x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Just the beginning

The singer Dionne Bromfield talks about her debut album, her plans to record in America and what it's like to work with her godmother and mentor, Amy Winehouse.

Dionne Bromfield is a petite, 13-year-old singer with a huge voice and big dreams, many of which have already come true thanks to her godmother-turned-boss, Amy Winehouse, who not only co-produced the teenager's debut album, Introducing Dionne Bromfield, but also plans to help her break America next year. Bromfield's journey into the spotlight began last summer, when the fresh-faced songstress was regularly spotted in the tabloids, out and about in Camden with the infamous Winehouse. To many, it seemed an unlikely friendship. But what the public didn't know was that Bromfield, at just 12 years old, had been signed by Winehouse's label, Lioness Records, and was about to launch a music career of her own.

A year later, during an impromptu singalong at Pete Doherty's house, Bromfield performed a soulful rendition of an Alicia Keys song and began to be recognised in her own right. Her performance appeared on YouTube, with Winehouse playing the guitar accompaniment, and was watched by thousands of Winehouse's fans. Although it prompted some angry criticism about Winehouse's behaviour, it highlighted Bromfield's voice, which the young singer says her godmother heard for the first time when they were singing for fun one day.

"She was really shocked," Bromfield says. "I remember her saying: 'Wow. Such a little body and such a big voice.'" Since that life-changing moment last May, the Kent-based teenager has never looked back. Sponsored by Winehouse, she attended a two-week intensive course at a prestigious vocal school in Los Angeles and, on returning to the UK, spent months in an Islington studio recording a Motown-inspired album, covering artists from the Marvelettes to Stevie Wonder, with Winehouse by her side.

"We always had Motown playing in our house, at parties and stuff, so it was a big influence," Bromfield says. "Plus with Amy and everything she does, that obviously influenced my album too." With her godmother's band and Jon Moon, the producer who worked on the deluxe edition of Winehouse's Back to Black album, on board, Bromfield recorded 12 songs. The single Mama Said, featuring backing vocals from (you guessed it) Winehouse, was released on November 2. Unsurprisingly given her family's musical background, the teenager's debut album has the familiar soulful, bluesy sound that put Winehouse on the map, minus the tortured, soul-wrenching lyrics. The musical comparison is an inevitable one, as is the assumption that the notorious Winehouse will lead her protégé into a world of disarray.

Bromfield has other plans. "This is going to be a long-term career for me," she says. She is happy in the knowledge that she has her parents' full support: "They know I'm a level-headed girl so they're pleased for me." Taking her new-found fame in stride is all well and good, but she can't hide her excitement about her performance on the BBC hit programme Strictly Come Dancing in October. "It was a really memorable moment for me," she says, admitting that she was initially "a bit shocked" when she heard she had been booked to sing on a stage that has seen the likes of Rod Stewart and Bette Midler.

"It's weird because one minute you're watching it and the next minute, you're thinking: 'Am I really going to be on this show?'" On the big night, Winehouse, who sang backing vocals, inevitably received attention, but Bromfield was the star of the show with her pitch perfect, polished performance of Mama Said. Days later, her album entered the top 40 in the UK charts, much to Bromfield's delight. She wrote on her blog: "It's at Number 2 in Tesco, apparently. Only Shakira's in front of me!"

Over the last few months, the 13-year-old's schedule has been a whirlwind of publicity interviews and photo shoots, not to mention the odd showbiz award ceremony and premiere. She recently performed at a Vivienne Westwood fashion show and found herself tearing off across town to a catch a VIP Rihanna concert. It's certainly a glamorous life, especially for someone so young. But her family is very much involved in her new career, and her "been there, done that" godmother makes sure she doesn't get too big for her boots. "Amy always says to me: 'Keep your feet on the ground.'"

Her family insists that Bromfield keeps up with her schooling. "I do two days a week of home schooling but it is really hard," she says. "I have to cram five days into two days but at least I am doing it." The one-on-one sessions have actually improved her grades in the three core subjects of maths, English and science, but Bromfield says she occasionally misses her school days of old. "I used to really like doing art," she says, although she admits that she didn't excel at drawing or painting. "It was sort of the messing-around lesson so I guess that's why I liked it the best."

Bromfield's calm, mature nature might seem at odds with her tiny, fresh-faced look, but she's still a teenager at heart. "I liked the Harry Potter films," she says. "I really like comedy shows. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is my favourite - I'm old-school!" And her favourite musician? "I love Beyoncé. She is so beautiful." Bromfield is also certain of who she would most like to collaborate with: "Ne-Yo. Ah, man, I'm in love with him." Innocent pop-star crushes aside, Bromfield seems much older and wiser than her 13 years. "I get that all time, people saying to me" 'You don't act like a 13-year-old,' but I think it's good that I'm not silly and immature. I take it as a compliment."

Perhaps it is the combination of Bromfield's maturity and the often-childlike disposition of Winehouse that makes the partnership work. "We give each other advice," Bromfield says. "But I probably give Amy more advice than she does me. Amy does listen to me a lot. It is sort of weird, but she doesn't really act like a boss. She doesn't shout or tell you what to do. She's just really easy going." The multiple Grammy Award-winning singer plans to take Bromfield to the US to record her second album. "Next year is going to be a really good year because I'm going to America," Bromfield says, excited at the prospect of a hit record Stateside. "Hopefully I'll be working with Mark Ronson and some other great producers, so we'll see."

With producers such as Ronson on board and Winehouse coaching Bromfield on song writing, the album is going to be quite some project. "It'll be like Motown with a twist," Bromfield says. "It's easier now because before I was just going to school, and now I'm having these great experiences. I would like to sing with Amy but I think it would be good if we write a song together; that would be really great."

For now, Bromfield is justifiably content with the launch pad Winehouse has given her. She dedicated a special message to her mentor on her album's cover sleeve. "Without you, none of this would have been possible," it says. "You have been my godmother, mentor and friend. I thank you from the bottom of my heart." Without Winehouse's backing, Bromfield undoubtedly would have fallen into the ever-expanding pool of young, undiscovered talent, probably having to audition on reality television shows for a stab at chart success. Luckily, she had her very own version of Simon Cowell in her godmother, and the timing of Bromfield's launch couldn't have been better. While Winehouse fans wait for her much-anticipated third album, they have Bromfield to enjoy, and are no doubt happy to hear something from Winehouse, even if it is a producing effort with some backing vocals thrown in.