MVP, are excited to present to our readers the talented singer, actress, presenter and entrepreneur, Kellé Bryan. She is best known for her part in the band Eternal, Britain’s most successful R&B group ever, in my opinion. The band sold over ten million records, and fourteen Top 15 UK hits and four top ten albums as well as achieving Brit award nominations, Mobo’s and Smash Hit awards. Embarked on four world tours and even performed for Pope John Paul II.
After the group disbanded, Kellé went on to release a number 14 solo hit, ‘Higher Than Heaven,’ and has hosted TV shows, acted in TV sitcoms, movies, theatres, and now has a successful media business.
MVP: Kellé where were you born?
Kellé: I was born in Plaistow Hospital.
MVP: Right. Ok, simple enough. East Londoner.
Kellé: Yep! East Londoner.
MVP: Right. Ok. Do you have any siblings and what was your childhood like?
Kellé: I am an only child, and since I knew what I wanted to do from an early age, I had a very disciplined childhood. I went to stage school at eleven and my secondary school was sort of cross-purpose. Half of the day was spent on vocational classes; performing arts, and the other half was academics. That was all funded by Newham borough council. So I had no other choice but to be very focused from a very young age. If I didn’t focus I would have lost my scholarship. I was closely monitored in terms of my academic achievements as well as my vocational achievements so I had no other but to be very focused from a very young age.
MVP: So basically, from what you are saying, you always knew what you wanted to do in terms of singing, music performance?
MVP: Was there a particular moment when you said, “this I want to do?”
Kellé: Yea, I was two and I won a Miss World competition.
MVP: Oh wow
Kellé: Basically, I had to walk up and down. I’ve still got the little swimming costume that I wore. My mum said, the lady that was running it, came up to her and said, “your daughter is very talented and would you consider her coming to my school cause I think she’s really talented.” My mom said, “I don’t know quite what she’s talented at although all I did was literally walk up and down and come back and turned around and posed.” So I guess she saw something in me and that was basically it.
MVP: Brilliant! So in knowing what you wanted to do, and having to live such a disciplined life in order to achieve that, what were the challenges that you faced as a child and teenager?
Kellé: It was challenging because all my friends were going out and getting into all kinds of stuff and I was never allowed to go, never permitted to go out with my friends on Saturday afternoons to do the kind of things my friends did on weekends; such as running off to the cinema or movies or whatever. I would never go because the Saturday morning I would have to get up and be at dance training or things like that. So I was never really able to engage in social activities. I lost out on all that social interaction because I joined the band at fifteen. I didn’t go to university, so I didn’t have a social life and friends. Everybody talks about having such great memories of their time at university, and you know, those were the times when they were at school and they’re learning new things and they’re developing as people and as individuals. But I didn’t do any of that, so I did miss out on that side of things. But I was happy! It’s not like I was being forced parentally, to do something that I didn’t want to do. I loved doing what I was passionate about. So I didn’t really feel hard done by.
MVP: Ok. Tell our readers how you ended up being part of one of the UK’s most successful female groups?
Kellé: So, basically, there was a guy called Denis Ingoldsby, who was working at Polydor Records at the time, and he wanted to put together a band. So he made it his business to go out and try to find the people to fit his vision. He was very clear about what he wanted, and at the time, bands like ‘En Vogue’ and ‘Jade’ were doing really well in America. So he wanted to have a band to rival them in the UK, but with a UK/London sort of twist. Louise and I were clubbing one night (under age), we’d been saving up for six weeks for our outfits… and we was like “yes” because my mom and dad had given us permission to go. Denis was at the club and he came up to Louise and said I’m a record producer, here’s my card, and we just ignored him, we just thought he was trying to chat her up. The next day, I wasn’t thinking anything of it and then at school we were bored and we bunked out of French lesson, (Mrs Langdon).
As a side note, my school class was made up of Martine McCutcheon, Lou and Claire Goose, whose a really good actress, and Sophie, whose a model, and I mean we’ve all gone on to do really well, but at the time we were at school and were just bored. So we bunked off a lesson, and decided to call the number on the business card. We were in the phone box, (there were no mobile phones at the time) and we called and put the coin in, you know, and uh, the answerphone said “Hi, thank you for calling Polydor Records…,” and we just hung up cause we were like, “oh my god it’s real,” and then we called back and eventually found out that he was a record producer and he wanted to meet Louise. Sophie spoke up and said, “oh, are you looking for another girl? Our really good friend at school Kellé is a good singer and dancer, you should meet her.” So, I went down and met him and that’s how it were. So, he had already met the girls, Esther and Vernie at the Singers Night, in Victoria, and he met them at different times and he didn’t even realise that they were sisters. So it all kind of fit together and then the four of us were formed and then that was it really.
MVP: Were there any down sides or difficult challenges that you faced in your musical career?
Kellé: We could be here a really long time!
MVP: LOL. OK, is there anything that really stands out then and how did you overcome it?
Kellé: ‘To whom much is given, much is required’ and when you’re given a lot, a lot is required of you as a person – mentally, physically, in every sort of aspect. It was challenging in the area of bullying, because the sisters were quite insular, so I was excluded a lot of times. So yea, from that side of things that was very difficult, and also the challenges of the daily grind because your life isn’t your own. Everyday is scheduled from how long you have for breakfast, to how long you have to get ready, to how long you have for hair, and makeup, to travelling from here to there.
Once you’re travelling from here to there, you’re gonna do six interviews in that time and then when you get there, you’ve got a TV show, and the first one might be a breakfast show at 6 o’clock in the morning, and your time isn’t yours, and you’re away from your families, and friends, and you’re really isolated, and it’s hard work! The schedules are very grueling, but it’s coupled with some amazing times. I think also it’s such a blur because you’re on the go and it’s like a treadmill, and you don’t really get to get off it very often, and when you do, you’re just asleep because you’re so tired. So yea, there were lots and lots of challenges.
MVP: Well in the midst of all of that then were there any happy moments?
Kellé: I remember when we were invited by the Sultan of Brunei to perform at his daughter’s 16th Birthday, and it was like us, Whitney Houston, Greg Rusedski and other celebrities. The thing that was great was that out of all the people she wanted to meet, we were her favourite band. So we were invited and we’re on this private jet with Whitney Houston and Esther just totally lost herself because that’s her absolute idol. Moments like that, you know, where you’re sort of sitting there and I was just a kid like everybody else, seventeen, eighteen years old and sitting peering at the top of your seat just looking at her like an idiot, and just feeling like a complete fan, like I can’t believe I’m sitting on the same plane as her. She was lovely and we got to perform and we watched her, and she watched us. It was amazing, looking back on those moments, and you just don’t realise she was gonna be taken from us so soon.
MVP: Great. Who then, or what has had the greatest influence on you and inspired you to succeed?
Kellé: This is a tough one because, centrally, I guess it’s my mum, because I sort of watched her; her background was really challenging. She had six brothers and sisters, which she had to raise, so she didn’t get to go to school. Everyone else did but she was busy raising her siblings. She was just such a Trojan, and a visionary, and so you know, she could have just gone along with what everyone else was doing. She was determined to send me to a different school from everybody else, she was determined to fight against systems, because in those days, racism was so evident, and she was really determined to make sure I had a different start in life, and that I had more than she had. That was always her focus, and she sacrificed such a great deal so I would have those opportunities. I remember there were kids growing up around us saying, “your mum is always wearing the same clothes,” and she would be like, “yea this is my going out outfit,” but it wasn’t because all of the money she had went on everything I needed: the equipment, shoes, and different things that I needed. Then she started her own business in the 80’s and it totally boomed! She was earning ridiculous amounts of money. She started up her own business at home and I watched those decisions that she was making along the way. They were inspiring because it was like my grandfather who came here with a fiver and then ended up with a six bedroom house in Wanstead worth £750,000. He never missed a day’s work, although he got two of his fingers chopped off with a machine. That kind of dedication, focus and approach to life, yea, I could never complain, so I just have to get on with it.
MVP: Speaking of your career, you’ve received several accolades and nominations, and you also won the leadership category of the annual Precious awards. What other achievements have you been recognised for?
Kellé: To me, I love the little things; it’s great. Awards are great and I really appreciate them, and if anything, it shows other people what you’ve been busy doing behind the scenes. Really that’s what awards are all about, and acknowledging what you’ve achieved publicly. But for me it’s the daily grind. It’s the ‘keeping going’ everyday.
In some cases where I’ve mentored certain people and they say things like “oh my goodness, I’ve learned so much, I had no idea this was involved,” it means a great deal to me because they’ve been with me on a daily basis, walked it all and been with me first thing in the morning and seen my sort of methodology and how I live on a day to day basis. That more than anything else means a great deal to me, rather than these sort of accolades, and believe me, the Precious Awards was a great achievement for me because it was based on people’s opinions. I’ve had testimonials from a plethora of people that I’ve worked with over the years and even then, having that time to read what they said was like, “Oh God!” So you just don’t realise what people are thinking of you. So I guess for me it’s the quiet times when people say things like that when you’re on the day to day treadmill of life, and how you manage it, that means a lot to me.
MVP: You had a reunion with the sisters, Esther and Vernie. What was that experience like, connecting with them after all that time?
Kellé: Personally, I was pregnant with my second child and so I knew that when I was doing it, the baby would only be three months, I would still be breastfeeding, and there would be all the different challenges mentally still with that. But I spent a lot of time talking to my family, and my really close friends about the whole experience, and to be fair, it was something that I’ve never had any kind of peace about. It was that one area in my life that was sort of niggling me and I didn’t have any sort of closure, so I thought it was a really good time to just put this behind me. I felt like it was really an opportunity for me to wipe the slate clean and ask the questions I didn’t really get the opportunity to ask at the time. I never understood why things ended in the way they did, so I really wanted to get those questions answered. So the reunion was the right time and the right vehicle to do that.
MVP: And did you get the peace you were looking for?
Kellé: It’s a difficult question to answer because I think we’ve changed a great deal as people, and we’ve grown up, and all got our own family and our own children. We’re different people in a different place in life, and I did get closure because I got to ask the questions I needed answers to, and I was heard. I think that’s half the battle sometimes, when you don’t feel like you’re being heard, and that your opinion and your feelings matter. So I definitely got that side of things.
MVP: As you’ve alluded to, you are now married with two lovely children. How do you balance your career, acting, and family, and being a “mompreneur?”
Kellé: I don’t always feel successful at it, but I do give it a good go. I do have an au pair and she’s in house and it’s just brilliant because it sort of gives you that safety net of child care. I’ve got really good friends and family. My dad, he is longing to go back to Barbados and retire and put his feet up but he says “I’ve got my grandchildren and my responsibility is to look after them and enjoy them whilst I’m still able and active.”
So my dad plays a huge part in that. I would never have been able to do the reunion because I was breast feeding which meant Kaori (my son) always had to be at least half an hour or less away from me lol. He was there and he was everywhere, you know, he was like my little handbag! So my dad helped me there backstage. So yes, it very challenging and which is why I do events like Mompreneur Awards, and I do all of those kinds of events and try to get involved as much as possible because I think mums need that support and encouragement as much as possible.
But it’s tough! It’s not impossible, but it’s tough, and so it’s lot’s and lot’s of juggling and trying not to overload myself too much, and also setting aside clear boundaries of when it is my time with the children and not allow anything to budge on that.
So we close as an office at 5.30pm, everybody else in the industry closes at 6 or 7pm, but that’s my time with my children. They’ve been cared for all day, so why then when they get back home should let somebody else to look after them. They’re my children! So it’s about setting clear boundaries. It’s about when it’s their time; it’s their time. It’s just being clear about my decisions and prioritising. I had this chat with a friend of mine, who’s a very well known film producer and he told me he works with mums a lot because they are so focused, because they have to be. So in the time you have (I have an hour) I will work really, really hard, focus, be task orientated, take it all out of the box and then I’m done. Whereas if you’ve got all day you could be a bit more relaxed with your time. So it’s made me more tenacious I think.
MVP: Brilliant. You are now an accomplished actress and you’ve been on many TV shows and movies. Is there any one that is most memorable to you, any particular show or film?
Kellé: The play I did called ‘Torn,’ by Femi Oguns. At the time, it was challenging, there was so much to talk about, diversity. At the time Torn was quiet groundbreaking because it was a piece of theatre that challenged African and Caribbean cultures. I didn’t realise quite how groundbreaking it was at the time and how the role would pull so much out of me. But also all for what it would do for actors that were working with me at the time. To see what they were doing now, and especially with Femi’s success – it’s extraodinary. I’m so proud of what he’s achieved as a writer, as an agent, as a business owner. I am so proud of what we achieved as a cast. So for me, that’s one of my favourites, and Me and Mrs. Jones will always be a favourite for me, because it was so funny, and I didn’t know I was funny! So finding that out and having people laugh and people was amazing. But I can’t take any credit because the writers were just brilliant, just great writers. It was just nice to do a bit of comedy and find my feet in that area.
MVP: Were there any actors or actresses who inspired you, or still inspire you today?
Kellé: Yea. I love Toni Collette who chooses very diverse work and I love her approach to the discipline. I love Dame Judi Dench, I just think she’s such a classic! I’ve seen her do Shakespeare, and I’ve seen her in Chocolat, and I thought it was brilliant! I just thoroughly enjoyed it, it was great, and those are the actors I sort of admired.
MVP: Right. What advise would you give to any aspiring musicians and actresses?
Kellé: First, be sure that that’s what you want to do because when trouble comes or when adversity comes, or when challenges come that’s when you kind of know what’s in you. So be sure that that is what you wanna do, that that is your purpose, that is your calling, direction, your passion, because what I get a lot of is what’s happening when it’s not great. You’re not getting the call, when you don’t get the call back, when you’re not casting, when you’re not getting the job, when the phone isn’t ringing, when you get dropped off a label, when all of those things happen that’s when you get to know who you are. It’s at those points when, if you’re still able to be stable in those moments, that’s when you can say, “this is just what I do,” “it’s just what I do and it’s what comes with the territory.”
Once you’ve got to that point you know that’s just who you are then no matter what comes against you, you have the ability to continue because “this is just what I do.” I think the difficulty with the creative arts is that you can’t say, “I’ve done my training as a doctor and therefore I’m qualified, therefore I’m a doctor.” You don’t get that same sense in the arts and I think that’s what makes us feel slightly unstable with saying I am a singer, or I’m a writer, or I’m a musician, because it’s like well, “what have you got that says you’re a musician, You’re an actor, you’re a this?” “Are you doing it? “Is it paying the bills?” Those things are irrelevant, it’s who you are. I am a musician, I am a writer, I am an actor, etc, etc. But because there isn’t that same view in the creative arts as it is with a Doctor or a sports person it’s different and I think you kind of have to have that centrally within you and that decision made to feel firm about that, so you are not knocked down by life.
MVP: What charities are you personally involved in?
Kellé: I am affiliated with Cancer research UK, who I’ve run one marathon for and a couple of half marathons. I’m also affiliated with St. Thomas Lupus Trust because of my own diagnosis with Lupus in 2000.
MVP: And can you tell us more of what it is like living with Lupus and how it has impacted your life?
Kellé: Yep. So I was diagnosed in 2000. I woke up one morning and couldn’t bend my finger, which then spread to my whole hand. Through a series of not very nice investigative work from the hospital, I was diagnosed with Lupus. In my case, I’ve got Systemic Lupus, which basically means it affects all the major systems of my body. With my last child, it entered into my brain so I lost the ability to see, hear, speak, move, so I had to rehabilitate myself over the last two years, and I was also treated with pain therapy. My disease is stable now and my normal treatment is working and I am able to live a pretty normal life.
MVP: That must have been terrifying, but you look the picture of health now so that must have been quite a journey.
Kellé: And I think it’s a continuous journey, and I think I am quite good at keeping a brave face on things because I think I’m good at hiding a lot of stuff. I’ve done quite a lot of work in psychology and it spins off on cancer patients and people dealing with pain therapy; because half the battle with chemotherapy is the psychological effects. That’s a long winded way of saying its actually quite a positive thing, because if you’ve lost all of your hair, and you’re out and about and you feel all conscience of it, I tackle it by going to the gym and I’ll just take it (my wig) off and let people
See, rather than having to feel like you’ve got something that you’re hiding. But it takes a lot more hard work to come back to your own feelings and what you think other people are thinking. So I say that in that situation, it’s a really positive thing to put your make-up on, wear your best outfits, do your hair, because I remember my hairdresser saying to me, “look this is what we’re gonna do” and he’s constructed all kinds of things to make me feel better because it makes you forget what’s
going on until your body catches up with the healing. So it’s almost that ‘fake until you make it’ and it’s really important when it comes to hair loss, your hair is not gonna grow back because you’re stressed. So it’s continuous, it’s just like a cycle, it’s not helping yourself. So giving yourself a break, where you can feel good about yourself, is positive because it makes you forget about what is going on and gives your body chance to heal, catch up, recover.
Half the battle with pains therapy is the psychological effect. Its not only stripping your blood of this, that and the other and whatever else it is doing, it strips you of your self confidence, belief in yourself, especially as a woman. It’s a real stripping of everything so you get to the ultimate core of who you are. So I quickly understood the strength of who I am as a woman regardless if I have hair, boobs, curves, whatever, because I am so much more than that.
MVP: Wow! Your life is definitely a very compelling story, very inspirational. Do you have any plans to write a biography?
Kellé: Yes, I am in the midst of doing that. I was recently taken on by, Kruger Cowne, for publishing and public speaking. They’ve done some amazing books and I’ve started my journey with that and it’s still a really slow and arduous one. It’s a very painful process where you’re constantly deciphering how much you want to say, and how much you want to reveal. So yea, it’s a very uncomfortable, vulnerable place to be but I am chugging through it.
MVP: I hear that! And in regards to moving into the realm of public speaking, how did you feel about that?
Kellé: Well, to be honest, when you have experienced losing the power to speak, standing in front of people can be quiet daunting. I mean, I still stutter every now and then. I often lose my thoughts, it just go out the window, and I can’t seem to get a sentence.
When I spoke at a Momprenuers Conference, I literally was like ‘gone,’ just totally gone. The good thing was that the audience was really supportive and every time I lost it they were like “come on Kellé, give yourself a minute,” and goodness me, I don’t know why…. it’s all a bit strange when you think about it the challenges you face to be able to speak. But I will do my very best and I am looking forward to it. I have worked hard and prepared as hard as I can. I just hope if it helps one person it would make it all worth it.
MVP: I am sure it would help more than one person.
Do you have any words of inspiration, finally, to leave to our readers.
Kellé: I’d say that they picked up the right publication…
MVP: Ah, thank you.
Kellé: And I would just say that it is a step by step process and don’t try to miss out on all the little steps because it’s the compounding of the little steps which
build a strong foundation. You don’t want to be building and then leave gaps because you can’t be bothered or because you are getting tired and fed up of the process of the journey, you just want a quick fix. You’ve got to build the layers, otherwise you get up here and you’ve got a big gap and you’ll collapse so just don’t get weary of the little steps.
MVP: It’s a process. Don’t skip the process.
Kellé: That’s right.
MVP: Kellé, thank you very much for giving us a glimpse of your story, it was very inspiring. I am looking out for your book as well. Please let me know when it is available let me be the first to buy it!
Kellé: Thank you so much