Vanessa White and Mikey, her publicist, are easy to spot when I arrive at the rooftop restaurant of an East London hotel. They’re wearing matching Hello Kitty caps, and typing on phones with matching Hello Kitty cases. They groan in unison about how they’d just been working out, and getting told off by their instructor.
When I last saw the ex-Saturdays member, it was round the corner at our Summer issue launch party, where her honey-smooth vocals brought the entire bottom floor of Kamio into a quiet reverie. Before that, it was on our shoot, where she was one of the first people ever to see the new eighth-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom. Lounging in the world’s most luxurious motor in a secret London studio, she was quite at home in its plush purple interior.
Today, over tiny plates of squid and broccoli (continuing the health kick in style), she chats excitedly about how she’s just found out she’s going to Ibiza, and this furry House of Holland jacket that the fashion-forward singer is “obsessed” with.
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Although introducing Vanessa would be impossible without referring to her chart-topping girlband days, her output as a solo artist leaves that world of PG pop, choreography and colour-coordinated outfits firmly in the past. But with a ten-year gap between when she first started out in the Saturdays (or “the Sats”, as she fondly calls them), the music industry has morphed into a different beast within that period. “I don’t have to listen to anyone at a label telling me what to do,” she says, on how her own experience has changed. “Which is kind of what I like, to be honest! I think I’d really have to trust someone if I was ever gonna go back into a situation like that again, and trust that my vision was actually listened to.”
At the age of 13, the Somerset-born, East London-raised singer was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Sylvia Young theatre school, which provided an outlet for her singing obsession. Not long later, at the age of 17, Vanessa would join the Polydor-scouted group as the youngest of five members.
The Sats still stay in touch - they’ve got a Whatsapp group, she assures me - and Una went to a show of hers the other day. Even though Vanessa’s a soloist in her own right now, it’s still hard to shake that squeaky clean pop past. “I’m not ashamed of where I came from,” she says. “If it wasn't for that I wouldn’t be here now - so I’m grateful.”
That past is hard to shake in more ways than one. Vanessa almost turned the aforementioned Ibiza trip down - after a recent holiday to the White Isle left her a bit shook. One morning she’d taken a hungover trip to the beach with Mikey, believing there to be no-one else around. “Next thing you know, the photos of us are online,” she says. “And it was just freaking me out more than anything. I know a lot of people would be like, ‘Well you signed up for this’, which is true - I did, but in certain situations where you don’t expect it, it’s quite a scary thing! Especially for a woman. You start going crazy, like, have I been followed, have they been watching me..? It’s weird, it’s so weird!”
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The relentless tabloid interest might be a pain (headlines like ‘Vanessa White gives a saucy flash of her assets in plunging bra’ are unfortunately a common occurrence) but she shrugs it off easily. For now, she’s concentrating on her music. EP ‘Chapter Two’, released earlier this year, is Vanessa coming into her own as a songwriter - silky, textured R&B grooves that contain echoes of her pop past - sounding something like a more futuristic Ciara or Kehlani. Vanessa grew up on a diet of slick, R&B-flavoured pop - her bedroom wall was plastered with posters of B2K and Marques Houston (“There was no wall left to see!”), while she’d bump Janet Jackson, Brandy and “old school J Lo” on the regular. “That’s when Von Dutch caps were in - d’you remember?” she laughs, before our conversation migrates onto velour Juicy Couture tracksuits.
As much as her music nods to the fun, hyper-glossy style of that era, it’s also deeply autobiographical. She’s described her stuff in the past as “angry”, and there’s undoubtedly a dark line that runs throughout her lyrics, which flit between dealing with relationship insecurities and raunchy, after-hours musings.
But with ‘Chapter Two’ done and dusted, will there be a third? “Definitely,” she replies. “I felt like I needed a bit of a break after the last EP just to kind of live life, get some new ideas - but I’m ready to get back now so I will start working on it.” She stays tight-lipped about details, but admits that “there's certain topics that I wanna talk about - to be honest, it's quite personal. That’s why I felt like I needed some time.” Thanks to the level of tabloid intrusion into her personal life, some eagle-eyed fans might be able to predict the autobiographical nature of her next release.
For the next few months, she says, it’s gonna be heads down in the studio, recording. “I’m really excited. I feel like every time I start a new project I grow as a writer - that’s really important to me in the process.” When I ask whether she’d ever consider signing again she enigmatically replies “never say never,” but adds: “right now I’m happily independent.”
If one thing’s clear, it’s that Vanessa is nailing the role of being her own CEO. “I’m very particular about who I work with,” she says, adding: “Mikey told me the other day that I can be quite bossy, which I was a bit sad about! But I was like, actually, you kind of need to be.” From being a cog in the pop machine, to spearheading her own takeover, Vanessa White is yet more proof that you don’t need a Kensington office to take on the big dogs.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photography: Josh Gordon
Styling: Justin Rose
Makeup: Rebecca Davenport using Mac Cosmetics
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