04 June 2012

She's got the X Factor

LEONA Lewis is even more beautiful in real life than she is on screen. With a glossy mane of hair, perfectly manicured nails and impeccable make-up, the Hackney singer could make any girl feel intimidated. But she’s so nice I find myself unashamedly bonding with the former X Factor winner over being a fellow geek. 

“People are sometimes afraid to be individuals because they feel like they can’t speak up as people will criticise them and they’ll become an outcast,” she says.

“I know what it’s like – I was a geek at school. Being an individual and having your voice heard is scary. I feel like we need to pinpoint these kids, shine a light on them and engage them and praise them for being brave and stepping out and not going with the grain.”

Leona is taking her role as an ambassador for the BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra Academy seriously. The Ivor Novello award-winner is one of a number of artists involved in the three-week project aimed at working with teenagers in the borough in the run up to the Hackney Weekend on 23 and 24 June.

She says: “As an ambassador I’ve taken on the part as role model. I’m lucky – my upbringing here was really positive and I feel like a lot of people in this area don’t get that attention. I got to do classes outside of school, which really helped me with my music. That’s why I’m involved – I want to impart my knowledge and hopefully inspire people.”

The Academy, which opened on 1 June, is based at the Hackney Picturehouse. It aims to give 10,000 young people in the area the chance to work, and be inspired by, leading people in the entertainment and business industries.

“I hope this whole experience has a positive effect on Hackney’s young people,” says Leona. “For me, personally, I think it’ll be good to have more programmes for young people to get involved in. Things that are free, you know? It’s good to give young people the knowledge and inspiration for them to feel they’re part of the whole experience.”

Leona hopes the outreach programme has tangible results, but admits it won’t be easy. She says: “There’s only so much you can do – there’s a certain point when you go out into the world on your own and hopefully this programme will have made a positive effect and you can put it into action then, but you can’t physically make people do something – they have to want to do it for themselves by themselves.”

The three-week outreach programme will culminate in the two-day festival at Hackney Marshes, with the biggest line-up Radio 1 has ever seen, to be opened by Leona. “It’s going to be wicked,” she gushes. “I’m a bit nervous as all my family and friends are going to be there, but I think it’s an honour to be able to open it as an ambassador. There’s a lot of pressure, the Marshes is properly close to home. It’s huge.”

Despite the fact Leona is an international superstar, she still considers Hackney ‘home’. She says: “I love travelling and it’s a blessing to be able to experience the different cultures and places, but I’m definitely grounded here because my family and friends are here. Home is where the heart is at the end of the day.

“I don’t think anywhere that I’ve been to in the world is as multicultural as Hackney,” she continues. “But Hackney has changed.  Never before could I imagine my friends going to Dalston for a night out – that didn’t used to happen – and now it’s so trendy! I’m like ‘great’ because it’s on my doorstep and I don’t have to trek West!”

Curriculum Vitae:  Leona Lewis
1985     Born in Islington, London
1990     Attends the Sylvia Young Theatre School
2006     Wins The X Factor and gets UK Christmas  number 1 with ‘A Moment Like This’
2007     Ivor Novello Award for Best Selling British Single and releases debut album, ‘Spirit’ – which debuts at  number 1 in nine countries
2008     Performs at the Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony
2009     Second album ‘Echo’ released
2011    Named as an ambassador for BBC Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend 2012

Leona Lewis takes her role as an Ambassador for the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend seriously

Leona Lewis takes her role as an Ambassador for the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend seriously

Leona Lewis takes her role as an Ambassador for the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend seriously

Hackney People,News

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