I spent a lifetime trying to be someone else – now I’m free to be me

3 mn read

Freedom… that sweet word which, for me, encompasses everything that sums up what it feels like to be of a ‘certain age’.

I have spent a lifetime in the music industry, as a jazz singer and later a vocal coach. I started in the 1950s, at a very early age, and by the 1960s was appearing on TV shows like Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops.

From there I forged a career singing backing vocals on albums for stars including Madonna and Celine Dion and recording and touring with my own jazz band.

As I got older, the avenues to work got smaller, and I therefore became a vocal coach to many personalities and groups, including the Spice Girls.

But only now, at the age of 72 and fulfilling the lifelong dream of recording my own solo album, do I feel free.

Having spent my entire life in an industry that focuses on looks first, and talent second, it is a miracle to look back now from a different perspective. Experience has finally opened a door to acceptance of who I truly am.

As a singer, I always wanted to be someone else – Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Patti Labelle. I spent a lifetime trying to change and mould into the accepted norm of what a performer looked and sounded like.

It was only in my 60s that I began to see, through my love of jazz, that it did not matter that the music was not commercial, did not sell to the masses or did not rely on how I looked. I felt like I had come home.

Only then could I let go of the self-imposed strictures I had gathered around a lifetime’s work and begin to achieve the musical and personal highs denied to me by my own judgements.

When I became ill with cancer of the oesophagus three years ago, and somehow found courage and fortitude, that experience made me even more determined to find my own voice personally and professionally.

Having survived, I am now performing live with my new band and have a new album, Back2Front, performing material which has pushed me to my vocal limits and has given me renewed energy beyond all expectations.

With this age I have reached, and having gone through the darkness of cancer, society’s stereotype would be of me sitting at home telling stories about my days sharing a stage with The Beatles or tutoring the Spice Girls.

But the opposite is true. I refuse to give up and go home.

I am now doing this for myself with a true belief in myself and if it is not to everyone’s taste, well, I don’t care anymore.

I am having such an intense incredible time, because of pushing myself to the limit. And that’s the nub for me.

I am pushing ahead, because there is still time ahead. I am not sitting around just passing the time, I am doing, learning, engaging and moving.

I have learnt to accept and be proud of myself. It has been a very steep climb up a very high mountain, but life and all its experience has given me an insight that whatever decisions I make now will be coming from my truth not others. That is freedom.

When I wake in the morning, I ask myself what will I learn today? What will I give to others? What will I achieve?

I always go to bed with the hope that my answers will be positive ones.

Pepi plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho on Monday June 27 and London’s Vortex in July. For concert details please see www.pepilemer.com

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