Most pop stars who have taken some time out of the spotlight later crop up on TV shows like I’m A Celebrity or Strictly Come Dancing.
But not singer Tulisa Contostavlos. She has turned down every reality or talent show she’s been offered during her absence from the celebrity world.
“I steer clear of them because it’s really hard to keep being a credible musician when you start delving into that,” she tells BBC News.
“Although there are loads that make me go ‘argh, that would be so much fun’, and Masterchef is definitely one of them! Because I’m such a huge cook in my spare time.”
While viewers might not get to see her speciality dish (lamb kleftiko, a nod to her Greek heritage) any time soon, the former N-Dubz singer’s absence from the small screen has allowed her to focus on her original love – music.
Her new single Daddy was released last month, the first of a three-single record deal she has signed.
It’s captured attention with the help of its sexualised video – which sees a pink-haired Tulisa performing alongside pole-dancers while singing: “I wanna call you daddy, make you want all my love.”
It’s a far cry from the poppier sound of some of her previous hits like Young, which topped the UK singles chart in 2012.
Back then, she says: “I wanted to have this more polished image and therefore I was trying to polish the music to go with that. So I knew I wanted to come back and really be myself.
“I didn’t plan on writing this really raunchy song and purposely pick the title, Daddy, it just kind of happened.
“With urban music, you can be slightly more controversial in terms of the lyrics and how raunchy it is.”
Tulisa’s return to music comes a year after she won a legal battle over the role she played in one of the biggest hits of the past decade.
She was the original artist on the song that became Scream And Shout by Will.I.Am and Britney Spears – which was a worldwide smash in 2012.
Tulisa had previously recorded the track under a different title and with a different chorus. But that song never saw the light of day.
“I was simply played the beat. And I was like, ‘sick song, this is a hit’. So I wrote [lyrics] to it… and then I really wanted to release it as my next single after Young,” she explains.
“And Will.I.Am heard it through the producer and, being a lot closer to him than I am, basically went ‘give me this record’.”
Will had approached Tulisa to ask for her permission, but she was keen to keep the song for herself. Some discussion followed about whether they could team up for a duet.
“But then I just woke up one day, and literally saw the video of them, Britney Spears and Will.I.Am, and that was my song and I was like… How?!”
The US stars’ version had some new lyrics, but the verses Tulisa had written were kept and sung by Britney instead.
After a long-running legal battle, Tulisa’s name was finally added to the songwriting credits last year, giving her a 10% share of profits.
Tulisa’s version was never released, but she did perform it live last month, giving fans an insight into how the song would otherwise have sounded.
Fans have speculated that her original demo is the reason Britney sings with a British accent on the track.
“Oh definitely yeah, that’s why,” Tulisa says. “They kept some of my vocals in the song. They obviously got her to listen to that tone and sing along with it.”
But, she clarifies: “Britney has nothing to do with this situation. She probably didn’t even know who Tulisa was until a story came out that X amount of the record has now gone to me.
“I can’t complain, because now, the exposure it’s had off the back of it, via Britney Spears, it’s a worldwide hit. And I’m not known in a lot of the territories that it’s become number one.
“It’s a crazy world but it has ended up benefitting me in the long term.”
But throughout Tulisa’s musical career it’s been a long and continuing battle to get the media to take her seriously.
“Tulisa is famously a working class girl made good, though of course made good is never what she is allowed to be,” wrote Suzanne Moore in The Guardian in 2014.
“Having spoken about her upbringing in a council flat… Tulisa has been branded by the media as a chav and therefore almost anything can be said about her. And it is.”
Such criticism is something Tulisa has faced since N-Dubz shot to fame in 2007, but more than a decade on, does she think “classism” is still an issue with the British media?
“I think it’s very prominent, it’s still there,” she says. “But it’s changing, and change is progress.
“I don’t feel like people can maybe get away with it now as much as they used to.
“Like, the way people used to openly call me a chav in newspapers, I feel like now people will be a lot more sensitive about stuff like that.
“It’s like ‘dude, she’s 20 years old, you can’t rip someone because of where she’s from and the number of tattoos she has’.”
Discussion around such social issues has increased in recent years – and there have been calls for classism to be written into the Equality Act alongside forms of discrimination such as sexism and racism.
Tulisa’s comments come the same week a Social Mobility Commission report found working class people in professional jobs earn almost a fifth less than their more privileged colleagues.
The singer adds: “There definitely is more awareness, I think that with a lot of subjects, not just classism, on everything that’s important that wasn’t 10 years ago.
“So you can only imagine how we’re going to advance 10 years from now and everything will get better. Slowly but surely, baby steps.”
However, Tulisa still remains firm tabloid fodder, and many have recently picked up on the recent changes to her appearance – something she is quite open about.
“My face isn’t pumped with fillers,” she points out. “My lips have filler in them. And I have a lot of treatments from skin tightening to muscle lifting that are actually more natural.
“But the effect that it has gives me a lifted look, which I like. I’m never going to listen to anyone when it comes to how I dress or how I look. Just in general, I am who I am.
“And the same goes to everyone else out there, you should never be a version of yourself to impress other people. Always be the version of you that you feel comfortable with. And this is me.”
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