Oh, You Pretty Thing: 2018 is shaping up to be the year Liv Dawson breaks out of her current role as Next Big British Voice and hits the charts running. What makes this teen queen tick? David Newton finds out about Elton, girl crushes… and motherly advice
Portraits by Etienne Gilfillan
Straight outta Shepperton: while most of her contemporaries were still playing with their Bratz, teen overachiever Liv Dawson was laying down beats in the studio, gigging in London’s clubs and even appearing on the West End stage. Now with a hefty internet following and a handful of singles under her belt, she stops just long enough to tell Wylde how it all happened, and what’s next.
Wylde: You’re still 19, aren’t you? That’s almost too young to be a pop star! When did you actually begin singing?
Liv Dawson: I started doing gigs when I was, like, 13 and I just wanted to do covers… because I used to love watching Amy Winehouse. It was just pubs and clubs. My dad would organise me to play with my guitarist and I did my first gig at the 12 Bar Club – where Amy Winehouse had been – and I invited my whole family down; there was only one person who turned up who wasn’t my family! It was amazing, just singing in front of people; I loved doing it so much. Then I started writing songs when I was like 13-14; just making up stories in my bedroom.
How can someone so young be singing about break-ups, the difficulties of relationships..?
I had no idea when I was 14; I just thought I knew everything! I just made up stories and wrote about my family and stuff. Now I do write songs about what’s happened to me, experiences and people that are close to me. So, yeah, my songwriting’s definitely evolved!
Have you always had music in the house?
Yes, there’s always been music being played. My parents don’t play music themselves… my dad’s a roofer. My dad thought I could sing from a young age, but I thought everyone could! I think it came from my granddad, actually. He’s really into his music and he’s quite a good singer.
Did you have a Plan B if singing hadn’t happened?
Yes, I love animals, so I wanted to be a vet, or something. But I’ve always loved music, so if I hadn’t been a singer it would have been something in music, I think.
How were you “discovered”?
I met [Midas-touched songwriter] Jimmy Napes when I was, like, 14 and we wrote a song together and he really liked my voice, but we didn’t do anything for quite a while because I was so young. I came back when I was 15 or 16 and then we wrote [hook-laden floor-filler] Searching, which is the song that I’ve got out at the moment.
Do you write everything yourself?
I write with other people, I’ve always done that. You can get more out of the song because you have other people’s perspective, and it’s just more enjoyable. I think I’ve got better and better at writing. I used to not do anything in my sessions, and let other people lead them, because I was intimidated and didn’t think I was good enough to write with them, but now I just enjoy it.
What’s the strangest place you’ve thought of a song idea?
Probably when I’m in the toilet! Like: “I just came out with the best chorus ever!”
Who are your inspirations?
I think Beyoncé’s my biggest inspiration because she is so powerful and such a strong woman and, like: “Don’t need no man!” and so independent… I love that! I love feeling empowered and empowering other people. Whitney Houston was an amazing inspiration to me, and also George Michael.
How would you describe your fashion style?
I definitely like wearing stuff that complements my figure but makes me feel comfortable as much as sexy and sassy. I need to perform in it but still be myself. I always have to be comfortable; that comes first.
Where do you go out at night?
I’m kind of a bit of a granny… I don’t go out that much; it’s so bad, I know! I go to parties with my friends, and I go to gigs a lot.
Any recent gigs you’d recommend?
Bryson Tiller, the rapper. And SZA; she’s got this amazing album called Ctrl, which has got loads of different people on it. She’s up and coming.
What thing would people be most surprised to learn about you?
I used to do theatre; I was in the choir! I was in the West End show Never Forget, about Take That, which was really long ago, about eight years ago. And I did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Have you met anyone famous yet?
Yes: Elton John. I’m signed to Rocket Management, which he owns. And he is just the nicest guy. I met him and David. He has a Christmas party every year, in his gallery. There’s amazing paintings everywhere and a bar. Ed Sheeran was there too… he’s really cool.
Who do you fancy who’s famous?
I have more girl crushes than boy crushes… like Selena Gomez.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
I’m quite shy. And I’m quite understanding. I’m quite kind. And loving.
OK, now give us a negative one!
I’m quite picky and can be quite annoying. I’m a bit of an annoying girlfriend!
Do you keep tabs on what people are saying about you on social media?
I do read them, but my mum’s always saying: “You shouldn’t read them in case there’s a mean one…” I’ve had my first fan mail, which was really cute. I think it was a guy; he was so cute and nice, like: “I’ve been watching your Instagram.”
Oo-er! Has your mum given you any advice? Because there are some pervy guys out there!
I’ve always been quite grounded and aware of things like that, like creepy people. You just know if someone’s giving you a weird vibe…
Any other advice your mum’s given you?
She’s always said: “Don’t ever get lost, whatever happens. Like, if you end up going to this really cool event and meet some cool people and you’re in with this group… don’t change yourself to be like them.”
That’s great advice, but upon meeting Liv Dawson, something tells me she’s not going to be changing any time soon; this is a remarkably self-assured person, who’s quietly forging her own path in life. And seeing what she’s achieved at such a tender age, suggests that the future is surely hers for the taking.
Styling: Lauren Armes / Hair and make-up: Summer Dyason