Sinitta on Harry Styles, Whitney Houston and industry racism

Sinitta has been one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry for decades, first rising to fame in the 80s with a stellar music career that brought us the likes of hit singles So Macho and Cross My Broken Heart.

Not satisfied with simply being a music icon, in the decades following the star broke out into TV, with younger generations getting to know her through her time on the X Factor and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!

She even helped One Direction to their own phenomenal fame – and comforted a young Harry Styles when they were booted off the singing competition.

Now Sinitta – who has described herself as ‘chronically single’ – is preparing to appear on a certain celebrity dating show and is working with Stoptober to encourage people to quit smoking after she recently gave up a decades-long habit.

You’ve been in the spotlight for so long – what’s the weirdest rumour you’ve heard about yourself?

The first story was that I was found in Tahiti, by David Essex, and then brought back to England to play Maimiti in Mutiny on the Bounty and that I didn’t speak a word of English.

The whole thing was pretty weird, because kids had seen me – I was a children’s television presenter when I was younger!

Another is, because I used to say, “Oh, my gosh, I love Whitney Houston, if I was a man, I’d marry her”, there was a story that said that I was a lesbian, and I was in love with Whitney Houston and wanted to marry her.

Which caused Whitney, when she came to England, to get her people to seek me out because she wanted to see who this girl was. And I was so intimidated. I was like, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it like that, I just really admire you!”

And I was like, cowering, and Whitney was like, “It’s fine honey, I just wanted to see who you were!”

What do you attribute your longevity to?

I think loving to work, still being fascinated and interested in the industry and up-and-coming talents has kind of kept me in the picture. I don’t know, but I love it because I still really enjoy it. I still feel exactly the same, like I can’t believe that I’m in my 50s – I can’t believe it! I feel still the same in my body.

I’m actually enjoying getting older. We’ve sort of seen so much growth and change and I kind of I just love not being part of all those different changes.

Do you have a stand-out memory from your time on X Factor?

Oh, my gosh, so many. But what comes to my mind first of all, especially because he’s so popular and is doing so well at the moment is young Harry Styles. I was the mentor for Simon [Cowell]’s category when we had One Direction. And I remember, we so believed that the boys were going to win the show, that when they went out, coming third, it was like absolute shock in the studio.

But worst of all was the boys themselves. They were still young. They were like 16, 17, just little kids. And I was running backstage thinking “They’re just going to be devastated.”

Harry was in tears. They thought that was it, that their careers were over. And I’m just holding him and sort of spouting stuff like you know, “don’t worry, you’re amazing, you’ve got such a strong fan base, it’s just the beginning you’re going to be fine.”

I didn’t really know what I was saying, but you know, you just don’t want them to be so upset, and I’m just thinking he’s just a little boy! And of course this little boy is now this superstar Jagger-type character!

I wonder if he remembers being petrified that “Oh, oh, dear, we’ve lost and now it’s all over.”

This is what I mean by the fun thing about growing older is that you’re just kind of collecting memories and experiences. And, yeah, I love that when you see them really, really taking off and becoming successful.

That kind of superstardom can really go to your head, and you can lose your way. But, you know, most of the kids or ex-contestants that I bump into are all really down-to-earth, lovely people as well, which makes it even more important.

You’ve spoken before about racism in the industry – are things changing for the better?

Oh, gosh, yeah, there’s a lot more sort of recognition and inclusion now than there was back in the day, but we’ve still got a long way to go. We still need more dark-skinned women like me… it’s so important to be included.

One of the main reasons I wanted to be on TV is because I wanted to be included. You sort of see a group of kids doing [for example] the Famous Five, and you’d always be sort of looking for yourself, like “Where’s the little Black girl? Why can’t we be in the game too?” So I love it that children are waking up seeing everyone [represented], including LGBTQ+ communities.

While we still have a lot to go, it’s definitely a massive, massive improvement. I used to go for auditions where they would look for ‘attractive teenage girls,’ but they didn’t specify whether she was Black or white. And I’d turn up, and you could see people’s absolute confusion.

They’d ask “Who sent you?” and I’d say “No one, I saw the notice looking for an attractive teenager.” And you’d see them talking to the casting director and one of them would ask “Well, why couldn’t she be Black?” And they’d say “Yeah, you’re right – Sinitta could you read this please?”

It just kind of opened doors because I was turning up, I was actually making people rethink, and that actually, yes, she could be Black. Because all the agents were sending all their beautiful, white attractive teenagers. Because no agencies would have called me and said, “Oh, you should go for this.” But I just saw the notice. And I got most of my early jobs like that.

You’ve described yourself as chronically single – is dating harder when you’re famous?

I’m kind of one of these people who’s been famous all my life, because I started working when I was so young, so I don’t really know the difference. It’s hard in the way that when you meet people, they might already have an opinion about you, or imagine that you’re a certain way, because they’ve seen you on something. But I just think it’s going to be a nightmare! I haven’t been actively looking to be honest.

But [Celebs Go Dating] is interesting because they match you, so they take the work out of it. I’m quite nervous, but nervous more from the fear of the unknown. But I’m not worried about if they’re going to be weirdos. Because obviously, they’ve all been vetted and obviously there’s the camera crew and everything. It’s a lot safer than just going on an app and meeting someone random in a park or something.

I’ve been on the dating apps, and I talked to people but I didn’t have the confidence to meet them in person. I just got nervous – what if they’re not who they say they are? What if they’re weird, what if it’s a wind-up, even what if it’s just a journalist?

What are you most looking forward to people seeing on the dating show?

They don’t just set you up on a date. They also have these agency sessions, where you get assessed and advised. They talk about your behaviour, your personality type and all these kinds of things. I hadn’t really been expecting that part … they get quite confronting when they sort of tell you your personality traits and things you need to change and to do or not do.

I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to people getting to know me that well! But I signed up for it because I thought I really want to participate properly. And I can’t play the celebrity card of “I’m not answering those questions, I’m a private person.” It’s tricky, but I really wanted to have the full experience.

I would really love to be introduced to someone amazing, so I’m trying to just be open as possible and go for it.

You smoked for a long time and managed to quit. Why do you feel so strongly about encouraging others to quit for the Stoptober campaign?

When I first stopped I did it quite abruptly because I was frightened into it. I did a chest scan and there was clouding over my lungs. But I was told “Oh, no, it’s probably just because you smoke and when you stop smoking, your lungs are clear.”

We worked out that I managed to save £20,000 by not smoking, and I was only buying two packets a week. And it’s so nice when you wake up and your pillow doesn’t smell like you slept in an ashtray. But the StopTober campaign actually supports you because the findings are that if you give up for 28 days straight, you will never go back to smoking again.

It’s just one of the best things I’ve ever done. I started smoking just because it was fashionable, and was seen as being quite sexy back in the day. But I just feel so much healthier, cleaner, better, my voice is better.

Where will we find you on a Saturday?

[Saturday] usually starts with me going to this Pilates performance studio. It’s so fantastic because it’s like a full-body workout. And then Scarlet, my toy poodle and I go for a walk around Parsons Green, or we might go up to South Park.

She’s my best accessory, on top of being my best friend. I moved over to the south west in 1988, I’ve watched children grow up, I’ve seen people become grandparents, the whole thing. And more people have spoken to me since I got Scarlet than they have in the last 30-something years! I went from that person that you kind of avoid eye contact with to “Oh, hello, how is Scarlet?”

How have your weekends evolved over the years?

I’ve always done Pilates, it was called body control back in the day. But I must say the “up on Saturday mornings” thing has definitely only happened since becoming an adult.

If I wasn’t working I didn’t get out of bed until Saturday afternoon. I’d be watching Saturday morning TV, all the music programmes in bed. And on Sunday mornings I used to be in bed watching the omnibus editions of EastEnders and everything else.

So the fact that I’m out of bed and up and about, that’s the biggest change.

What TV show do you binge on the weekend?

So at the moment I’m obsessed with Strictly! Well, I’m always obsessed with Strictly but I’m particularly loving it this year. It’s so funny seeing Matt Goss out of his comfort zone, because he’s such a Mr Entertainer, so seeing him learn to dance has been amazing.

I also love Tony Adams. I don’t know, there’s something about me that just loves seeing big, butch men trying to become dancers. It’s really cute.

I also love anything to do with relationships, so Love Island, Married at First Sight. Because I’m single, I’m fascinated by relationships at the moment.

October marks Black History Month, which reflects on the achievements, cultures and contributions of Black people in the UK and across the globe, as well as educating others about the diverse history of those from African and Caribbean descent.

For more information about the events and celebrations that are taking place this year, visit the official Black History Month website.

Author Profile

Mohammad Mo
Senior TV Reporter

The former Big Brother contestant has been working with MarkMeets for 5+ years.

Often spotted on the red carpet interviewing for MarkMeetsTV.

Latest entries

Leave a Reply