Merry Christmas, Love by Joss Stone is out now
Joss, 35, was belting out carols at the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony just two days before this interview. “I met Joe Biden,” she tells me. “He had the biggest smile I’ve seen on a president yet.”
Joss once famously greeted George W. Bush with “Hiya George, wassup?” But she barely remembers meeting him now. “It was so long ago. Joe seemed to have a good vibe. They’re just people, like you and I.”
She nearly missed the ceremony in Washington DC. “We got in the car to travel six minutes and drove around the city for an hour looking for the entrance to the gig only to find it was just one block from our hotel. We could have walked it!”
You would not have known from the figure-hugging red gown she wore that night that English rose Joss had given birth to her son Shackleton just two months ago.
Or how difficult that birth had been. Stone needed an emergency caesarean after her uterus split during labour.
The cheery Grammy-winner has two children with her “perfect man” Cody DaLuz – daughter Violet Melissa is two next month. They’re part of the reason she recorded Merry Christmas, Love – a heart-warming festive album.
“I’ve wanted to make a Christmas album for years,” she says. “I genuinely love this time of year and now I have my babies, Christmas has become magical again. It’s children’s wonder that makes it more than just a party.
“So now I have Violet and Shack, there have years of magic to look forward to. Without them, this record wouldn’t be as enchanting, so I have them to thank.”
In a market flooded with re-issues and cynical cash-ins, Merry Christmas, Love delivers real crackers fuelled by gospel, joy and enthusiasm.
Stand-out tracks include a gloriously soulful version of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, a dreamy take on Winter Wonderland and a lush Silent Night, warm enough to melt Scrooge’s ice-cold exterior.
“They’re songs I’ve loved for years. In The Bleak Midwinter holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first songs I ever sang as a tiny little girl.”
She wrote If You Believe, one of two original tracks, for her children inspired by the movie, Polar Express.
“I wanted to tell them a story that explains what is about to happen and how wonderful it can be if you just believe.”
Joss recorded it in the heat of the Nashville summer. “Every time we stepped outside, we were hit in the face with the sunshine,” she laughs. “But every studio was well-prepared – they dressed the rooms with Christmas trees, over-sized candy canes and twinkly lights.”
It kept her in a cool Yule mood, especially as she was heavily pregnant with Shack. “It made singing more of a challenge but making him and the record at the same time made everything more magical.”
Kent-born Joss, real name Joscelyn Eve Stoker has been making magic since her teens. She won the noew forgotten BBC TV talent show, Star For A Night, at 14; two years later she was selling out New York clubs, being filmed by MTV and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
She was 5ft 10 with golden tresses and a voice that saw her swiftly christened “the black Aretha”. Quite something. Yet Joss had no formal training. As a toddler she would sing along to her mother Wendy’s Whitney Houston and Anita Baker records, mimicking their throaty vocals.
At 16, her debut album The Soul Sensations became a global hit. In her whirlwind career she found herself performed with legends like James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart and Ringo Starr, and formed SuperHeavy with Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart and Damian Marley.
More big-selling albums followed including chart-topper Mind, Body & Soul, along with hits like You Had Me. But Joss thinks her biggest achievement was her Total World Tour. Between 2015 and 2019, she played 200 countries and only conked out in Iran.
“They told me on arrival I was banned from the country” – Iran bans women musicians performing in public. “But the immigration people were lovely; they were so upset they had to deport me.”
Joss credits her children for new album
When I ask later about unfulfilled ambitions she replies “Playing a gig in Iran.”
In Afghanistan, Joss woke up to the sound of an explosion and was told “Oh, that was a car bomb, don’t worry about that.”
Don’t worry?!? “There was gunfire all around. If it happened in Devon you’d be freaking out.”
Most countries were “amazing,” she says. “So many beautiful places and people; we visit charities in each place. In Peru there was a young boy named Harry who couldn’t hear or see. When we went to Panama, we met the Hear The World charity and managed to link them up.
“Now Harry can see and hear after years of living in total silence and darkness. That was one of the best things that happened on the tour.”
Another was meeting ex-marine Cody, 32, at an airport in Belize in 2019. The connection was instant, love at first sight. The family currently live in Nashville, Tennessee, but Joss plans to move home to Devon at the end of next year, before Violet starts nursery school.
Relocation is no small challenge. Joss has rescue dogs, cats, and a large collection of crystals.
Home is the sprawling converted farmhouse she grew up. When her parents split and decided to sell it, she snapped it up. She was 18 and couldn’t bear losing it.
Her father Richard has a fruit and nut import/export business. Mum Wendy, her original manager, used to rent out guest-houses on the property – one now converted into a studio.
Joss will spend this Christmas in Rhode Island with Cody’s kin; her sister Lucy’s family are flying over.
“It’s going to be fun – lots of singing and magic for the kids. I have a feeling snow might be on the cards… We’re going to have an Air BnB so we can make Christmas dinner.”
Generally upbeat, the star survived two awful career lows – a 2009 legal battle with EMI to break free from her contract, costing her millions, and an evil 2011 plot to kidnap and kill her which led to the jailing of two men from Manchester.
Joss has only caught one England World Cup game so far – “I’ve been too busy singing Christmas songs, but my dad keeps us updated on our family WhatsApp group.
“I’m always rooting for our team, fingers and toes crossed the lads kick butt…”
Now she’s focused on next year’s 20 Years Of Soul European tour. She’s prone, she says to “Spinal Tap moments, like getting lost backstage” at huge auditoriums. “That still happens.”
Joss plays the London Palladium on 7th March 2023
Stone won The Masked Singer last year but won’t be taking on ITV’s jungle any time soon.
“I loved being the soulful sausage,” she giggles. “It made us laugh so much from start to finish. I think I’ve got to quit while I’m ahead though – no more mad challenge shows for me. The sausage was the pinnacle.”
Joss loves her loyal fans. “They’ve always been so supportive. I’ve jumped from genre to genre and they stand with me. I really appreciate that. It’s heart-warming to walk on stage to such encouragement and love.”
Despite doctors telling her she can no longer “give birth naturally”, Joss still wants more children, either via caesareans or adoption.
“But in between we’ll tour and keep the music flowing,” she vows, adding cheerfully, “Merry Christmas to you all. Thank you for the support.”
- Merry Christmas, Love by Joss Stone is out now. Joss plays the London Palladium on 7th March 2023. Tickets from Ticketmaster.