We speak to the 90s pop-icon, who moved to the UAE after the group’s original split, about their comeback concert at Dubai Opera this week
Lisa Scott-Lee on Steps' Dubai Opera comeback concert
For four years, around the turn of the century, Lisa Scott-Lee, Claire Richards, Faye Tozer, Ian “H” Watkins and Lee Latchford-Evans, collectively known as Steps, brought a brand of pop to the world that sold records by the bucketload and, in almost equal measure, infuriated critics with their sunny disposition and throwaway anthems.
The group’s debut single, 5,6,7,8, which was released in 1997, went gold in the UK and raced to number one in the Australian charts. That success preceded a run of 14 Top 10 singles in the UK, including two No 1s. Best-selling albums – the group totalled 20 million sales – worldwide fame and seven sell-out tours followed before the group split up in 2001.
They stitched themselves back together a decade later in 2012, only to have another five-year break, which ended last year when Steps regrouped to mark their 20th anniversary. That celebration, now in its second calendar year, reaches the UAE this week, for a show at Dubai Opera that has been billed as a “pop extravaganza”. Expect songs you can’t help singing along to, a strong whiff of nostalgia and plenty of infectious energy. “I am very, very excited – it’s always been a dream of mine to perform in the UAE because it’s my home and it’s very special, and I know the rest of my bandmates are all very excited as well,” says Scott-Lee. “It just made sense for us to do it at Dubai Opera.”
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Scott-Lee, who describes the city as “special”. In a 2015 interview with The National, she recounted how Dubai was the place she sought sanctuary immediately after the group’s break-up in 2001.
“Steps split and a week later, I came on holiday to Dubai… [The split] was terrible – I would have been happy to carry on, I’d be in Steps until I’m 100, I love it. I didn’t know we were splitting. It was a very last-minute thing – I booked a holiday to Dubai and we bought a house on The Palm.”
The singer subsequently moved to the UAE seven years ago with her husband Johnny Shentall, who is a former member of pop band Hear’Say, star of West End shows such as Footloose and a dancer with Robbie Williams and Diana Ross. The pair met in 1999 when Johnny worked as one of Steps’ backing dancers.
The couple went on to launch Dubai Performing Arts Academy in 2014.
“Once we were here, we realised there was a gap in the market for performing arts and we really wanted to raise the awareness of the arts within Dubai and the UAE,” she says. “Johnny and myself are both from the industry and have 20 years of experience. That’s really where our hearts are and we want to spread the word.”
It would seem that the word is spreading: there are plans to open a second stage school in Abu Dhabi in September.
Steps’ show in Dubai offers a chance for some of that local talent to shine as backing dancers to the group. “We had auditions at Dubai Opera a few months ago and more than 70 professional dancers turned up,” Scott-Lee says. With only eight places to fill, she says it led to some difficult decisions.
“It was a tough process, but we’ve got our eight. We are rehearsing every day. Steps fly in just before and we’ve got a big rehearsal all together and then we’ve got our show.”
The show comes on the back of a UK arena tour and right before the Steps of the Summer British tour, which will take place on ten weekends from May 26 to July 10. “We wanted to make the UAE show a bit different to the UK performances,” Scott-Lee says. “Expect a lot of glitz and glam. Show-wise, we are going to, feature our biggest hits –Tragedy, One for Sorrow, 5,6,7,8 – and then some new songs from the new album [Tears on the Dancefloor], such as Scared of the Dark.”
There were some logistical problems to overcome, with Scott-Lee in Dubai and the rest of the group elsewhere, although most were conquered via smartphones and, more specifically, WhatsApp. “That’s the most instant way of us all keeping in contact and making decisions as a band,” she says.
Lisa Scott-Lee's Dubai life
“I love life in Dubai – we’ve been out here seven years. We have our business here, our children are in school here, we are all settled and it really is very much home. We are lucky we have a great network of friends – not just British, lots of nationalities, we’ve met so many lovely people.”
How do you go about your daily life? Where do you do your grocery shopping, for instance?
I don’t just go to one particular supermarket. I split it up between Spinneys, Waitrose and Carrefour. It depends on where I am working that day, I guess, because I tend to travel around the city. They’ve each got something to bring, but they are my top three.
What’s your go-to radio station?
It’s Heart FM. We’ve got some great radio stations here, but at the minute I really like what Heart is doing
How do you deal with the traffic in Dubai?
It depends on where you are and also the hours you keep, so we don’t really have a problem with the traffic. My job is very varied everyday, so I miss rush hour.
What’s your perfect day in Dubai?
Days off are very few and far between, but I love to go to Le Royal Meridien [Beach] Resort and Spa and have a relaxed beach day with my children and just really chill out.
What’s your perfect night in Dubai?
At Grosvenor House they have really lovely restaurants and bars. I love Siddhartha and I love Buddha Bar as well. That really would be my perfect day and night in Dubai.
Steps play Dubai Opera on Friday. Tickets start from Dh275. For more information, visit www.dubaiopera.com