The Mail on Sunday
14th May 2011
By Emily Hill
Adele is no longer just a pop star. With her incredible voice and emotion-packed songs, she is fast becoming an icon. Writing all the ballads herself, Adele is the antidote to TV wannabes and manufactured starlets.
Her second album, 21, has now spent 14 weeks at No 1 and its stand-out single, Someone Like You, has topped the charts in 17 European countries. And if further proof of Adele’s popularity were needed, her performance at the Brit Awards in February has received more than ten million hits on YouTube.
Adele has beaten Madonna’s record as the female artist with the longest consecutive run at the top of the album charts. And she has succeeded where so many British artists have failed: she has conquered America. She has just embarked on a 22-date tour of the United States, playing major cities such as Washington and New York.
In the wake of such extraordinary success, you might expect the 23-year-old to be revelling in the company of the rich and famous, taking baths in champagne and egging on her retinue to smash up television sets in their luxury hotel suites.
Instead, Adele remains a girl for whom nothing has come easy. Distrustful of fame, she is notoriously private and refuses to expose what lies behind her haunting lyrics, which betray a consciousness of loss and pain that far outstrips her tender age. In fact, Adele sounds more like a drink-soaked old blues singer than the image she carefully projects – that of a chirpy cockney who likes a laugh and a lager.
Few seem to know the real Adele. Yet there is one person who knows her better than most – her errant father, Mark Evans, the man partly responsible for her private turmoil.
Although the two were estranged for many years, Mark reveals that the currents of loss in Adele’s life run deep – and only re-emerge in her music.
‘There are good reasons why Adele’s music and lyrics are so soulful,’ says the 47-year-old plumber, who lives in Cardiff. ‘They are rooted in the very dark places she went through as a young girl.’
Mark met Adele’s mother, Penny Adkins, in a pub in 1987. ‘For me, it was love at first sight,’ Mark recalls. ‘At the time Penny was an art student. We fell in love and moved in together.’
Within a few months, Penny was pregnant with Adele. At the age of just 18, having a baby with a wild and womanising Welshman was a brave decision for her to take. Mark says: ‘The pregnancy wasn’t planned but I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Penny so I asked her to marry me. She turned me down – she kept saying we were too young to get married.’
Adele Laurie Blue Adkins was born in Tottenham, North London, on May 5, 1988. ‘I wanted her first name to be Blue after the music I love – the blues,’ recalls Mark. ‘I still think of Adele as Blue.
‘I would lie on the sofa all night cradling her in my arms and listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. I’m certain that is what shaped Adele’s music today.’
By the time Adele was four, Penny and Mark had split up and Mark moved back to Wales. Adele, who later moved with her mother to Brixton, South London, has never enjoyed the privileges experienced by many of her music peers. Penny, a sometime masseuse, furniture maker and office administrator, never had the money to send Adele to stage school, where her talent would have been nurtured.
Mark has a deep sense of shame that he never provided materially for his daughter. ‘I was not there for her when I should have been. That’s why I’ve never been to one of her shows or listened to her music very much. I watched her performance at the Brits but I had to walk out of the room halfway through. I couldn’t bear the memories.’
‘By the age of seven, I thought, “My God, Adele’s got it, she’s going to be a huge star some day.” She was that good.’
After his split from Penny, Mark worked for his father, John, who had taken over the lease on a cafe at Barry Island funfair, which features in the BBC comedy Gavin & Stacey. Interestingly, Adele is now friends with the show’s star, James Corden.
Mark says: ‘Penny and Adele would come and spend some weekends with us at my parents’ house in Penarth, near Cardiff, where I was living. We’d all go off together in a caravan around the Welsh coast during the summer holidays.
‘Because I’d left her when she was so young, I think my dad was Adele’s most significant role model.
‘Adele was my father’s first grandchild and they idolised one another. They spent a lot of time together, just the two of them. Adele would spend much of the summer with my parents and most of that time my dad would be playing with her, talking to her, showing her the sights.’
One abiding memory Mark has is that his daughter was already prodigiously talented. ‘By the age of seven, I thought, “My God, Adele’s got it, she’s going to be a huge star some day.” She was that good.’
In 1999, when Adele was 11, John died of bowel cancer. He was 57. ‘When he died she was utterly distraught,’ says Mark.
Mark was also devastated and he went from being a man who liked to drink into a full-blown alcoholic. ‘For three years after my dad’s death I was putting away two litres of vodka and seven or eight pints of Stella every day. I made Oliver Reed look like a teetotaller.’
He became estranged from his daughter for her teenage years. ‘I barely knew my own name let alone my responsibilities. But I did know I didn’t want Adele to see me like that. I knew she’d be missing her grandfather as much as I was. She adored him. Yet all I could do was drink. I know I was a rotten father.’
Adele began to channel her anguish into her music. At 14, she successfully auditioned for the Brit School in Croydon, famous for having produced stars including Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua and Kate Nash. During her final year, a friend posted three of Adele’s tracks on the MySpace website and she was quickly signed by record label XL Recordings.
Her 2008 debut album, 19, was an instant hit. And then she struck lucky. As part of her recording deal, Adele travelled to America to perform on Saturday Night Live, a TV show watched by 17 million people. Sarah Palin, the then Republican vice-presidential candidate, was a fellow guest, and afterwards went to the singer’s dressing room to declare herself a fan.
Within hours of Palin’s comments becoming public, the album had sold another 10,000 copies.
‘I don’t think she’s peaked yet. In ten years, she’ll still be huge. Who knows, one of these days I might even find the courage to see one of her shows.’
A clutch of Grammy awards followed and now Adele has been styled by Anna Wintour, photographed by Annie Leibovitz and has graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. And yet for all the adoration, Adele still lives at home with her mother – and acknowledges the debt she owes her.
As Adele says: ‘My mum fell pregnant with me when she would have been applying for university, but she chose to have me instead. She never, ever reminds me of that. I try to remember it. Mum loves me being famous – she is so excited and proud.’
Equally proud is Mark, who has curbed his drinking, is back in contact with his daughter and is trying to repair their relationship. He even hopes to suppress his feelings of guilt sufficiently to see his remarkable daughter perform in concert.
‘The last time I saw her was about two months ago just before she went off on tour. We had a drink and a chat,’ he says.
‘I love her voice. And I don’t think she’s peaked yet. In ten years, she’ll still be huge. Who knows, one of these days I might even find the courage to see one of her shows. She is playing Cardiff later this year.’
For Mark, there really are no more excuses for missing out.