Shook? Don’t be. This is the kind of zero-filter, funny and candid chat that fans of the popstar-turned-podcaster have come to expect from Jessie, since she launched Table Manners in 2017 alongside her frank AF mother, former social worker Lennie Ware. The pair have served up lamb and ice cream for Nigella from Jessie’s home, and real talk for the likes of Sam Smith and John Legend – entertaining 12 million listeners in the process.
“I want people to have sex to it,” Jessie Ware exclaims within the first few minutes of our Zoom call, as we discuss her fourth album, the aptly named What’s Your Pleasure?
While her first three albums were best known as the soundtracks for a good wallow, with songs like Say You Love Me and Selfish Love the latest incarnation of Jessie Ware is all about positivity – at a time when we need it most. And we have her podcast to thank for that. “I feel like it’s been a really brilliant turning point for me to be able to show my full personality,” she says. “I was never this Debbie Downer, and I was never this Serious Sue, and I was getting put in this kind of melancholy bracket!”
The vibes are indeed high in every track on What’s Your Pleasure? – the music equivalent of sipping a juicy cocktail on a sun lounger in Mykonos. Which is, alas, the closest we, and our summer bodies, will be getting to a European Island this year – so thank you very much, Jessie!
Today, Jessie is talking to me from her south London living room, where she is self isolating with her husband Sam Burrows and two children and has spent her time aside from promoting her forthcoming album, cooking. “It’s been so fun and so gorgeous to cook for my family all the time and really enjoy it,” Jessie tells me as she adjusts herself on her sofa to hold her phone in selfie mode for our video call, “just like Kim Kardashian.” As Jessie jokingly poses and pouts, I ask: who is Jessie Ware 4.0?
“A f*cking sassy bitch, who’s apparently in desperate need to go dancing and f*cking touch some people, touch some strangers up!” she exclaims. “Sorry, babe! My husband’s just walking out,” she laughs as she bids goodbye to her “team mate”. The pair have been together since they met at school in Dulwich, south London when Jessie was 18 years old, and married in 2014 on the Greek island of Skopelos. Composing herself, she continues, “Jessie Ware 4.0 is the most confident, self-assured version of herself as an artist, and oh my god, I just talked about myself in the third person, that’s disgusting!”
Self-deprecation aside, Jessie’s journey towards being a certified “sassy bitch,” has been a long and winding road since she grew up in Clapham, south London alongside her parents, Lennie and John (a Panorama reporter) as well as her older sister Hannah. She even briefly flirted with a career in journalism after graduating with an English literature degree from the University of Sussex, first working for the Jewish Chronicle (Jessie is Jewish) and then as a sports reporter for the Daily Mirror.
But music was never far from Jessie’s mind. She was soon doing live backing vocals for Jack Peñate and delved into club culture, contributing her vocals to dance tracks for SBTRKT’s Nervous and Valentine in 2010 before a collaboration with DJ Joker led to her solo record deal with PMR Records. It wasn’t long until her break-out year in 2012, when she released her debut album Devotion and birthed the hit, Wildest Moments.
However, despite her years of serious leg work from day one she suffered heavily from imposter syndrome. “I always felt slightly apologetic [for my success] at the beginning, that I’d got away with this thing. I felt it was far too easy and I was far too lucky to have got this deal very quickly,” Jessie reveals. “Even though I made a really good album, I hated the feeling that I felt undeserving of it.”
“I felt like potentially it was all about nepotism,” Jessie continues referencing the endorsement she received from friends, including Florence and The Machine, whose 2011 album Ceremonials she also featured on. “I felt really embarrassed about it, like being up for a Mercury Award, being up for Best Newcomer and Best Female at the Brit Awards. Everything was just coming at me. I’ve had harder times since, and I wished I’d just really enjoyed it,” she shrugs.
Her propensity for self criticism came to the fore when tackling live TV performances. “I used to get so annoyed at myself when I’d perform on Later… With Jools Holland, because I just never felt like I did it right. I got myself into such a tizz at live TV. I’d think, “Oh, sh*t. Here we go.” I would clam up, thinking everyone’s going to find out that I’m really shit. You start doubting your instincts and your gut.’”
Add in the birth of her first child in 2016, and the huge pressure she was putting on herself came to its peak. “I worked way too hard when my daughter was born. I felt I needed to prove that I could do everything, I could balance everything. In hindsight, I absolutely was at breaking point by the end of her first year.”
Nevertheless, she still agreed to tour her third album Glasshouse, which despite giving her another Brit Award nomination for Best British Female and becoming her third top ten album, did not fare well sales-wise. It wasn’t until she performed at Coachella in 2017 for the second time, she reached a turning point in her life and career.
“That Coachella gig was disastrous. Everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. No one turned up to watch me, and to think that a few years before I’d had this heaving tent,” Jessie confides. “I felt like I was in this weird kind of Instagrammy, very immature popularity contest that I was very much losing. So I thought, OK, well, if no one wants to watch me, they’re not interested in the music, I should probably sack this in. Why would I want to be in this world? I don’t need to do this,’” she says, exasperated at the memory.
Since then, Jessie has shown little interest in courting attention and popularity. “I don’t always play the game per se. I’m pretty private. My life is pretty dull,” she says before correcting herself. “No, it’s not, it’s wonderful, but you know, it’s very domesticated. I’m with the same partner that I’ve been with since I was 18. There are no salacious things that happened to me as a popstar. I don’t go to the opening of an envelope.”
“I’m really picky about what I go to,” she continues. “I don’t want to get photographed, because I don’t like getting caught up in that. It doesn’t feel nice. When it all just becomes samey I think, “Oh god, I need to step away from this, because this is quite toxic.”
Does her body image come into play for her in situations where she needs to be photographed in public, I wonder? “I’ve never been stick thin, and it would never suit me. I think I’ve definitely tried a fad or two, and body image on the red carpet? It’s that idea of the amount of people it takes to get you into the bloody outfit, and then you need the right angle. It’s just such a faff!”
The aforementioned diets fads were only ever short-lived. “I’ve gone gluten-free. I did one where I started having to measure a parsnip. But it just doesn’t stick, and my mum says, ‘Go and have a bloody pizza.’ I’m around very well-adjusted people, and I love my food, so it was never going to work that long. I’m really enjoying and accepting my body even more as I’ve got older, as well. I’m 35 years old, I’ve had two kids (her second child was born in 2019 in her living room during a planned home birth). I’ve got some wrinkles on my tummy, but I’m actually in good nick. I don’t care if I’ve got a few extra inches on my ass or my thighs. I’m actually healthy and I can do a good workout.” Just. Yes.
Becoming the mother to two children, has clearly given Jessie an even more positive relationship with her body. “I’ve never felt more like a super woman than when I’ve given birth,” she says proudly. “I’ve had two incredible births, which I really prepped for. I know it can go completely the other way and you never really know how that baby’s going to make an entrance. But I looked after myself during the pregnancies, because I felt like I was getting ready for this big marathon, that felt like the unknown!”
With a new album to promote, a podcast that has now spawned a successful cookbook which is of course named, Table Manners and two children under the age of five, Jessie Ware is booked and busy even when the world is still very much lockdown. In this time is she finally relenting on the pressures to do it all as a working mother?
“I don’t know if I have loosened up enough. I’m the provider. Actually, I’m more than that. I am the breadwinner and I’m proud to be the breadwinner, and my husband is accepting and supportive of that, and he’s the most incredible father. There are no egos there and he knows how motivated I am. Just last night in bed I had a new idea and he’s like, ‘Your mind doesn’t stop.’ He’s exhausted by me, but also, he’s completely supportive of that, too. There’s still this archaic presumption that it should be the other way around, weird, isn’t it?” she says, turning the question onto me.
I agree, if I was talking to a male star, we would never be having a conversation about how a working father copes with childcare and a career. Jessie thinks sexism is still rife in the music industry and beyond. “They don’t ask men how they’re going to tour with their children, do they? But you get used to it, you take it with a pinch of salt, and it’s also something that I struggled to work out. I once got told that I was being really emotional (in a meeting), and I was being really not-emotional, and I wonder whether they would have said that to a bloke. I didn’t rise to it, and I was very calm,” she states. “But you know, it happens. I definitely think there’s more of a shelf life for women. I don’t want to sound negative because actually I’m able to make the music I want to make, but I’m madly thought of as relatively old and I’m 35!”
These outdated labels attached to female popstars over the age of 30 are the very reason Jessie found herself in THAT hole back in the desert of Coachella. “I think probably that’s why I went so heavy on work when my daughter was born, because I was worried everyone would think that my motivation would change if I became a mother. It actually made me far more driven, which is how Annie Mac told me it would make me feel, but I wished I hadn’t felt like I needed to prove it so much to these inconsequential people.”
Thankfully, Jessie is finally done with overcompensating to please others – for herself, her body, her age and being a working mother. “I’m so done with apologising and that’s OK, because I don’t want to apologise for being ambitious. I didn’t need to apologise about things at the beginning. Maybe I should’ve just faked it a bit until I made it.”