In 2013, Sam Bailey won ITV’s The X Factor, which propelled her to celebrity status. The ex-Prison Officer is set to perform in a one-off concert with special guests at the Lyric Theatre in the West End on 12th October 2015.

Born in London, Sam lives in Leicester. Having sung for years in small venues, her life changed forever in 2013, when she won the tenth series of the popular ITV show and her debut single, a cover of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper”, went straight to the top of the Christmas charts.

Although her days of working at HM Prison Gartree in Leicestershire are certainly behind her, Sam’s feet remain firmly on the ground. She is only too well aware that popular success demands hard work if she wants to keep the wheel of fortune spinning in her favour.

RJ: You worked for years as a prison officer at HM Prison Gartree, a maximum-security prison. You are now taking a centre stage at the Lyric Theatre in the West End of London. This is quite a leap. How does it feel?

SB: No different. Both jobs are nerve-wracking, you know, being a prison officer is a good job, but you’ve got to have your wits about you and you’ve got to be that person when you go into the prison, you’ve got to become a prison officer, somebody that’s quite thick-skinned and doesn’t look at all scared or anything, and you’ve got to hold your own and it’s the same thing in the West End: you’ve got to go out and hold your own and become this West End, demure person and go out and sing your heart out and I think that they’re quite similar in some ways. Yeah, I don’t think they’re much different, to be honest.

RJ: Do you have to pretend that you’re stronger than you are?

SB: No, being a prisoner you’ve just got to have banter, and you’ve got to be quite thick-skinned. I was never scared when I went in there, but there are certain situations where it really test you – like fighting, or a prisoner being threatening toward you, so you’ve got to have your wits about you, you’ve got to really concentrate, and I enjoyed it. I genuinely enjoyed it. It’s a great job.

RJ: Are you missing not being there?

SB: I am, yeah. I am missing it. I did go back a couple of weeks ago for a little visit and got to see some of the old prisoners. It was nice to go back.

RJ: And what was the welcome like?

SB: I got to go into a group session and watch some of the lads playing guitars, and have a chat with some of them, saw some of the staff, had lunch served to me by some of the prisoners in the kitchen, it was nice.

RJ: So in that particular prison, do the prisoners have cultural life, in the sense of theatre, or music?

SB: They definitely had some sort of music, on my wing they had music lessons and groups and stuff and they have access to musical instruments, so I would say yeah in that sense, but it’s amazing how many talented musicians there are out there who are in prison and don’t get a chance to express that, so that’s something that was nice to see when I went back, some of the prisoners actually picking up guitars and getting to express themselves through song, because they don’t normally get to do that. It was nice to go back and see some of the prisoners who were a little bit lairy before, climbing the walls and stuff, being a bit relaxed and playing some nice soft music on a guitar, it’s nice to see.

RJ: Do you see in a different light, now that you are an outsider?

SB: Yeah, I didn’t have a uniform when I went back to visit so it was nice to go back and see them all but now obviously they see me in a different light.

RJ: How did they respond to your winning the 2013 X-Factor?

SB: when I won they were all literally banging on the cell doors, so you’ve got seven hundred odd prisoners all banging on the cell doors at 9pm in appreciation of the fact that I’d won.

RJ: Any theatre or drama groups in the prison?

SB: No. No theatres in the prison. They do have a chapel, which they tend to use for putting on performances or any big group sessions or anything like that, but no theatres.

RJ: Did you ever sing before colleagues or inmates in the prison, at a Christmas party or something like that?

SB: I did with a group of lads on my wing but never in front of the whole jail. You’re opening yourself up to have the mickey taken – these are all grown men, so there’s a lot of banter that goes on in prison. I didn’t really tell a lot of people that I could sing, so a lot of the prisoners were genuinely shocked when they saw me on TV, Officer Pearson belting out a song.

RJ: Before winning the X Factor, you did a lot of singing on cruises, etc. When did you start your career as a singer?

SB: I started my career as a singer when I was fourteen or fifteen singing in competitions but all the stuff about me being on cruise ships, I did it for a year. Just over a year, I was on two ships in 1999 and that’s it. And now everyone’s saying, “she’s a cruise ship singer”, because I did it for a year, in 1999, which was a long time ago! I was a bluecoat, and then I went onto cruise ships, and then I came off cruise ships and I joined a band – I was in a band for nine years, and we travelled all around the country in this band – and then I became a prison officer.

RJ: So performing in public is not new to you?

SB: No. I’ve done it for twenty years now.

RJ: And who really pushed you to go on X Factor?

SB: Me, my kids – yeah, my kids were sat watching the show and they were laughing their heads off watching it and I thought, “I’m going to do it. I wonder what they’d be like if Mummy was on it.” So I decided to give it a go.

RJ: How old are your children?

SB: Now, I have a ten-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son and a one year old baby girl.

RJ: How do you balance being a mother, a singer and a celebrity?

SB: Just like everybody else does. You have to juggle it, make sure it works for you. My kids are quite grounded and level headed and they understand that Mummy has to work and if I didn’t work they wouldn’t have what they’ve got – I’m forever reminding them that if Mummy doesn’t go to work then you won’t have the life that we’ve got now and you’ll have to sacrifice a few things, and I want to provide for them, so they don’t have to worry about buying houses when they’re older. I dread to think what it’s going to be like for them when they’re older, with the property market as bad as it is, so I want to give them a head start. I’m juggling it quite well – I’m seeing my kids more now than I did when I was a prison officer. I was on shift work, so I was literally getting home at 9pm and going to work at 7am. My husband looked after the kids: he was going to work himself, coming home, picking the kids up, and then he’d have them until they went to bed and I’d come home and wake them up because I wanted cuddles.

RJ: So 2013 was really a turning point in the whole family’s life.

SB: Yeah, definitely.

RJ: Do your friends treat you differently?

SB: No, do you know what, I’m no different as a person than I was, I’m exactly like I was before, the only thing is now we can afford to go out to nice places sometimes. We’ll go out for meals a bit more often, or go out and socialise a bit more often, because we don’t generally have to worry about spending a little bit more money. But I’m still really cautious with money, I still look after my pennies. But nothing’s changed, I’ve not changed. A few people have changed towards me, and we’re no longer friends, because they’ve thought that now I’m famous I’m going to give them this or that, and I thought, well, you’re not a true friend.

RJ: Do you indulge your children with gifts and money, now that you are earing a great deal more?

SB: Oh no, my daughter gets ten pounds pocket money every Saturday, and if she wants something she buys it with that, I don’t buy it for her. She’ll work for it, on a Saturday, she tidies and cleans her room, tidies up, takes the rubbish out. My younger son isn’t quite at that age yet, but we have started teaching him to make his bed and tidy his room a little bit, and he doesn’t have pocket money yet because he doesn’t need it, but in a couple of years’ time he’ll get five pounds every Saturday, which is what my daughter started on. In a few years, when she’s twelve or thirteen, she’ll get another fiver. So yeah, they earn their money; I don’t go out and buy them everything. I do spoil my kids, I’m not going to lie, but if they want something then I don’t go out and get them it, they have to earn it.

RJ: Any of the young members of the extended family aspire to be famous like you?

SB: My cousin Jamie is great at acoustic guitar, and as a singer-songwriter – he supported me when I did my tour.

RJ: Your tour before 2013?

SB: The one that I did at the beginning of this year. He came along and supported me at the Apollo, it was just brilliant. And I’ve got a cousin called Ellie, she’s a budding singer and dancer as well, she’s only seventeen.

RJ: So there’s a lot of music in the family.

SB: Yeah, I’ve got a lot of people that play and do music.

RJ: Any of your parents or grandparents musicians or singers?

SB: My maternal granddad was a singer – he used to be called the singing window-cleaner, everybody knew him, he had his own show and he was in a band called the Four Vinos years ago, in the fifties. And my dad was a drummer in a band, so I was exposed to a lot of musicians and music.

RJ: Your autobiography Daring to Dream – did you write it or did you have a ghost-writer?

SB: I had a ghost-writer. She did a great job. It’s done really well! I was very impressed with it.

RJ: Is there anything you wanted to include that isn’t in the book, or do you think she did a perfect job?

SB: She did a perfect job, because there are loads of things in the book that tell people I’m just a normal person, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I’m not from that background. There are so many people who can relate to me and how I’ve lived and some of the stuff that I’ve had to deal with, so I’m very proud of it.

RJ: You’ve got a very tight touring schedule. Is it a punishing schedule, or are you looking forward to it?

SB: I’m looking forward to it. I’m a grafter, I love to work, so for me, work is what keeps me going. And when you’re working, you’re earning money, aren’t you? And as I’m working, I’m spending it in my head – “yeah, we’ll go on holiday to Florida!”

RJ: On the 12th October you have a one off performance at the Lyric Theatre. Is it mainly your own show?

SB: Basically, I’m doing my own show, A Night of Musical Theatre with Sam Baily at the Lyric Theatre on the 12th October. It’s going to be me with some very special guests – we’ve got Michael Xavier, who’s one of the leading men in the West End at the moment, he’s an amazing singer; we’ve got Collabro, who won Britain’s Got Talent; we’ve got Boys of the Barricades as well; and the great, great ensemble cast of dancers and a few other singers. It’s going to be me, completely stripped back doing musical theatre, showing what I can do and showing my passion for it as well, because it’s something that I’m really passionate about and it’s something you never really get a chance to do on the X Factor, so where better to do it than the West End?

RJ: Which is your favourite musical?

SB: My favourite shows – I’ve got so many! Recently I’ve seen Blood Brothers – I think it’s absolutely incredible – Hairspray, I’ve just seen. My all-time favourite show, that I’ve seen eighteen times, has got to be Les Mis. My dream role is Fantine in Les Mis, I’d love to do that. If there’s an audition for that, I’ll be there. I’ll be at the front of the queue.

RJ: Apart from Les Misérables, which other shows? Have you seen Phantom of the Opera?

SB: I’ve seen Phantom, I’ve seen Wicked, and I’ve seen most shows to be honest. I don’t think there are many that I’ve not seen.

RJ: Is this since you won, or before?

SB: Over the years, I’ve always been a fan. I went to see Les Mis in the late nineties, and I was just completely gripped. There aren’t many shows that have gripped me like that. Les Mis is one of them; Blood Brothers is another, it’s just so powerful. If it makes you cry, they’ve done their job, haven’t they? And I only saw that last week. It’s incredible. Amazing show.

RJ: You don’t live in London, do you?

SB: I don’t, no. It costs me a fortune every time I come down to see a show! I was born in London, I lived here for twenty years, and then I moved to Leicester because of my job – and then I met my husband, and he kept me up there.

RJ: No plans to move back to London?

SB: No, because it’s only an hour away. And I like Leicester – we’re stuck in traffic right now, and there are so many things that I could be doing, but I can’t because I’m stuck in traffic. So would I want to live in London? No. Because it’s just crazy, busy, currently raining. But I do love London, I love coming to London, but more so when it’s sunnier and there’s less traffic!

RJ: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

SB: Hopefully, still happy. I think probably still performing, still inspiring people – that’s all I really want to do. And if I can keep on doing that then I’m a happy woman.

RJ: Are you always a cheerful person?

SB: Yeah, I suppose I am. It’s annoying sometimes, because some people want to be miserable but they can’t be around me, because I try to lift their spirits. Yeah, I try and be as cheerful as I can; make light of bad situations.

RJ: What makes you miserable? Apart from traffic and rain?

SB: Missing my kids, not being at home with them. I’m away tomorrow for four days and it’s going to be hard because I want them to be there, I want them to experience everything that I’m experiencing but they can’t – they have school, and I’m not rich enough that I can just get a nanny and take them out of school. I want my kids to have a normal life like everybody else, I don’t want to take them out of school and homeschool them all over the place, take them on tour and everything.

RJ: What are your aspirations for your children, apart from having their own houses – who do you want them to be in life?

SB: I want my kids to do whatever they want to do. I’ve always been a big believer in supporting your kids in whatever they want to do. If my daughter wants to be a bin-woman, then I would support her in that, because if you don’t support them, they’re probably going to do it anyway and resent you and you won’t get anywhere. I’ve got a really good bond with my eldest, she’s ten, she doesn’t know what she wants to do but we chat about stuff, and anytime she has a fall I’m there to pick her up and advise her and set her in the right direction again. That’s my biggest aspiration for my children, to be there for them whenever they fall, and to make sure that they’re happy, because that’s the main thing. You can be totally broke, absolutely no money whatsoever, but if you’re happy it doesn’t matter.

RJ: Now that you can afford private education, would you consider sending children to a public school?

SB: No, no. I’m happy. That’s what I’m saying, you know, you can send your kid to public school or boarding school but the schools that my kids want to go to are really good schools and that normality keep them grounded. I could have quite easily taken my kids out of school and sent them to private school, but I don’t want my kids to be different to everyone else, I like the fact that they go to a normal school and have normal lives. I do the school run with them in the mornings; I’m no better than anybody else, they’re no better than anybody else, they just fit in.

RJ: How do your parents respond to your meteoric success?

SB: Well, my mum tells everybody. She’s the most annoying mum on the planet, you’ll be in the queue at the supermarket and by the time you’ve paid for your food everyone knows your life story. But it’s only because she’s proud. My dad passed away in 2008, sadly he’s not with us anymore, but my mum’s very proud, she’s very very proud.

RJ: So your dad didn’t live to see you become famous?

SB: No. But he’s up there. I think he was partly to do with it, to be honest. I reckon it was something that he’s done.

Thank you Sam, it was a pleasure meeting you.


Thanks to Nicola Watkinson for transcribing this interview.

About The Author

Profile photo of Rivka Jacobson
Executive Director

Rivka Jacobson, founder of Passion for theatre and years spent defending immigrants and asylum seekers in UK courts fuelled her determination to establish a platform for international theatre reviews. Rivka’s aim is to provide people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and indeed all countries with opportunities to see and review a diverse range of shows and productions. She is particularly keen to encourage young critics to engage with all aspects of theatre. She hopes to nurture understanding and tolerance across different cultures through the performing arts.


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