Features Zone

Rebecca Ferguson: Rebel With A Cause!!!




Hit-making artist Rebecca Ferguson is back with a brand new album in the chart after a seven-year hiatus – But she’s also got a fight on her hands…



It is perhaps prophetic that to kick start her music career, Rebecca Ferguson chose the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” to sing in front of the judges on The X Factor as her first televised audition in 2010.

After a hugely successful international career, the Liverpool-born songbird is now a loud voice in the campaign to bring about radical change to improve conditions for artists in the music industry and on TV talent shows, based on her own “toxic” experience.

Rebecca Ferguson became so disillusioned and upset about the way she was treated and her voice raising concerns not being heard, she has not toured since 2018 and has not put out a new album for seven years. Until now (5th Dec 2023), with the release of “Heaven Part II”, 12 years to the day since her debut album “Heaven” came out.

Her 2011 debut album sold more than 130,000 copies in its first week, making it the fastest-selling debut album by a solo artist that decade, between 2007 – 2017.

Legal action by her former management and counter claims by Rebecca drove her almost to the brink of a breakdown, feeling she was “living in fear” 24/7, and she had also sought counselling for abuse she suffered as a young child in a care home when she was eight. She has since revealed she was bullied as a child from a “poor” family as she did not have “the right clothes and toys.”

On top of all that shizzle, Rebecca had a second legal case on her hands, when an employee was accused of stealing almost £50K from Rebecca’s beauty business, which she ended up closing down.

I quit…

Her fans were sad when Rebecca posted a message on her social media ahead of the release of “Heaven Part II”, to say this would be her final album and she was then retiring from the music business to focus on her family and to do more campaigning. She wrote:  “I am retiring from the music industry following the release….After my retirement, I will dedicate my time and energy into helping and nurturing emerging artists and fighting for better treatment.” She added another stronger message – this time to the music business ‘suits:’

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you? You are right, our talent has fed them!” she wrote. “Mortgages, Holidays, Yachts… and they were ungrateful and they took it for granted! It is a luxury to make a living from another’s talent! So make sure respect and honour is shown!”

She rejected offers from record labels for this new record, to take the much harder option to release it independently. But her extended hiatus and her new DIY status has seemingly not dented her stock value at all; in fact her loyal fans made sure the record zoomed into the Top 20 of the UK Independent Album chart in its first week, and her website sold out of all physical copies on pre-order. It is doing brisk business on the streaming and download sites too, and via Amazon UK.

The former X Factor runner up in 2010 [Matt Cardle won it – where is he now?], when the show had its highest ever viewing figures of 14 million, has now co-written five solo albums and shared the stage worldwide with stars such as Lionel Richie, Andrea Bocelli, Nile Rodgers and the late Burt Bacharach.

Off stage, she has been very active behind the scenes to improve conditions for artists on talent shows, and hold the TV bosses to account for their duty of care and welfare responsibilities – and to lobby for better treatment all round for artists in the music industry, including increased payments from streaming services.

The 37-year old is probably THE most unique voice to ever come out of that Simon Cowell star-making machine since it launched in 2004. She is among those few contestants who went on to the biggest success after appearing on The X Factor, along with the likes of Leona Lewis, James Arthur, One Direction, Little Mix, Olly Murs and JLS.

When Matt Cardle beat qualified legal secretary Rebecca to the crown on the seventh series – it was her third attempt to be chosen to appear on the show after being rejected at two previous auditions – many complained that she’d been robbed! She then signed to Simon Cowell’s record label within his Syco Entertainment company.

She went on to release four hit albums, including her debut “Heaven” which peaked at # 3 in the UK chart and sat just under the Top 20 in the US. It went 2 x Platinum. All four of her albums made the Top 10 in the UK album chart, and her 2011 debut was a hit in 10 countries.

“Freedom” went Gold in 2013, her 2015 album “Lady Sings The Blues” and “Superwoman” in 2016 both did very nicely. She has released 14 singles, one EP and 11 music videos. She has sold an estimated several million units across her career.

Heaven II: Album Of The Year

So, the new album, “Heaven Part II”, was it worth the very long wait? Er, you decide. But here is a big clue… it is deservedly Music Republic Magazine’s 2023 “Album of The Year” in our annual end of year “Best Of” round-up, which will be published on Tuesday 19th December in our “Features Zone. [Also, our five-star album review is coming soon in our “Reviews Zone”. Do check back…]

Rebecca’s reaction to that news: “Best album of the year 2023. Amazing, that’s amazing, thank you so much. That’s lovely, I am so glad you like it.” So is Rebecca pleased with how the record turned out, how different was the process to go down the DIY independent route, and why do that and not take an offer from a major record label to ease the pressure?

“I am very, very happy with ‘Heaven Part II’ and how it came out. The only thing that made me nervous was because it some of it is very different to what my fans are used to. I think you’ve got to make music that you’re happy with; you can’t always micro-manage what everyone’s gonna want.

“Ultimately, I’ve made an album that I’m happy with. It is seven years since ‘Superwoman’, music moves on and you don’t want to make the same album twice, especially after so long to wait for the new one, do you? You do have to move with the times…”

The core message across the 10 songs, all co-written by Rebecca is: “Strength, just knowing yourself and finding happiness. It’s about found my voice (sic), becoming a woman, about owning your opinion, about getting past the point where you feel that your opinion needs to align with everyone else’s.”

From The X Factor To The DIY Factor!

She adds: “Going back to your past, knowing where you’ve come from and becoming who you are; it’s about completion. That’s why I called it ‘Heaven Part II’, as the first album, I didn’t quite know who I was. It was a good album and it’s well written, but it was at a time when I didn’t have control of my career. I had control over my art, but I didn’t have control over my career, so ‘Heaven Part II’ is, well, this is me now in control.

“It is a lot of work and there was (sic) record labels; there was a very major label that was interested in this album, but I just wanted them to do solely the distribution on it. I didn’t want them to do anything else. But they got excited and went, oh, we can have a Macy Gray album, we can have this album…we want you to make an album that sounds like this, this, this.

“I left the meeting and although they were very lovely, I thought, no, that’s not…I just want you to upload it to the DSPs (digital service providers), but I think the reason I went independently is because I wanted to have control, to see what my money looks like, because ‘Heaven Part 1’, other then my advances, I have never made any money from it.”

“I wanted to have that direct connection with Apple, with Spotify, with Deezer… I have never had that, and I didn’t know how that works and I didn’t like that. I feel like every artist should have that level of understanding and control of the business. Everything was always done for me, and I just wanted to know how it is and see how my money is earned, because I have never had that before.”

My Last Album?

You said this is your final album. Is it really? “To be honest, when I said that I was at a place where I’d just had enough of the industry really. It just felt like after so many years I’ve been working so hard, and I’d deliberately and at times tactically had my music blocked and my career had been hindered purposely, there comes a point when that happens enough times it becomes quite debilitating.

“So I’d kind of had enough, but actually after being able to upload my own album to the DSPs, I actually don’t have that same feeling, I don’t feel as negatively about music. I think I will continue with music, but uploading music as and when I want to. Will I have another album? Probably not, but you will definitely see music on my DSPs, because it is so easy to do and it is a way where I can enjoy music and upload it as and when.”

Rebecca reveals there may well be a live album in the next couple of years. “We recorded a really beautiful jazz set in Boisdale [an upmarket bar/restaurant and live music venue in London’s Canary Wharf], and I listened back to it and it is really good. I don’t often praise my own work, but it is good and it is just sitting and waiting, and just needs to be pressed, really.”

Rebecca’s love life has perhaps not been a happy one overall, but she is blissfully happy now since she met sport’s agent, talent manager and marketing/sponsorship specialist Jonny Hughes more than seven years ago, who lived five minutes from where she used to live. He now works alongside Rebecca to co-manage [with her] the new record label and her career. looms like she can deffo trust this guy, because……………..drum roll please: they got married, and have recently had a baby son together.

Secret nuptials

They celebrated their first wedding anniversary this month (Dec 2023), after a “secret” ceremony at London’s Dorchester hotel, and their son, whose name they keep out of the media [I know what it is and it is lovely!], was born 10 months ago on Valentine’s Day. Ahhh. Rebecca had three children previous to her relationship with Jonny: daughter Lilly who is 19, son Karl (17) and Arabella who is nine.

Lilly wants to be a singer as a career. How did her mum react when her first born said she wanted to follow in her footsteps in showbusiness, after those “toxic” and scarring experiences of her own? “I was initially not sure, but I think now I have seen how we can have a career in music independently, I am actually comfortable.

“I think there is a way to have a relationship with music that’s positive. I think you can have an independent career; upload your music, build a fanbase online with TikTok, Instagram or whatever it is, and build up a following, perform live, and do it in a way where you do it yourself.”

TikTok Rules…

“I am quite lucky that I’ve got Jonny whose got experience in that space, but I do feel that an artist can own their career in the sense that they need to have a deep understanding of how it works, and long term they’ll fare better. Back in the day, a major record label was fantastic because they would build you from scratch, invest piles of money until you come to a point where you are a household name.

“But now, record labels are looking for how many TikTok followers you’ve got…I feel like it’s changed massively, and now if you are a young artist who wants to build a career, you can do that because of social media.

“If you post music every day, if you play the guitar and sing to the audience and you do that daily, you will eventually build up a following. That’s what I would encourage young artists to do. From my conversations with majors, I feel there is definitely a shift. The power at the minute is in the TikTok stars.”

“I am excited about music again. I’m in control. I now see what I earn and I’ve never had that before, with different people taking a cut, I never got to see what I was earning. I own the masters to my recordings now. When I started out I was 23 and I am 37 now. I was young, naieve and didn’t know the industry, and I have learned the ropes the hard way.

“During the pandemic lockdown I called people out on social media as I had not been heard before, and in lock down I’d had time to reflect. I had this moment where I thought I need to speak up and I did. I started to campaign and used social media a lot, and The Secretary of State at the time, Oliver Dowden listened. [The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport].

“I had a meeting with him and then a ’roundtable’ was formed cross-industry, and we managed to set up CIISA, the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority. I am really proud of it and it has gone well. I have been asked to be on the board of CIISA, I work with ECSA [European Composer & Songwriter Alliance], I am an Ivors Academy director; voluntary work in this space is good for me, advocating for artists”. [The Ivors Academy is one of the largest professional associations for music writers in Europe.]

“I felt like it was important, that my experience in music had been so toxic, I felt like I wanted to protect new people entering the industry. “

“I do quite a lot to be honest, and I’ve given myself maternity leave from my voluntary work, because I’ve got a young baby and because of how crazy it is doing this album independently. I have been, for the last three years I’d say, behind the scenes advocating for people and fighting for people and speaking to politicians, trying to get us paid more, trying to get better standards.”

“Yeah, I’ve been doing it and I’ll continue to do it, as and when, I just need to figure out how many plates I’m spinning at the minute, because I’ve got four children; I just need to find a good balance of it really, but I will get there.”

Punished for being a rebel!

Prince and George Michael were perhaps the highest profile artists to fight publicly against their record labels and the execs. The song “Hollywood” on Rebecca’s new album, shines a light on “the dark side of fame”, she reveals. “You become so consumed by the desire to be successful that you lose touch of who you are. But I am very hopeful for positive change in the creative industries.”

“In the early years, I definitely got music blocked because I challenged very powerful figures. Things were done to punish me for being a rebel. For such a long time people got away with exploiting artists and there was always a negative narrative about anyone who spoke up. But I’m in such a good place now, God, yeah. I really went through it. I desperately wanted to no longer be living in fear.”

So after all the turmoil and that toxicity, has that fear gone? “Totally gone. Totally free of it. That was such a turbulent time in my life, it was beastly, it was very terrifying. Going back to the new album, and the track ‘I Found My Voice’, when I decided to stop living in fear and to be honest about what people have done to me, and to publicly call it out, that’s when the fear left.

“I had to overcome fear and only then did I find peace and happiness, and it was of a result of me saying; no, I’m not harbouring your secrets any more. This is what you’ve done to me, this is the truth. It helped.”

“I took all my evidence and had meetings with the Government and told them everything that had happened. I don’t think they spoke with the people involved, but they definitely stepped up in terms of trying to sort the industry out, and basically told the people in the industry you need to clean up your act. Whether that’s enough we will see.

“That was a terrible time for me and I’m glad that I got through it, and I am so glad I am in a much happier, more peaceful place now.”

Rebecca has previously spoken about the trauma of suffering a miscarriage during her success, but being ‘forced’ to carry on through the ordeal. She tells me more about the poor treatment she endured by music industry people.

“I’ve been very vocal about people turning up at my door, forcing their way in…me doing a tour and me not making one single penny from the tour, and then me having to honour all of the costs personally…”

“It is actually so sad how long I lived in actual fear, how afraid they made me.”

“Just the most disgusting, abhorrent way to treat an artist, and then when you say, hang on a minute… they bully you and intimidate you; a horrendous way to treat someone, and to be honest, if it gives anybody hope, I’d say do not carry the secrets of an abuser; they are able to abuse because you keep their secrets.

“Abusers don’t like being exposed, it’s their worst fear for people to know what they’re doing in secret. They live like a facade, they like to have a fake image of themselves and the minute you peel away at that, they don’t like it. So yeah, don’t keep people’s secrets.”

She adds more about the apparent disparity between many of the top music biz execs and their rewards and lifestyle, compared to the majority of the artists whose talents  make them that money.

“If you go to any music business executive’s house, and some boast about it, they all live in multi-million pound houses or they’ll boast about getting a new wine cellar or… and I’ll be honest, every artist I know apart from one mega-star, is renting. That is messed up, I’m sorry that is a disgrace.”

“You don’t have that in football. The Premiership footballers are making a shedload of money and if they are getting sponsorship in, selling the tickets and getting bums on seats, that’s on them. The difference in football and music is the equivalent of footballers playing for peanuts and then all the executives making absolutely million. That wouldn’t happen.

“But with artists, for whatever reason it’s very strange. When I have been to music executive’s houses, they are in multi-million pound houses with servants, many servants some of them plus security and drivers, meanwhile their artists are renting.

“One artist who is a mega-star who I won’t name, at one point she went shopping and couldn’t figure out if she could afford to buy the shoes, that she’d seen on the rack, that she liked.

“That is a disgrace and the music industry should be deeply ashamed. I don’t know how any of them can live that way and not ensure that their artists, who are creating all that lovely music, are not well looked after. It’s just odd to me, it’s so odd.”

She has called for TV bosses to up their game as regards the welfare of contestants on talent shows, both during the filming process and after-care once the contestant is out of the shows, based on her own experiences on the X Factor.

Rebecca says Simon Cowell has apologised to her, after her reported comments about what she went through on his X Factor show. Rebecca was signed to Simon’s Syco record label after she came second in the 2010 final.

So what is the wish list for the future, Rebecca? “I am happy and settled now, and my long term dream is I really want somewhere to live that is really peaceful. My goal at the minute is to find a house with a little bit of land and to have animals.

“It’s silly. I say it is silly, but every single songwriter I work with, I end up going to their house and they always live on a country lane and fields at the back, and for whatever reason for us artists, it just brings up some peace. So that would be the long term goal to have somewhere that’s really peaceful.”


Biggest lesson learned in your career? “Educate yourself on the business. Do everything as independently as possible. Understand your business and approve every single transaction yourself. Do not allow other people to have access to payments; that’s a big lesson I learned.”

Regrets? “In one sense, I have many in terms of who I put my trust in, but equally I don’t regret a thing because all of it helped me to be the person that I am; the way I was treated by the music industry. We now will have in the next 18 months a regulatory body in music for the welfare of artists – we’ve not had that before – so I don’t regret anything, as it will be used for good, hopefully.”

Rebecca has just announced her first tour since 2018, which will hit the road in May and June 2024 and will visit nine venues around the UK. She sold out the 1800 capacity Liverpool Philharmonic in November for the album launch concert.

In 2023, Rebecca was invited to perform as a special guest at Eurovision in Liverpool, just two weeks or so after the birth of her baby son and she tore the roof off. She will be back in her home city for a Christmas show at the M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool on 14th December 2024 – with surprise guests.

Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman”, the 1971 classic US soul single should be Rebecca’s theme tune, the soundtrack to her brave and ballsy war cry and campaign to stop other young artists enduring the alleged miss-treatment she went through in her career for some of the 13 years since she shot to fame on the X Factor.

Her defiant message is simple, and I sum it up in crude terms: Get your shit together or we are coming for you! The wild west days are gone, guys. Shape up and do not bite that hand that feeds you any more….We may well bite back!

You go, girl…If Lilly has half the talent and bravery, determination and fire in her belly that her mum has, she’ll go far.


Exclusive Interview: Steve Best

Photos: Supplied by Jonny/Rebecca

[‘Junction 10’ watermarked live photos by Jason Sheldon]




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