It’s 20 years since Lolly burst into the charts with Viva La Radio. But after racking up a series of hit singles (and two albums), she vanished from the charts – re-appearing as a TV presenter called Anna Kumble. Last year, a successful campaign by Pop Music Activism saw Lolly’s music appear online for the first time and to celebrate, she released her first track for 18 years. We recently caught up with the purveyor of Per Sempre Amore brilliance to find out a bit more about life as a ’90s pop phenomenon.
Were you involved in the concept of Lolly?
A producer [Mike Rose] was putting together S Club 7 at the time and he had the idea of Lolly for Rachel Stevens. She recorded three songs, but it didn’t work personality-wise.
I’d worked with Mike before when I was in a girl group but had left to do musical theatre. He called me up and said he’d designed Lolly with me in mind, but I didn’t think I’d like to do it because I was doing theatre. I’d just finished Starlight Express that day and I was open to anything, so I said yes.
I recorded the tracks and got a deal straight away. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, but it was quick and fast and amazingly brilliant.
Were you Anna off-stage, or did you go total diva and insist on everyone calling you Lolly?
The people that knew me as Lolly, I knew they were media or work. That’s the way I coped with it. Then I could take the pigtails out and be Anna with my friends.
That kept me sane – you see a lot of the bands of the time go totally off the rails and I had a very secure network. It was a job. A good job. We created the character for fun, and it worked.
I liked the intrigue. We know everything about everyone now, and sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of mystery.
Of course, there was the Smash Hits exposé, which threatened to reveal your identity letter-by-letter…
Oh, that’s right! It was brilliant.
Were there any secret Lolly rivalries?
I think the only people that didn’t like me…or I didn’t like them were some of the TV presenters. Some of them were really rude because I wasn’t “cool”. But you just have to take it on the chin and that’s life. Success is success and you’re get put in a box.
How did things change three top ten singles later?
At that point, there was pressure: sell, sell, sell.
It became a brand and I found that odd because it was such a small team to start with – there were three or four of us and that’s how it should’ve remained. I’ve always liked working with small teams; I find big teams a bit overpowering and intimidating. When everyone’s fighting for their own view and they’re paid to do that, the heart’s gone.
I was happy with what I was doing – it’s all for a reason. You have to go with your gut instinct and be brave or you’d say no to everything. But I always said I’d never do anything that would embarrass my parents. I wouldn’t talk about certain stuff because I
One of those top ten singles was Big Boys Don’t Cry. It was a rather sinister-sounding pop ballad, wouldn’t you say?
I would never have said Big Boys Don’t Cry was a sinister pop ballad! I’ve never had that said to me in my life – it’s very bizarre.
(Thanks for that @JLucas86)
You were fairly fearless with the artists you covered: Michael Jackson, The Beatles…
I was a bit uncomfortable with She Loves You, but the producers were from Liverpool, so we felt like it was alright. I performed it recently at a gig and it went down brilliantly.
Why not? A good song’s a good song.
When did you become aware of Pop Music Activism tryin to get your music onto digital services?
To be honest, I’ve not been strong with social media, but they contacted me, and I was still friends with the A&R man at Universal. Once we got it on there, things went mad.
It’s really nice to revisit it all a second time because there’s no pressure. I can do it because I want to do it rather than because I have to sell something. I’m literally just having fun.
I was blown away by the interest and the number of streams, so we did a thank you record: Stay Young and Beautiful. That’s lovely to perform and the lyrics mean a lot more this time. We’ve really thought about it and there’s no pressure to get anything out.
Can you talk us through what happened after your last single?
I really didn’t want to do Girls Just Wanna Have Fun because I thought it would alienate a lot of my fans – which it did; it was my lowest selling single
We should’ve done 999 or Dance In The Rain, which actually would’ve been much better. But you’re tied to a record label, so I just said: ‘look, I will sell this for you. I will tell everyone it’s brilliant, but I really don’t want to do it’
What happened next?
The record company paid for me to have a showreel done and it ended with a lot of love. It was my decision and the label honoured it because I wasn’t a tricky artist. I’d worked hard and I’d made money.
Yes, it was tricky knowing where to go next, but I knew that TV presenting was my next step and I was lucky to land a job at CBBC. I can see how it can spiral if you don’t have the support there.
All of a sudden, your diary goes from being 24/7 to nothing. But I was desperate to take back control and not have someone tell me where I was going to be all the time. I was very independent, and it was quite nice to take the reins again.
At that point I’d had enough of Lolly. I put her to bed. Maybe I should’ve carried on, but I don’t think I could’ve done. It was exhausting and coming back to it now, I enjoy it more. I’m older, I’m not trying to change the world or get political. It is just entertainment and if it touches you then that’s lovely – and I hope it does.
If Radio Lolly was broadcasting in 2019, what would it be playing?
Radio Lolly would be Katy Perry and some Billie Elish remixes.
I understand why people are desperate to rewind to the ‘90s because it was fun and some of the stuff now is so depressing. I went to see the Spice Girls recently and I had such a good time – but Jess Glynne looked uncomfortable. The audience w
People just weren’t interested in the now. They were interested in reminiscing. I like Jess Glynne’s songs, but something didn’t quite fit and that would’ve cost her an absolute fortune to be there.
Ah, is that Lolly the business mogul commenting there?
It was a business – I got it.
I went to do a gig once and asked for the breakdown of the costs – I ended up in debt and I’m like ‘hang on, I’m travelling here to do a PA and it’ll cost me money’. I decided to take control and start looking at how to shave the costs.
I remember doing a magazine shoot in a zoo and sitting in the car doing my VAT return. I was tired, and I didn’t need to be doing things that would lose money.
What was the best Lolly single?
Mickey was the one that everyone knows me for – and obviously Toni Basil as well…
The one I enjoyed the most was Per Sempre Amore (Forever In Love) – but I really enjoyed doing Rockin’ Robin as well. Enjoyment was more important than success and I loved performing that with my dancers. We had such a giggle.
I look back and wish I could’ve just breathed it in – everything happened so fast.
What was the best Lolly song?
One the second album: Twisting Roads – that was my favourite. It’s an acoustic song; it was heartfelt and not so twee. Because I was travelling so much, it meant a lot to me.
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