By Chere Di Boscio
“I always knew I’d make it. Always had the conviction I’d win a Grammy one day, too.” So says Estelle Swaray, otherwise known more simply as Estelle.
Born in London in 1980 as the second-eldest in a family of nine to a mother from Senegal, ths singer/actress grew up on a council estate in West Kensington where her mum centred most of her family’s life around the local church. It was here that Estelle sang for the first time, and seriously fell in love with music.
Her smooth voice and solid confidence won her a huge hit: American Boy, a beautiful bit of R&B enlivened by a flirtatious rap from none other than Kanye West. The song helped her second album, Shine, sell well over two million copies, and bagged the singer that above-mentioned Grammy.
Today, although she’s released four albums, she’s moved well beyond music, entering not only the world of acting via the TV hit Empire and providing the voice for the character Garnet in the animated TV series Steven Universe, but also acting in Hollywood films including Beyond the Lights, and Girls Trip.
We caught up with Estelle to talk beauty, boys, and being ballsy enough to march up to music icons and announce to them why they needed to work with her. Be prepared for some formidable inspiration!
At the end of the day, ‘Stronger than You,’ and ‘Love like Ours’ are pretty romantic songs. How important are relationships to you?
We are all connected to each other as humans. I’m fascinated by how we relate and connect to each other in general and then more specifically; whether with friendships or in a romantic way – also the relationships we have with ourselves. I do a great job I think of articulating those themes with my songs.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from being in relationships?
In any relationship, never forget yourself. To be in a relationship of any kind, you have to have something to give so make sure to keep your “well” above the “minimum water” line.
You famously met Kanye West in a restaurant and asked for an intro to John Legend. He did it for you, and Legend produced two songs for your debut album! How did you get the courage to make such a request, and what lesson would you draw from that incident for young, ambitious women?
I have always believed in myself and my ability to deliver, so why not ask for what I want?
I refuse to look at the thing I’ve prayed for and not take the literal step to acquire it or say “ I’m too scared.” I wouldn’t ask for it. I won’t waste God’s time or my own.
What was it like work with Denzel Williams, who directed the video for Love like Ours?
It was one of the shortest “time wise” videos I’ve shot. I come to directors with creative already done most times, so I was grateful that he listened and executed and adapted on the day as we were filming.
Empire has been a huge hit with a wonderful cast. As a black actress, do you feel there are enough interesting roles in the television realm?
Yes, there are – especially over the last few years, with the rise of black writers and women in the TV industry, there’s been a lot of love, and (there are) nuanced and beautiful, tough and real moving roles for actresses. It’s exciting.
Let’s move on to beauty. Do you find it hard to find great cosmetics that match your skin tone here in the UK?
I don’t think there are particularly any UK brands that I’ve heard of that cater for black women beyond a certain shade. Black Up is the only European brand that I’ve loved – I had the honour of meeting the owner as she was starting up some years ago in Paris. But that’s partly why I started my site Elle-vie.com from where I’m based in Los Angeles and we ship worldwide.
We champion Aj Crimson, who is my former makeup artist that started his own brand for girls of colour. We would have a hard time finding the right shades of makeup and lipstick and blushes in general, as women of colour tend to be different shades in different areas of their faces, he created a palette of concealers and different moisturising makeup foundations, etc. It’s brilliant to see the other brands catching up!
Besides using the right makeup for your skin tone, what are your top five beauty tips?
- Clean your face every night – wash it or wipe it well
- Exfoliate – 2-3 times a week
- Use a Vitamin (super) C serum before moisturizing at night.
- See a facial specialist if you can for extractions vs doing it yourself
- Use a water based moisturiser – people of colour in general naturally produce more oil, so if you have oily skin and use cocoa butter or oil – stop. On your skin in general with nothing else, it sort of compounds and doesn’t allow pores or skin to breathe, nor can you see when you need to exfoliate, creating dull dry skin that you keep on putting grease on top of.
What are your thoughts on the movement towards ‘clean beauty’?
I can appreciate the concept of clean beauty, but I think balance is needed with everything. Use natural or chemicals as you need them, if there’s an equally effective natural remedy then do that. Whatever works for you personally – do that!
What beauty tips have been passed down in your family?
Wash your face and brush your teeth in the morning – BEFORE eating. Keeps your breath fresher.
And back to music: would you say your songs reflect the fact that you’re a bit of a romantic?
As I mentioned before I’m forever interested in human interactions and “ the how” of love and relationships. It’s a big part of our lifestyle; whether we like it or not, people in general tend to tie personal fulfillment to relationships, I feel like with my music I use some parts of my life for reflection, understanding and to help with ways to figure it out.
Where’s the most romantic place in the world, in your opinion?
And what’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you?
He bought me a huge bouquet of my favorite color roses, one for each year of my birth.
After all you’ve achieved and done, from voicing cartoons to winning several awards, what are you proudest of so far?
I’m proud of it all!
So what do you feel you’ve yet to do?
I’m still expanding my brand further into acting, more music, more fashion and beauty, more animation….stay tuned!
Images: courtesy Estelle