Marie Claire's cover star talks about her turbulent childhood and having Cheryl Cole as a BFF
Alexandra Burke may have won The X Factor, ‘but,’ she maintains, ‘family life has not changed. Things piss me off.’ Alex is pretty certain Simon Cowell doesn’t want you to hear this. ‘They say “Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve”, but there’s nothing I can do because it’s me.’
Her story is one of a girl from a deprived single-parent, inner-city London family, who succeeded, by sheer force of will and talent to win the hearts and votes of the British nation. But life – even for an X Factor winner – is never tied up with a neat, pretty bow.
Alex was born in north London, has two younger brothers and an older sister. She was just six when their father, David Burke, walked out on them, leaving her mother, Melissa Bell, a singer who had success of her own with the 80s band Soul II Soul, to raise the family alone.
Alex recently had to leave the area of London she’s called home for the past 17 years. ‘I’m now starting to get harassed in a negative way,’ she says. ‘It’s the boys in the area throwing stones at my car. It upsets me. You know why? Because they’re my little brother’s friends.’
She was famously rejected by X Factor judge Louis Walsh three years earlier, but was encouraged to take part again when a friend dying from lung cancer told her to go for it. But by the time the solo auditions came around, she’d already changed her mind. Instead, she went for the group auditions, and only then because younger brother Aaron and her mum dragged her kicking and screaming out of the house.
‘Aaron woke me up one day at 6am and went, “Today is the auditions. You’ve got to go. It’s groups.” I was like, “Leave me the fuck alone! Stop talking to me about The X Factor, I don’t want to do it”!’ But we all know the happy ending; she won The X Factor 2008 in front of an audience of 12 million viewers.
Cheryl Cole, her mentor on the show, remains a friend. ‘I was in LA for a week and she texted me because she was watching The Xtra Factor: Rewind and she got emotional,’ Alex reveals. ‘I’m very open with her and she is with me. I tell her a lot of things I wouldn’t even tell my sister.’
Alex clearly loves her mother, but their relationship is not the rosy one portrayed in the press. When she was 16 her mother asked Alex to move out. ‘She kicked me out. And from 16 to 18-and-a-half I didn’t speak to my family at all.’
The 21-year-old singer also admits her own success has caused a rift with Melissa. ‘She had Soul II Soul but it didn’t last as long as she wanted it to last. Then I get this big new show, I win it and it’s weird for her to see this,’ says Alex.
One reason she wishes her mother would accept her father back into their lives is for the sake of her younger brother, Aaron, who attempted suicide a few months ago.
‘He doesn’t acknowledge the good things about himself. He’s a good actor… He’s a great lad, but he just looks at the things he can’t do and gets depressed,’ she says.
‘He’s going off the rails,’ she admits. ‘He needs a father figure.
She laughs off rumours that she’s signed an 80-page contract which means she’s owned by Simon Cowell. She says, ‘That man is the nicest man on earth. He rings me, and I’m like, “You’re Simon Cowell – why are you ringing my phone?” I still get nervous when I talk to him.’
So what’s next for the nation’s new sweetheart? ‘Actually,’ she admits, ‘I want kids before I’m 30. Cheryl advised me just to be wary who I’m dating. I just want someone who makes me happy.’
This is an edited version. To read the full interview, pick up the November issue of Marie Claire, on sale from Thursday 1 October.
WATCH Alexandra behind the scenes at her MC cover shoot below: