8th September 2023
Diana Vickers: it’s a name that, for a moment in time, was one of the most talked about in the country. She was a semi-finalist on the fifth series of the cultural phenomenon that was The X Factor, appearing on the show at the peak of its powers and watched by what felt like everyone in the country. Eventually finishing in fourth place, her subsequent music career resulted in both a #1 album and a #1 single with Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree and its lead single, ‘Once’. A second - equally brilliant - album followed in 2013, Music To Make Boys Cry, and in the years since, she’s established herself as a legitimate West End force, taking a variety of roles in a number of plays and musicals, including Little Voice, Big, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Steel Magnolias, Dial M For Murder, Son Of A Preacher Man, and The Duck House.
But there’s something different about the Diana Vickers of 2023. She took to the Mighty Hoopla stage earlier this year for a triumphant comeback gig to rapturous applause and adoration from fans who’ve waited a decade for a glimpse of popstar-Diana. Change is in the air for Diana, and we spoke about her time on The X Factor, her illustrious acting career on the stage, her viral-sensation podcast Ki and Dee, and - whisper it - whether there’s new music on the horizon.
Hey Diana! Thank you so much for chatting to us today, I’m genuinely a massive fan. How was the cover shoot for you?
I really enjoyed it! I like shoots these days much more than when I was younger when I was getting to grips with my body and I was more self-conscious. But I feel like now being in my thirties, I just feel the most body confident and sexiest I’ve ever felt. It’s really refreshing coming back years later and being a woman in front of the camera. I just have a totally different feeling in myself.
The way you worked the camera - you’ve got a real model’s sensibility. Did you do much modelling back in the day or was it just a dipping of the toe?
Just a dipping of the toe, I think. I did a lot of photo shoots when I was promoting my albums and I really enjoyed it. I did a fashion campaign for Very and I went to London Fashion Week. I remember being sort of welcomed into that world. And I did enjoy it, but again, behind the scenes a lot of the time I was very self-conscious. I wish I could go back and do all those things again with the confidence I have now.
It must have been hard because you were so young when it all started.
I was a baby. I was sixteen when I did my first audition for The X Factor. I look at sixteen year olds now and I can't believe I was singing on a national television show being judged by millions of people.
What was going through your head when you first auditioned for The X Factor. How do you feel looking back on the experience?
I’m so happy I went on The X Factor. It was so long ago that it’s become a bit of a blur. But it was a pivotal part of my life. I just remember being at school doing my A Levels and I just had this real restless feeling in myself. It was like I was stifled. I did want to go to drama school, that was the path I was gonna go on, but I just had this restless feeling in me that nothing was enough. I wanted to burst out of it. It was actually my friend who signed me up for The X Factor and then of course I had to wait about nine hours in a queue in the pouring rain to audition and you see about five different people before you actually see the judges - and then it just happened. I just remember feeling at the time like yeah, this is right. And people said to me at the time that I must have felt like I couldn’t believe what was happening. But I could. It felt right.
I remember it was Cheryl in particular in your first audition who took a real shining to you.
Yeah, she did. She really did. She was just so gentle and gorgeous and she just had such a warm face to have in front of you. I remember I was so nervous. I didn't enjoy that audition whatsoever. I remember physically shaking and I think you can see in my audition and Cheryl goes, “you're a bit nervous, aren’t you?” It was really scary. I can't believe I did that.
Do you ever watch back any of your performances?
I've been very drunk at house parties with people from different countries who never watched The X Factor, and my friends will put it on and I’m like, “Oh my god, get it off!”
Were there any songs that you performed that you actually weren’t a fan of, or were you happy with all your choices?
The week when I came back after I was sick, I think I lost a lot of confidence. Although I actually got the most votes out of anyone the week I came back so I had loads of support, but I think it just really shook me and I already had stage fright. I sang R.E.M and Avril Lavigne and they were all really fun, but I just remember that at that point I sort of handed it over to them a bit because my nerves were knocked.
After The X Factor finished, rather than immediately releasing music, you took to the stage in Little Voice on the West End. What was the thought process behind going into that and not diving straight into releasing your own music?
I got approached by Nica Burns who’s an amazing West End producer and Jim Cartwright who wrote the play Little Voice, and they’d been trying to revive it for years and apparently he saw me on TV and was like, “That’s our Little Voice.” It just made sense to me because I actually wanted to be an actress when I was younger. I wanted to be a pop star too, and that was always a dream, but I just thought how can that ever happen? But I was looking at longevity. And being a popstar is fun and everything, but I wanted to be an actress in the long term and the opportunity presented itself. I did have to audition, they didn't just give it to me. I remember auditioning and my manager was in the room and he cried. It just felt right. And honestly if someone said to me in my life what's one of the best career moves you've ever done, it was accepting Little Voice. Because entering into the theatre world, it's really hard to gain credibility and to be accepted because lots of people go to Drama School and
study for years and it was quite intimidating to me. I felt slightly like an imposter. But I've had a fantastic career since then in theatre and it's been wonderful. So I give a lot of thanks to that job.
It also built anticipation for your eventual popstar era. I still listen to both of your albums to this day. They’re genuinely fantastic pop records.
Thank you, and thanks for getting me some royalties!!
Once you get the gays on side, they do not forget!
Once they have you, they love you. They nurture you, they root for you, they scream for you, they stand by you. So I'm very, very grateful for the gays. I surround myself with amazing, supportive, fabulous gay men.
As you should. We'll always have your back.
I’m literally like a modern day Judy Garland.
So looking back at both of those albums, how do you feel about them? Are there any songs that jump out to you that you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah, I’m really proud. I'm actually more proud of my second album. There was a lot of pressure on my first album and I worked with some amazing people and I am proud of it, but I didn’t really know my sound. I feel like with the second album I had just so much fun. I worked with Miranda Cooper and with some great producers, and me and Miranda just really bounced off each other. We had really great chemistry and I’m just fucking proud of every song on that album. ‘Mad At Me’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Music To Make Boys Cry’, ‘Lightning Strikes’ - I love those songs. It was just really fun, feel-good pop. On the first album, I love ‘You’ll Never Get To Heaven’, ‘The Boy Who Murdered Love’. I love ‘Chasing You’. I remember being in my flat in South London and listening to ‘Chasing You’ and just watching the cars go by. I spent a lot of time by myself at that period of time, and so I'd put on that song to make me feel comfort. So I have a lot of memories. I’m proud of it all!
As you should be! I know what you mean - there is something particularly special about the second album, I think.
I started coming into my own a bit more. I felt more confident in the studio and I had my own voice. I just took a bit more control and I knew who I was.
I think when artists grow into themselves, that's when the magic really happens.
I think it’s just happened with Harry Styles. His album is mind-blowing, I think he’s changed it forever. But it takes a while to get there, and work with different people, discover what chemistry works. It's a process.
Is there any talk of any more new music? Because as I said, the gays will be there waiting for you with open arms.
There is talk of new music. I’ve been in the studio and I've got a few more studio sessions booked in.
That’s what I like to hear.
But I'm only doing it for the gays! I have literally said there's no pressure. I'm writing gay anthems - I'm not doing it not for anybody else but myself, the gays and the girlies. I'm not putting any pressure on it. So I'm just going to see. I've played my sister one of the new tracks I've done and she listens to it about eighty times a day. She's loving it. And my sister is a massive Katy Perry and Britney Spears fan, so she knows what's good.
That makes me incredibly excited.
We’ll see. But there's no pressure. If it’s good and I’m really fucking proud, I’ll put it out.
The thing about how the music industry works now, you can release anything and no matter where it charts, you can perform it live at something like Mighty Hoopla or at your own gig, and the people will scream it back to you as if it was the biggest hit of the year.
Exactly. That's it. That’s what it's all about.
How was it performing at Hoopla this year?
I loved it. Can I just say: Glyn Fussell [founder of Mighty Hoopla] - I fucking love that man. He approached me with the opportunity to perform, and he was like “Diana, they're gonna go wild.” And I was like, “No babe, there’ll be like a hundred people in my tent.” And then I went out there and there was thousands. My tent was just so full. I kept putting my microphone up and I was shocked because the crowd kept singing my lyrics back at me. There's nothing like it. So for me to get another song to be able to go out there and do that would be everything.
So what was it that changed this year specifically that made you want to get back into popstar mode after taking so many years out?
It was just purely Glyn getting in touch that started it all up again. And initially I was like, “I have sort of stepped away from all that,” - but it has been on my mind. It’s been ten years since I’ve done the whole popstar thing. And I just thought, you know what - it might be time. And like I said before, I just feel a lot more confident in myself. It's like I’ve found this new chapter in my life of confidence. And I actually just fucking miss performing. And Glyn really hyped me up and gave me so much love, being like “We need you!” And he was right.
And also it helps when your fans grow alongside you. I was a teenager when you first started out on The X Factor, but now we're late 20s, early 30s and we’re the prime audience for you to come back and give us everything we wanted.
I think this generation loves a bit of nostalgia. I think if enough time passes, the nostalgia kicks in.
After the popstar thing, you really dove headfirst into acting. And you’ve done absolutely loads - TV, Film, Theatre. What have been some of your favourite roles that you’ve had?
Little Voice I loved. I did the West End again with The Duck House which was great - anything in the West End is always fun. It was a farcical comedy with Ben Miller, and I was playing a girl that was trying to get money to go to university so she was performing sexual acts on MP's. I was sort of spanking Simon Shepherd up on the stage so that was really fun. Being on the West End always feels so glamorous. You just feel like you’re really living. Playing Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a great one for me. I met a lot of cool people in my life there. Very promiscuous role. I just did Steel Magnolias where I played Shelby. That's probably one of my favourite roles that I've ever played. She almost changed me as a person because she's so empathetic. She's a beautiful soul. I learned from her. And it was a great cast with Laura Maine and Lucy Speed and Harriet Thorpe - all just really strong, brilliant women. We just really supported each other. I also loved Dial M For Murder where I worked with Tom Chambers. And I loved playing a Hitchcock Blonde, but it's a man's play. She doesn't really have a lot of lines, and there's all the men around her and. I like playing feisty roles where women have a say and take over.
Is there a particular role that you’d love to play in the future?
I've always loved to do Chicago.
I can so see that.
I'd bloody love to do Chicago. Just two badass women on stage. It’s dark and it’s women - I would love to do Chicago.
You would be great.
I've written a TV series actually. And the pilot’s been taken on by a TV production company and yeah, she's a very strong sort of female heroine. I’m just all about just strong female characters.
Will you be in it?
If they want me to be. But they might want to give it to Carey Mulligan or Jodie Comer or something!
What's the difference for you between performing on stage and performing on screen?
A lot of actors will just tell you that theatre is where it's at - and not a lot of actors who do TV would even dare to do theatre, because it's really daunting. But if someone asked me now what I would want to do, the answer would be just give me a West End play. That's where I'm happiest.
It must be very hard work.
There's nothing like it. It's magical.
Do you have a preference between plays and musicals? Or do you like flipping back and forth between them?
I prefer plays. I love musicals, but maybe it's just because when you're doing a musical, you’ve got to be so disciplined. Like when I'm doing a musical, I barely drink and I think people probably know from my Instagram that I love to go on a night out. I wouldn’t dare be hungover. I mean, I wouldn’t dare really be hungover when I'm doing a play, but it’s just the pressure of keeping your voice in check for a musical or you’re screwed. Game over.
So then, as you already mentioned, the other string to your bow is the Ki and Dee Podcast. I remember that it all really kicked off during lockdown. How did it come about?
It just happened really organically with Ki. It’s a good way of people hearing my singing voice but also getting my humour across.
And you’re going on tour?
Yeah! So it’s in the very early stages of contracts being signed, but I’m so grateful that it’s going to happen. The Ki and Dee thing is just a godsend. It allows me to be creative and work with my best mate, who I adore and who's so freaking talented. Both of us together, I don't know what it is, the dynamic is just magic and it's laughter and it's happiness and it's joy and it's creativity.
It’s a really fun podcast!
Yeah, it is. I'm saying all that as if it’s, like, really serious art. We're literally effin and blinding and talking about sex. And actually, we’ve had a lot of straight men messaging us being like thank you so much, we've learned so much from your podcast about the woman’s perspective. And they bloody need to learn.
You’re incredibly honest on it.
A bit too honest. I've had a few guys that I've been dating that have been like “Is this how it’s gonna be?” And I’m just like “If you don’t like it, you know where to go!”
I think that’s part of its charm. That's why people like it - because you hold literally nothing back. You just go for it.
I think it's literally like putting your ear up to a women's bathroom. I mean, we just put ourselves out there and spread the joy. Sometimes I do listen back and think, “Damn it, I wish I’d never said that.” But what’s really good about it is that I get fucked over by so many men, and I get to go online and write a song about them or mention them on a podcast. It's very therapeutic. I get my own back!
It's another amazing string to your bow. You have your finger in so many pies!
You’ve just got to keep yourself busy because it's so friggin hard. You’ve just got to create, you know, and just do whatever. And just go with the flow.
Thank you so much for this conversation Diana, it's genuinely been a pleasure to chat to you. My fifteen year old self would not believe that this is happening!
Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.