It’s been a year of extremes for flame-haired songstress Jess Glynne. The 25-year-old Londoner has just equalled Cheryl Fernandez-Versini’s record for most chart-topping records for a British solo female – with the oh-so catchy Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself.
While the X Factor judge took five years to achieve her five number ones, Glynne has managed to match that in just 18 months – thanks to a little help from her friends Tinie Tempah, Clean Bandit and Route 94.
But just over two months ago she was forced to pull out of the biggest festivals of the summer, including Glastonbury, T in the Park and the Isle of Wight Festival, because she needed an urgent operation on her vocal chords.
“It was terrifying,” she says now, with a voice she’s only just recovered, admitting she cried when the doctor told her she needed surgery. “I did think, ‘Oh my God, I might lose my voice’.
“I basically damaged the muscles on my vocal chords and the only way to recover was to have them operated on. It’s like going for a 10-hour run and damaging your ligaments, you can do the same if you overwork your voice.”
Anyone who’s a fan of Glynne’s will know just how easy it must have been to overdo it – she’s a powerful, soulful singer and really belts out her hits, which include Hold My Hand released back in March.
“I knew for a long time they were really bad and I’ve been through vocal trauma before – about six years ago I had a similar operation.
“You can feel it’s wrong, it’s a strain to talk, it’s a strain to sing, it’s really difficult to use your voice.”
She has her singer friend Sam Smith to thank for her recovery though, after he recommended the American surgeon who’d operated on both him and Adele.
“I went and talked to a doctor over here and I was told, with my career, I needed to see the best man. Sam was very supportive and put me in touch with the American specialist and we talked about it a lot together,” she says, clearly grateful to have had help from someone in the same boat.
After the op, she couldn’t talk or sing for three weeks and had to use a whiteboard to communicate.
“It was a really weird moment when I started talking again and singing…it was a huge relief when I found out I could still do it.”
She’s still seeing a speech therapist once a week and has a vocal coach, and has been warned to take care of her voice.
“I’m not fully recovered, I’m nearly there, but I have to be careful. If I talk a lot or rehearse a lot I can feel it, and especially since the surgery, I’m very conscious about how tired it can get.
“I’m a lot more cautious about everything. There is that risk I could permanently damage my voice, but I’m just not going to let it happen.”
Glynne can’t afford to let it happen again, what with her debut album, I Cry When I Laugh, just released and a tour of America planned for this month.
She’s still pinching herself over how quickly her career has taken off. “The last year has been such an insane time,” she says. “I do have moments where I think, ‘Woah! Is this really my life?’, because it’s been so incredible.” Glynne grew up in North London and had a brush with The X Factor when she was 15. She plays down the experience.
“I didn’t really apply. I just went and met some producers, but it wasn’t a full audition. I never went in front of the judges.
“I’m so glad I didn’t take that road because I feel the journey I’ve been on has been so amazing and so challenging, and I wouldn’t be the person I am if I didn’t have that,” she adds.
After she left school, she went travelling for six months, followed by stints in retail jobs, but lost her way and ended up seeing a therapist after bouts of binge-drinking.
“I did have troubled times in my late teens. I went through a year where I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I was going to go, and how to deal with it all. Seeing someone who can give you advice is a great thing,” she says.
“Do you know what? All the journeys I’ve been on have inspired me massively and when it comes to writing, I’m full of experiences.”
She still suffers from anxiety, though: “Sometimes it’s when I’m busy, I get quite anxious, or before performing on stage, I get incredibly awful nerves, like stage fright.” But thankfully, panic attacks – “the most awful feeling”– are now a thing of the past.
Glynne looks up to the late Amy Winehouse, a fellow Jewish North Londoner, as an “idol” and musical influence, but says she’s learned from Winehouse’s mistakes.
“I don’t really drink much, I can’t handle it and I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I’ll occasionally have a few cocktails but that’s about it,” she admits.
“I have such a supportive team and I work with one of my best friends, and they are the people who keep my feet on the ground and look after me. Without that, I don’t think I’d be as solid as I am.”
Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself tells of plastering a smile on her face as her career was taking off, to disguise the heartbreak she was feeling after splitting from her girlfriend – but she says she’s “over that now”.
“I’m pretty content with everything and I’m not looking for a partner – I’m too busy working at the moment. When I first started, one of the best pieces of advice I got was, ‘Go and write 100 songs and find out who you are as an artist’,” Glynne continues.
“And I did, I wrote a s**t-load of songs and I ended up in a place where I found myself – eventually.”