Queen of British Soul Beverley Knight has been at the top of her game making hit records for the last two decades.
Next month she is releasing a special live album ‘BK25: Beverley Knight with The Leo Green Orchestra at The Royal Festival Hall’, which is the culmination of her most recent tour celebrating 25 years in music and brings her biggest and best songs to life. Her hit songs are woven through my teens into my adult years, give me a song title and I’ll tell you what it reminds me of. There’s something about her songs, the vocals, the connection and feeling, that draws me back to listen again and again (if you haven’t heard it already, you must listen to her live rendition of ‘Angels’ and her new single ‘Now or Never’ is guaranteed to get you moving). Offstage Beverley spends as much time as she can with her family back in the West Midlands, husband James and rescue dog Zain, who we got to learn a lot more about recently.
Hi Beverley, thanks so much for your time today. Tell us all about Zain and how you came to own him.
Hi! My husband and I were thinking about getting a dog and adoption was absolutely the way we wanted to go. But I was a bit fearful, not just because of my own history with dogs, I was scared of dogs my whole life, although I’ve obviously got over that now. But instead because of my lifestyle, you know, the theatre, music, touring, all of that. But we thought, well, we’ll make it work. We will absolutely make it work. People have children and make it work even with busy lifestyles. So we were looking at photos and going through different adoption agencies and then one day we saw Zain and that was it.
Oh wow, love at first sight then? What was it about him that drew you in?
My husband happened to be looking through dogsblog.com one day, he did it all the time, and he’d left the page up so just out of curiosity I started to look and then I came across a video of a little black and white dog playing with a white dog. And I just thought, “Oh, this dog is so cute” and I found myself reading the blurb about the little black and white dog. The blog described him as a dude, said his name was Zain and that he was about nine months old.
There was something about the way he was playing, you know, just something about him specifically, and I said, “James, come and look, I think this might be our dog” and when James saw him he thought he was perfect. We didn’t know what breed he was, we just knew he was a cute faced black and white dog. So we started to make enquiries with his rescue, a charity called Angel’s Kiss, who had used dogsblog.com for publicity. Zain’s rescue was based in Yorkshire but worked with a rescue in Spain, which is where Zain was.
Was the rescue able to tell you anything more about Zain’s history?
We think he was a street dog.
So we started the process to adopt him and the next thing we knew, we’d been accepted and Zain was winging his way to us. Well, I say winging, he was actually been driven with other dogs that were being adopted from Spain to other families in the UK.
You mentioned before that you were scared of dogs for years. What changed?
My whole life I was scared of dogs. I had one parent, my mum, who was indifferent to dogs and another, my dad, who was quite fearful of dogs. Jamaican culture is that dogs usually live outside, they don’t come in the house, they’re protection guard dogs so there was always that wariness. My mum and dad really couldn’t understand the whole culture of dogs being in your house and being on the bed, for example. We were just not raised around dogs at all, so I was wary and fearful.
That all changed when I went on holiday to Austin, Texas to hang out with James’s sister Debbie who is a real animal lover. She has dogs, cats, everything. She owned a Pitbull mix called Blue, a big, lumpy, stocky, tough guy dog. I went there thinking I’m never going to get home. This is it. I’m going to write a will because clearly this will be the end of me. I arrived at Debbie’s house, stood at the gate right by the backyard, kind of pressed up against it, thinking, “Oh my god, he’s going to come out. He’s going to come bounding out and he’s going to jump up.” But Blue came out of the main house, slowly, with his tail wagging and just came over and sat next to me, just looking up at me as if to say “I’m not going to hurt you. It’s fine. Don’t be scared.”
It was like he had read my fears and I was stunned because my interactions with dogs were few and far between and they had always involved a dog jumping up, barking and being boisterous, so this was a shock for me.
Eventually, I got the courage up to pet him a little bit tentatively thinking, God, he might bite my hand but he was completely fine. And then slowly over time, I realised that dogs are just like humans in the sense that they have their own personalities, and like humans, how they are is based on how and what they’ve been taught. You know, Debbie had this wonderful rapport with Blue and he was really well trained. He was just the most loving, sweetest dog. The thing that really changed everything was one incident one morning.
Debbie is a breakfast DJ so she went off to work early one day and Blue was left in the house with us. We were in bed fast asleep and I heard this nose, a kind of whining and scratching. I asked James what it was and he said it was Blue and that he wanted to come in.
So I was like, “Oh, well, what happens if I let him in?” He said “You’ll find out, open the door. So I’m half asleep and I opened the door. Well, he came running in and jumped on the bed, tucked himself between James and I and went straight to sleep. I just thought it was the sweetest thing ever. And that was his routine until we left to go home. I just thought he was the sweetest, most gorgeous dog and I was absolutely taken aback at just how lovely and gentle he was and my own feelings towards him. I found myself falling in love with him, and I’m the person who turned up in Austin terrified of dogs.
If we went on a walk or if we went to the shops, if we went anywhere actually, I asked if Blue was able to come so I could look after him. When it came time to go home I was like “Bye, Deb” and when I went to say bye to Blue I just burst into tears. I didn’t want to leave him. All the way home I kept thinking of him and that was the catalyst that made me think, yeah, we can adopt. We can definitely adopt a dog. Literally, overnight my fear of dogs went and that was because of Blue.
He sounds like a very special dog.
I was devastated when he passed recently. I tell everyone Blue changed my life completely because if it wasn’t for Blue, I wouldn’t have Zain.
I saw a post on Instagram recently where you talked about Blue, Pitbulls and Debbie’s rescue work.
Yes, she’s a real fan of rescuing. She has a little girl called Braidy who is in her care at the moment. Braidy was tied up in Central Texas, in a hundred degrees or thereabouts. There was no water, nothing, and she was tied up on a short leash and people had been reporting the state of this dog. Debbie got to hear about it through an organisation in the US called ‘Stand Up for Pits’ so she drove three hours to rescue her and she’s been with her ever since.
Debbie already owns a little rescue French Bulldog called Alfie and Alfie and Braidy are like best buds. Everywhere Alfie goes, Braidy goes too.
What were the early days with Zain like?
Well, we met Zain at the designated meeting/drop off point to drive him home and I remember looking at Zain in the back of the car and he wasn’t responding that well to James, he was a bit fearful of men, but was fine with me, so I was a bit anxious.
When we got home, he sniffed everywhere and kind of settled down after a while. We fed him and just watched him. Our hearts were banging and we were just like “What have we done? It’s all very well this romantic idea of adopted a dog and now it’s a reality”, so we had a bed prepared for him and treats and things, and he was quite a calm dog so that was good.
The first night we were terrified like “What if he cries? What if he whines?”. Well that first night, Zain kind of knew that he was going to be okay. He went to the bed that we bought him and all through the night we were listening out but there was nothing, no whining or anything like that. He was completely fine.
Luckily for us, Zain has quite a chilled personality but we were very careful. We knew, you know, being a rescue, he would have habits and things that we may not be aware of that might manifest themselves over the days and sure enough, they did.
We saw how fearful he was over men and he was okay with dogs but he didn’t particularly like cats. You know, we figured all those things out and day by day it was just a learning process.
My friend happens to be Oli Juste (TV dog behaviourist) so we asked him to come and help us because we wanted to make sure we were doing the best job we could for Zain, and he came around and just taught us how to read his behaviour, you know, so we can read when he’s stressed or anxious, that kind of thing. That was what we were most concerned about.
Okay. What did that help you to pick up on?
We discovered early on that he hadn’t been socialised around little children and kind of exhibited fear of little children, so we were like “Okay, we need to give him some space from little kids and gently introduce him”, not throw too much at him in the early days. So we learnt bit by bit.
The big test was him meeting my family. My family were like me before I met Blue, fearful, wary, and I remember James being excited and saying, “We should take him and introduce him to your mum” and I was like, “She’s not going to like it, we’ve never had a dog in our house. I don’t think this is a good idea.” Anyway, we phoned mum and said “Is it alright if we bring Zain?” and because my husband’s very persuasive, my mum said “Oh yes, bring him. I want to meet him.”
So when we got there I was like “Oh my God Zain, please don’t bark at her. Please don’t jump up.” Well, he went up and sniffed her and was like “Yeah, you’re alright”, went into the back garden for a play then came back in, leapt up on the sofa and sat right next to my mum. And that’s how he was with every member of the family. Even though my brother has young children, Zain got to know them and they got to know Zain and now that they just absolutely adore him.
That must have been a relief?
I know you’ve had a really busy year with lots going on, including touring. Does Zain come with you when you tour?
My life has been very busy, you know, singing, theatre, it’s all been going on. Zain comes with me as much as possible. It’s not always possible and I understand that, but I always ask if Zain can come and find out if places are dog friendly.
James often accompanies me to the various things that I’m getting up to so when Zain comes along he’ll stick pretty close to him, but he’s been really chilled. He’s a really chilled out dog really.
There are a couple of things he doesn’t like. I took him to my rehearsal once when I was rehearsing with the band, and the noise didn’t bother him, but he wasn’t too keen on the kick drum. So, when my drummer was given it all to the kick drum, he was like, “What’s that? I’m not sure about that.” He went over, sniffed it out, decided he wasn’t a fan, kept his distance and fell asleep. He’s really good in new environments. He just sniffs everything out and then he tends to just chill out, and everybody loves him. So, I’m fortunate, very fortunate.
The UK’s first National Dog Adoption Day is approaching (25th October). Based on your whole experience of adopting Zain and everything you’ve learnt, what would you say to anyone thinking about adopting a dog? What would be your best piece of advice to pass on?
I would say that if you wanted to adopt a dog, because it probably won’t be plain sailing, you don’t always know the dog’s history – if you do it’s a bonus – so the first thing I would say is whether you adopt or however you acquire a dog, get a trainer in, someone who absolutely knows what they’re doing and get some basics down to help you learn to read your dog’s behaviour as much as you can. Because the more you get to know your dog, the more you’ll learn about yourself, which then helps you to help your dog.
That’s good advice.
Certainly, that was the case with me and with James. People should know it won’t be plain sailing, there will be challenges, there will be behaviours that might come up that you wouldn’t expect, that was how I discovered Zain didn’t like little children because he just wasn’t used to them.
There’s a lot of trial and error, so be prepared, but show them all the love you can because it’s so worth it. Zain has given us so much joy, so much love and we appreciate him in our lives and he certainly appreciates us. So, it’s absolutely worth it. If you’re prepared to spend time and put the work in, you’ll get all of that back in spades.
Looking at him now, now he’s thinking about getting up to sit next to you, he has a very expressive face, doesn’t he?
He does. He’s got this little dinky head, the rest of him is quite solid.
I always say that these are probably questions you won’t have been asked before – and probably won’t be again – so we can have some fun.
If you were to swap roles with Zain for a day, what would you love most about being him?
Zain likes to sleep so if we swapped places and I was him for the day, I think I’d quite enjoy the fact that I could sit down, chill out and find a sunny spot to lie in.
And what do you think he’d love most about being you?
I think he’d absolutely adore the attention that he’d get. I’m very fortunate because I’m very often kindly invited to have meals at different places and he does love food so I think that would be a big bonus for him. The one thing I don’t think he’d like would be having to sing because he does not appreciate my singing at all (laughs).
(Laughs) Does he not?
No, if I start to sing, he starts looking for the door.
Based on personalities alone, which breeds of dog come to mind when you think of these dog-loving celebrities and why?
Ricky Gervais – He’d be something quite sappy and sweet, like a Labrador because he’s got a sweet nature. He’s clearly a bighearted guy and everybody loves him. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love Ricky Gervais.
Sara Cox – She would be a talkative dog, a bit of a wiser cracker with lots of personality like a little Jack Russell.
Hugh Jackman – Let me think, these questions are brilliant by the way, I think he’d be a big dog, something like a Boxer. Something sweet but impressive to look at.
Mariah Carey – She would be something like a Poodle, a very pretty dog that’s always going to the parlour, wears a bow in her hair and always being the diva dog.
And what about you and James, what breeds of dog would you be and why?
Oh my god. James would be a Staffy for sure. Really good looking, athletic, looks like a tough guy but completely soft and sweet-natured. That would be that would be James. Me, I’d have to be something with huge eyes. Maybe I’d be a Beagle? (laughs)
They like to sing.
Yeah, they’re very vocal.
All right, moving onto some of our quick-fire questions. What items do you never without at home?
I never leave home without my phone. I can’t even pretend. I always tend to have nuts somewhere in my bag to nibble on and I always have a lipstick, so girly. Literally, you could go into my bag now and the lipstick in there won’t even be the one I’ve got on now, it will just be a random one, so I always have a lipstick of some description on me and usually some kind of natural products, like a natural solid stick perfume. I always have one of those in my bag. As much as I can, I use natural products.
And what about Zain, what does he never leave home without?
Well, there’s the obvious poo bags, but there’s always some kind of treat and it’s usually a cheesy one. He’s such a foodie, he loves manchego. It’s his favourite cheese.
What’s your favourite album (of your own) and why?
That’s a great question. Well, when I recorded ‘Soulsville’, it was the best recording experience I’ve ever had.
You know, going to Memphis and going into the famous Royal Studios, standing behind the legendary Al Green’s microphone, it was just like having the musicians in the same room as me. Doing it all completely organically, completely live in that setting, it felt like I was surrounded by the spirits of everybody who had been in that room and recorded there before and it was like that whole experience ended up manifesting itself on the record.
When I listen back to that album, all of the thoughts and feelings, everything I felt about being in that room, come flooding back to me every time so I love just sitting and listening to it. Of course, that’s how I feel now, I might change my mind later on and say well actually ‘Who I Am’ is my favourite because that was my breakout album. It changes, but right now I’m really enjoying ‘Soulsville’ because I was in the cradle of the history of R’n’B, blues and soul, and that meant everything to me. It was like a pilgrimage.
If you could rescue one album or download one album only from Spotify, from another artist, what would it be?
The ‘Sign o’ the Times’ by Prince. I am a Prince nut and to me, he was my mentor from afar. I wanted to write the way he wrote, I wanted to have that same approach. The way he put his band together, the way he would harmonise all of that, growing up, you know, I learnt so much just from listening to him. I listened to him like it was an ology.
He was a genius, wasn’t he?
Yeah. I studied him closely. The thrill of my life was being able to tell him and he was really chuffed about that. So yeah, ‘Sign o’ the Times’, it’s just a complete masterpiece. It’s quite dystopian, but, you know, it’s still relevant now, both in its creativeness and in its lyrics. It has some great, gorgeous love songs, very sexy in places, with some straight out funk moments and full-on rock moments. It’s got everything.
It’s amazing how some albums have that sort of just sound new, even when they’re old because they’re so different completely.
Yeah, that album is the epitome of timeless for me because it just so, so fresh and radical. It was like every genre you could think of in one album.
I know you’re a Wolves fan. I am too. Who’s your favourite Wolves player (past or present) and why?
Growing up my bedroom was wall to wall Prince and Bully Wolves legendary striker Steve Bull. I told him that and he couldn’t believe it. He had so much skill, he was fearless. If Bully got on the ball, you knew it was going to blow a hole through the back of the net. He was just so special and full of passion.
When we think of great goal scorers we think of Paul Gascoigne and the great creators of goals like David Beckham and the way he could bend the ball, but Bully played with so much heart. He gave so much to the game and he’s still giving it now.
He actually has a dog so thinking back to our earlier question, if Steve Bull was a breed of dog based on his personality alone, what breed of dog would he be?
Such a good question. He’d be something quite like a Collie. Quick, clever and ball mad.
What do you think is the most important life lesson that we can learn from dogs?
(Zain’s now falling asleep on Beverley as she answers) Dogs teach us the value of being loyal and kind. If you show kindness to a dog, they will show you all the love in the world. Always. They’re bonded to you forever. Dogs love unconditionally and the value of loyalty is unsurpassed when it comes to dogs. It’s a wonderful trait to have.
Is that what you think is the best thing is about being Zain’s mum?
I absolutely adore being Zain’s mum because you know, even though he really loves his daddy and I come a close second, if I needed him he would be right there. He’d never leave me and I’d never leave him. He has taught me real unconditional love and it’s a beautiful thing.
Finish the following sentence. My dog is…
….a champion. He has survived a very tough beginning and even though it’s quite clear that he has had some trauma in his young life, he’s still willing to give humans a chance and still opened his heart to James and I. He just wins at life because of it. He is an absolute champion of a dog. He’s so great.
And one final question, if you could ask Zain one question and one question only, what would you ask him?
That is such a good question. I think I’d I want to know why Zain chose us because yes something about his demeanour obviously spoke to us but ultimately, he needed to be happy with us. He could have looked at us and thought “No”.
I genuinely think dogs do choose their owners and I’d want to know why us, what was it about us that made him realise he could trust us because we knew we’d be okay with him and we have the power to reason, so we knew that he would be wonderful for us, but I wonder what it was that made him think, “Yeah, these humans are cool. I think I’ll stick around.” Yeah, that’s what I’d love to know.
Many thanks, Beverley!
(Article source: K9)