Hackney-born soul icon Gabrielle: How I overcame obstacles to rise to the top

Gabrielle accepts the award for Mastercard Best UK Album, for her album Rise at the 2004 MOBO awards

Gabrielle accepts the award for Mastercard Best UK Album, for her album Rise at the 2004 MOBO awards at Alexandra Palace. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Almost anyone who was alive in the 1990s is sure to remember Gabrielle – the iconic singer-songwriter with a distinctive patch over one eye.

But it could have been so different. Ridiculed relentlessly during her childhood in Hackney for a “sleepy eye” caused by the muscle condition ptosis, she had originally kept her showbiz ambitions firmly hidden.

“I never said openly that I wanted to sing professionally as I didn’t want to be a laughing stock,” she revealed.

“I thought it was never going to be within my reach. I had a lazy eyelid. I was an East London girl, working class, a black female... I was never that traditional looking girl that anyone could imagine would be on TV.”

Yet in 1993, her first breakthrough came. Her single ‘Dreams’ hit the charts and held the No. 1 spot for three weeks running, earning her the highest charting debut a British female solo act had ever achieved.

Her trademark eyepatch was now no longer a disguise for a defect but a confident signature style – and despite naysayers claiming she wasn’t “pop star material”, she graced countless magazine covers.

Two BRIT Awards and a series of platinum albums also followed – and Gabrielle’s credentials would even impress her political hero Nelson Mandela.

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“Meeting him was surreal,” she mused, “People say he would kill by any means necessary but he was an educated man who wanted to fight for his rights. Can you imagine the idea of not being able to fight for freedom?”

More recently, she took some time out.

“I was ‘Gabi’s Cabbies’ for a while to my children, doing the school run,” she revealed, “but then I had the touring blues. I didn’t realise how much I’d miss it.”

So, after 11 years, she made a return to the stage – this time to promote new album Under My Skin.

In the words of her debut song, more than 25 years after it hit the charts, Gabrielle’s dreams are still coming true.

With six albums under her belt, what would she say to her haters now?

She cackled with delight, her visible eye gleaming, before leaning forward with a conspiratorial smile to reveal: “I’d say: ‘Keep on hating.’ They just made my success that much sweeter. Success is the best revenge.”