There is a strange duality to Adele, whose career – as Lauren Laverne said in her introduction to Desert Island Discs (Radio 4) – has taken her from Tottenham to Beverly Hills. As documented in a recent Vogue interview, she now lives an A-list existence that keeps her remote from the normal world: a life of travelling in blacked-out limos, of eating in private dining rooms, of having museums opened at her request so she can look at the art without anyone looking at her.
Yet in person she remains open and unpretentious (journalists often describe her as “earthy”, which is code for “swears like a docker”). And so it was in Desert Island Discs, where she gabbed away as if she was sitting next to us on the 38 bus.
The Adele we got here was very much the down-to-earth girl who grew up in Tottenham and West Norwood, and the best parts of the programme were her pre-fame reminiscences. She picked her first record, Roam by the B52s, because it reminded her of dancing around the living room with her mum as a kid. And she spoke candidly about the hurt caused by her absent father, an unreliable figure in her early life after her parents divorced. Plenty of listeners, I’ll wager, would have known a similar experience: of being let down by a father who rarely turned up when he said he would. At 12, she decided to cut him out of her life for her own good, although they reconciled before he died.
Because Adele is a talker, we got a vivid picture of her life in the lead-up to fame. One of the reasons she auditioned for the Brit School in Croydon at 14 was because her friends were getting pregnant; her mum was worried she would go the same way. “My audition was great. I nailed it!” she told Laverne, with a great cackling laugh. Invited to meet a man from a record label, she had a savvy South London teenager’s scepticism, making a friend go with her in case the executive was “a weirdo”. And for those who didn’t know the background to her first Top 10 hit, Chasing Pavements, she recounted it here: it was inspired by a night she ran down Tottenham Court Road after slapping her cheating boyfriend in a club.
These early years were more evocative than the life of the world-famous Adele, although Laverne touched on all the talking points: her striking weight loss, motherhood and divorce, and those cancelled Las Vegas shows. Laverne’s questions were tactful to a fault; noting that some fans were frustrated and upset about the cancellations, she asked: “How do you balance their disappointment with your own creative decision that the concerts couldn’t go ahead, and do you think you got it right?”
Adele suggested that she was working on the show still, but Laverne didn’t follow up by trying to pin her down on whether she will stage them this year or next or ever at all, or why she had no problems performing in Hyde Park on Friday. But Desert Island Discs isn’t the place for confrontational journalism, which is probably why A-list Adele felt so comfortable being here.