you do get a lot of people that are like ‘That wasn’t as great as it could be’, because it’s something where they can compare it to something else.”
8. But there’s one impression he still hasn’t been able to perfect
“I really wanted to learn how to do Donald Trump properly, purely because of that space of time [when he was elected],” Joe says.
“I thought, there’s so much comedy you can get out of that, mastering people who are in the ‘now’, whoever’s got big exposure in the media at the moment, to learn them, but it takes time.
“By the time I’ve mastered them it’s like ‘Great, they’re irrelevant now’, so by the time I’ve mastered Donald Trump he won’t even be president anymore.”
British actor Colin Firth has become an Italian citizen, the country’s authorities have confirmed.
His wife – film producer Livia Giuggioli – is Italian, making the Oscar-winning Bridget Jones star eligible for citizenship there.
The 56-year-old now has dual citizenship and can therefore keep his British passport.
Firth said he had applied for an Italian passport because of “the uncertainty around”.
The actor said that he has been connected to Italy “for more than two decades now”.
“I was married there and had two children born in Rome,” he added.
He said that his wife was applying for a British passport also, and both his children have dual citizenship.
He added: “We never really thought much about our different passports.
“But now, with some of the uncertainty around, we thought it sensible that we should all get the same.”
The Italian interior ministry, which confirmed Firth had been granted a passport, said: “The very famous actor, who won an Oscar for the film The King’s Speech, is married to a citizen from our country and has often declared his love for our land.”
Firth, who won best actor at the 2011 Oscars for his portrayal of King George in The King’s Speech, has been married since 1997.
He added: “I will always be extremely British (you only have to look at or listen to me).
“Britain is our home and we love it here.”
He said that he will continue to base his career out of the UK, but added: “Anyone will tell you when you marry an Italian you don’t just marry one person; you marry a family and perhaps an entire country.
“Like almost everybody I have a passionate love of Italy and joining my wife and kids in being dual citizens will be a huge privilege.”
Two exhibitions open this month devoted to a group of working class artists from the East End of London who became art world celebrities in the late 1920s and 1930s – only to be forgotten after World War Two.
They were known as the East London Group, and among their ranks were humble office clerks, a navvy, a window cleaner, a shop assistant, a printer, a basket-weaver and an errand boy.
Now they’re being rediscovered, with one exhibition devoted to their work in Southampton, and another, curated by the children’s author Michael Rosen, on their home turf of Bow in East London.
Though they had no formal art school training, the paintings they produced were highly sophisticated.
Encouraged by an inspirational teacher, John Cooper, at evening classes in Mile End and Bow, they painted what they saw around them in London’s industrial, poverty-stricken East End, finding the extraordinary in the everyday.
For the most part, their subjects were smog-shrouded scenes of canals, railway bridges, terraced houses and scrubby back gardens.
There’s no traffic in their pictures, and very few people, giving them an eerie, slightly surreal quality.
And their paintings are a valuable record of a world long since vanished thanks to the wartime Blitz and post-war redevelopment.
For eight years in the 1930s they staged an annual exhibition at one of London’s most prestigious commercial art galleries, Alex Reid Lefevre in Mayfair. Wealthy art collectors bought the group’s paintings and critics raved about them.
David Buckman, who has written a book about the group, says they received enormous press coverage in leading newspapers like The Times and the Daily Mail.
“They were well received, and received as equals,” he says, pointing out that two of the group were invited to exhibit paintings at the 1936 Venice Biennale alongside many of Britain’s leading artists.
The Southampton show has been curated by Alan Waltham, whose interest in the group was sparked because two of its members were his wife’s uncles.
Harold Steggles worked as a solicitor’s clerk; his brother Walter worked for a shipping firm. Each day they commuted into the City from Romford and later Chadwell Heath, returned to have their tea and then, three evenings a week, travelled back into the East End for Cooper’s classes.
Their sister Dilly, Waltham’s mother-in-law and now aged a frail 100, remembers they had a “studio” – one room in the family home – and sometimes let their little sister watch them at work.
Had she wanted to paint too? I asked her. “Me? No! I couldn’t paint a daffodil!” she says.
The brothers’ success meant they were able to buy a car (a Ford built at nearby Dagenham) and with their friend Elwin Hawthorne and his wife Lilian, who were fellow members of the group, they broadened their range by travelling round the country to paint.
All three men contributed images to Shell’s famous series of posters depicting English scenes – Cookham in Berkshire in Walter’s case, Bungay in Suffolk in Harold’s, while Hawthorne’s picture was of North Foreland lighthouse in Kent.
Another leading member of the group was Albert Turpin, window cleaner, wartime fireman and war artist, firebrand socialist, Labour councillor and post-war Mayor of Bethnal Green.
His work is at the centre of the second exhibition at Bow’s Nunnery Gallery.
Michael Rosen says the group’s work is fascinating because of their insistence on painting what they saw in unfashionable places.
“Why paint shabbiness? It’s perverse. But that’s what makes their work interesting and really rather wonderful.”
Turpin’s daughter, Joan Barker, who was adopted by Turpin and his wife Sally aged two at the end of the war, recalls a man who was forever sketching: his family, his fellow councillors and the streets around him. After the war he made a point of sketching buildings due for demolition, and their replacements as they went up.
Barker has her father’s pre-war scrapbook, full of newspaper clippings about Councillor “Dick” Turpin and his run-ins with the law as he fought Oswald Mosley’s fascist agitators. And she has his post-war sketchbooks and several of his paintings.
But sadly much of his work has vanished. After her father’s death in 1964, her mother decided to clear out the shed at the family’s Bethnal Green flat. Most of her father’s paintings from the 1920s, 30s and 40s were burnt.
But it’s not just Turpin’s work that has disappeared. Waltham, who runs a Twitter feed devoted to promoting the group, says more than 700 East London Group paintings were exhibited in the 1930s. He has been able positively to locate just 113 of them.
Some may have been destroyed. But many others may be hanging unrecognised on walls or sitting in attics up and down the country, still waiting to be rediscovered.
From Mile End to Mayfair at Southampton City Art Gallery runs until January. The Working Artist at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow, East London opens on 29 September.
His rags-to-riches story was the subject of the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America. It followed Bradley from his initial signing to the record label, living in crippling debt, to his sold-out album release show.
“I’ve been out there, ever since I was 16, doing music and searching for it – but I just never could find the people that really believed in me. It took a long time coming, but God, I’m glad it’s here,” he said.
But he admitted: “I just wish I’d have gotten my break when I was in my 20s.”
The O2 Arena’s partnership with ticket resale company StubHub has been criticised after fans were turned away from a Foo Fighters concert this week.
Ahead of the concert, The O2 disabled links between its ticketing system and StubHub’s, at the request of the band.
However, tickets continued to be offered on StubHub. Some fans were then denied entry, as they could not supply ID matching the name on their tickets.
MP Sharon Hodgson said the relationship between the two companies was worrying.
“As one of our country’s major entertainment venues, and officially the world’s busiest venue, it is deeply concerning to see them [The O2] partner with a resale platform that gives preferential treatment to touts,” said the Labour MP, who co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on ticketing.
“In fact, they should be setting an example to others by creating their own ethical resale mechanisms so fans are not ripped off any longer.”
Chris York, director of SJM concerts and tour promoter for the Foo Fighters, echoed the comments.
“It’s a moral decision [for the O2],” he said. “They need to have a look at their business.”
“In this instance, I think the relationship with their official reselling partner broke down.
“It’s an uncomfortable relationship, in my opinion. The venue is aware of that view, and they are certainly aware of that view from the Foo Fighters.”
Responding to Ms Hodgson’s comments, StubHub said: “Ticketing, like any industry can certainly improve, but this should not only be directed at safe resale platforms that provide customer guarantees.
“The entire ticketing market needs to focus on being transparent with fans and we call on the government to require event organisers to publish how many tickets are made available for public sale.
“The restrictions imposed this week [requiring ID] make it harder not just for people who want to resell spare tickets but also for people who want to give them away or buy them as a gift for friends and family.”
The company has refunded fans who did not gain access to the show.
While reselling tickets is legal, it often goes against the terms and conditions of events. Fans can list tickets on websites such as StubHub and its main rivals Viagogo, GetMeIn and Seatwave at any price they see fit.
The prices are often much higher than face value – although government research shows about 30% of tickets sell for below the original asking price.
The O2 signed a partnership with Stubhub in 2012, giving the company billboards inside the venue, and integrating the O2′s ticketing website AXS.com with Stubhub’s reselling platform.
As a result, tickets for O2 events purchased through StubHub are validated and cancelled – after which a new ticket and barcode in the buyer’s name is issued. The measures help to combat fraud in the ticketing market.
However, the O2 can disable this integration for certain events and this happened in advance of the Foo Fighters’ concert, after the band requested stringent terms of sale, including the requirement for ID.
SJM Concerts said the conditions were put in place “to prevent tickets being sold at extortionate prices”.
Despite this, tickets continued to appear on Stubhub (as well as other secondary sites who are not officially linked to the O2). The secondary sites were within their rights to do this, but at the risk of the O2 cancelling those tickets.
Furthermore, the BBC has seen an email StubHub sent to one customer, reassuring them “it’s fine to see someone else’s name on the tickets” – a direct contradiction of the terms of sale.
“I personally think that is abhorrent,” said Mr York. “They need to have a long, hard look at themselves and listen to the people who’ve been let down.”
Approximately 200 people were turned away from the Foo Fighters’ show – which was seen by 18,500 fans.
Ms Hodgson urged fans to educate themselves on the secondary ticketing market to avoid similar disappointments.
“Over the years, we have seen the ticketing market cleaned up and made fairer for fans, yet the example of the Foo Fighter concert this week shows how far we still have to go,” she said.
“That is why it is important we maintain pressure to fix this broken market and put fans first but I would also encourage concert-goers to check out FanFair Alliance’s guides to help them buy tickets and not face disappointment on the night.”
The O2 Arena was contacted for a comment on this story, but said they had nothing to add to an earlier statement, which said the venue was “frustrated and saddened” by the appearance of tickets on the secondary market.
“We are extremely disappointed if you didn’t get to see the show and urge anyone who encountered issues to contact their point of purchase for a full refund,” the statement concluded.