I’ve never been more normal than I am now.” When Adele casually tossed out that statement in an interview back in 2009, I remember thinking it was both genius (who doesn’t love normal?) and hilarious (isn’t normality the most relative of relative concepts?). I wasn’t alone, and the 15-time Grammy winner’s words have been quoted endlessly ever since. Because if anything summed up Adele’s appeal, it was surely the sense that beneath and beyond her stupendous, ludicrous, alienating talent, she was “just like us”.
Not anymore. Not after the November issues of both British and American Vogue dropped on Thursday, with what the Twitterati are laughingly calling “The Artist Formerly Known As Adele” gracing both covers simultaneously. Because now – after a four-year hiatus and on the eve of the release of her long-awaited comeback single, Easy On Me – the reinvention is complete. Looking at this svelte, Catherine Deneuve-like bombshell in gold lamé Dior and corseted Dolce and Gabbana, this A-list vixen with her Bond-girl curves and Victoria’s Secret model cheekbones, it’s tempting to ask: is this the greatest makeover of all?
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The journey from West Norwood to Hollywood didn’t happen overnight, however. And how the 33-year-old multi-millionaire has held on to her “girl next door” Unique Selling Point for the past 12 years is both a miracle – and a testament to how much we adore her.
Just as with Jennifer “Jenny from the block” Lopez, there were signs of change along the way. Adele is now one of the biggest-selling female artists of the 21st century, with an estimated fortune that rose to £150 million (NZ$294m) last year. In July she added a sixth home to her property portfolio – a $14 million Beverly Hills mansion that once belonged to Nicole Richie. Richie is a friend, you know, along with Jennifer Lawrence, Cameron Diaz, Emma Stone and Beyoncé.
Yet still, she was considered the most “normal” star in a highly abnormal celeb galaxy. A mutual LA acquaintance who worked with her pre-reinvention described her to me as: “Someone who just wants to sit around drinking tea, eating cake … and swearing.”
It wasn’t until the singer posted an image of herself seven stone lighter and rocking a micro-dress in May of last year that people began to question whether this was the start of a concerted Hollywood-ification.
Change makes us feel uneasy. It’s destabilising. Which is why we like to attribute it to noxious (and preferably foreign) forces. So when someone who once said: “I’ve never had a problem with the way I look. I’d rather have lunch with my friends than go to a gym” is now 100lb lighter and giving cover interviews to American Vogue in Spandex, there’s going to be implicit grumbles of “traitor” from all the women (and men) so invested in you remaining “normal”.
In her US Vogue interview Adele sheds new light on her reinvention. She admits both to understanding why there was such an uproar over her new body – “visually I represented a lot of women” – and to how much those judgments hurt her, when all she was trying to do was get healthy.
“People are shocked because I didn’t share my ‘journey’,” she says. “They’re used to people documenting everything on Instagram, and most people in my position would get a big deal with a diet brand. I couldn’t give a flying f***! I did it for myself and not anyone else.”
Everyone knows a comprehensive makeover starts on the inside: that there’s often a personal evolution to match the external one. And as persuasive as the LA thought and looks police can be, it’s clear that Adele’s rebirth was prompted not so much by celebrity peer pressure or indeed vanity but deeper schisms.
She has been honest about all of those schisms, even before these two Vogue interviews. First there was the vocal cord haemorrhage she suffered in 2011, which called time on her 25-cigarette-a-day habit. Then there was the baby boy, Angelo James, she and charity entrepreneur Simon Konecki had in 2012 – and the subsequent post-partum depression she told Vanity Fair about in 2016, which she dealt with in a very British way.
“I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was very reluctant. My boyfriend said I should talk to other women who were pregnant, and I said, ‘F*** that, I ain’t hanging around with a f*****’ bunch of mothers.”
Talking now to British Vogue about the divorce she and Konecki went through in 2018, just months after they finally married, Adele sounds like someone who has had a lot of therapy. But it was therapy she obviously needed – therapy that among other things enabled her to make peace with her estranged, alcoholic delivery driver father, Mark Evans, before he died of bowel cancer in May.
Going through just one of those things would be enough to spark the desire for a new chapter or clean slate in many of us. And when you’re living in the city of reinventions, you have a bit of spare cash to invest in yourself, and you’re dating a new man – Rich Paul, a prominent sports agent – maybe you should be allowed to embrace that change. Maybe getting yourself a membership to Hollywood’s famous Heart & Hustle gym, scaling back on the wine and the cake, and addressing the anxiety Adele has confessed to suffering from for years, is all part of growing up and coming into your own.
Over not fags and wine but green juices, she tells British Vogue about the “issues with my dad. Which I’d been avoiding”, and her childhood in Tottenham, the daughter of a single teenage mother, Penny Adkins, to whom she remains extremely close today. As for so many of us, the pandemic was a period of self-examination for the singer and she credits “sound baths, meditation and therapy” for her “healing”.
Yet it’s obvious that the Adele we never actually knew is still there. This global star is still introducing herself with: “‘Ello, I’m Adele,” still dropping the C-bomb, and calls former health secretary Matt Hancock “a dirty sod!” But you don’t get to her level of fame without changing. Fame will rock even the most well-balanced person’s foundations, and given how unstable Adele’s were, she could easily have gone down a deeply damaging route.
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Describing how she felt watching her idol Amy Winehouse “die right in front of our eyes”, Adele admits how easy it would have been for her to “spiral out of control” in an industry where, as she once said, “you can’t talk about the downside of fame, because people have hope, and they cling to the hope of what it would be like to be famous”.
Winehouse’s death brought home to Adele how important it was to take charge of her own destiny, she says.
“I’m not having these people I don’t know take my legacy, my story, away from me, and decide what I can leave behind or what I can take with me.” And as the words she said as a “normal” 20-year-old are rightly left behind, aren’t these a worthy replacement?
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