‘Michael Jackson was so inspirational for me’

Cleo Higgins, former lead singer of Cleopatra and Will i am’s contestant on The Voice, pays her dues to her great inspiration at Brighton Theatre Royal (Monday, February 3-Saturday, February 8).

She lines up alongside three male singers for Thriller Live, a celebration of the late, great Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5.

“Michael Jackson was just so inspirational for me,” says Cleo who rose to fame with Cleopatra, the 1990s pop group made up of three sisters from Manchester.

“The tour started the last week of September, and for me it has been like having a little bit of Michael in my life. I was asked to audition. I have never auditioned for anything in my life... Well, I have, for three things, all very different. This was something really different. I just thought ‘How am I going to do Michael as a woman!’ I had never seen the show.

“But with three male singers and one female singer, it makes you realise just how diverse Michael was that they needed four people to get the range of the emotion that he had and the styles that he had. There are very few people that could be the best in pop and rock and soul, but all that was moulded into Michael Jackson, and we do it all, right from the early ABC era through to the more recent stuff. We reach all parts!

“And there are so many parts to Michael that made him the great genius that he was. He was humble, and yet he was a star. He was connected with the real world, and he wanted to take away pain and to heal.”

Really? Aren’t there plenty of people who would argue that he was totally disconnected from the real world?

“Yes, but he was connected in the world at an emotional level. He wanted peace in the world, but he was never given the space that he needed. He was owned by the public. He could never really be himself. He was totally swamped.”

As for whether he was... well, just a little bit strange, Cleo counters: “But aren’t we all a bit strange, all in our different ways? I am the geekiest person around. I really am. People cast me as the diva before they get to know me, and then they discover that I am just so geeky. They realise I am a bit of a dizz, but people don’t really see that.

“I think Michael was different. You think of the pressure he was under. The entertainment industry was based on gossip, but now the idea of celebrity has really changed. If you think of how Justin Bieber is struggling, well, it is not really surprising, but just think how much worse it must have been for Michael Jackson. You just can’t imagine what it must have been like. Michael was maybe a little bit naive, but he was a big man. Maybe in the world he was in need of someone to protect him.”

Also perhaps someone to tell it to him straight.

As Cleo says, sometimes people don’t dare tell her where she is going wrong with a show: “And I really want to get it right, but they look at me as Cleo with a major history with Cleopatra. I want to get things right in my head, but they look at me in a different way. They find it intimidating. They don’t think they can speak to me. Just imagine that on the scale that Michael Jackson must have experienced!”