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An audience with Grace Jones

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Grace Jones performs new track Williams' Blood on Later with Jools Holland

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Singer, film actress and style icon Grace Jones still cuts a commanding presence more than 30 years after she made her musical debut.

In a smart Italian restaurant close to her home in south-west London, the Jamaican-born star is holding court while sipping on red wine and nibbling some delicately-cut raw beef.

The meeting had been delayed by a fashionable two hours as the singer was relaxing in the spa.

Grace Jones
Grace Jones says she would never work with Timbaland

A luxuriant fur coat is draped over a nearby chair, while her sunglasses - it is dark - and cigarettes are close by.

The remarkable-looking 60-year-old is recording a programme for a gay radio station, making raucous jokes to the small gathering and cackling infectiously.

Jones purrs some safer sex messages into the microphone with her distinctive, molasses-rich voice before dismissing the broadcasters and discussing her first album in 20 years, Hurricane.

"I didn't decide to do an album - I'd decided never to do an album again. It was an accident," she explains, not before offering a forkful of carpaccio.

"It's only because I love the record that I have the motivation," she adds of the rounds of publicity that have come with the new release.

The one-time catwalk model and muse of Andy Warhol has developed a reputation over the years for being a troublesome diva - but hints it is because she is a perfectionist.

"I never do what anyone else is doing. I could walk away from music and become a farmer or do some crochet. The worst thing in life for me is to do something I'm not happy doing."

Eyeing Winehouse

Indeed, she claims to be the only artist to make record producers Sly and Robbie record a song more than once.

"I just say that I'm not coming tomorrow," she says of her method of persuasion.

Jones, who comes to the restaurant with just her make-up artist and a male friend, says her new album was "a love affair with the music".

GRACE'S VITALITY TIPS
Grace Jones
Visit Jamaica - the climate and relaxed environment will take years off you
Go swimming - preferably in the sea
See sunrises and sunsets
Enjoy the odd glass of red wine
Maintain your appearance but don't be obsessive
Swap gender roles occasionally

To complement the new release, the singer is going on tour next year, but says her show will be far removed from her legendary spectacles involving caged tigers, whips and scantily-clad male dancers.

"It will be focused on the music, so if a bomb were to drop, my voice can go on and entertain.

"There will be some pizzazz, but not overwhelming. It will be rock 'n' roll - with fashion, of course," says Jones, renowned for her outlandish dress sense.

"I'm going to learn to play some extra instruments, a bit of accordion, cowbell and some percussion," she adds.

Jones, whose 1980s hits Slave To The Rhythm and Pull Up To The Bumper have survived the test of time, admits to being a musical "loner".

But she has her sights set on a collaboration with Amy Winehouse, "the only interesting new voice around".

Jones is unflapped by the troubled star's woes, having suffered her own problems with addiction in the past.

Russell Harty moment

"Darling," she drawls, "We all have our ups and downs. She needs some advice that's for her best interests rather than someone else's.

"I've been there. It's a rollercoaster life," she comments on the potential pitfalls of fame.

"Right now my plate is very full. But she knows that I'm there for her and would love to meet her."

The subject turns to reality television, and for a second there is fear of a Russell Harty moment - Jones famously assaulted the chat show host on his programme in 1981.

"I've turned down millions of dollars to go on reality TV. It's an absolute no-go," she booms.

Grace Jones
I never do what anyone else is doing. I could walk away from music and become a farmer or do some crochet
Grace Jones

"There's nothing artistic or inspiring about any of those shows. How low does the bar go? I have to set my own values and keep them, and I don't care what anybody says."

But the mood soon softens as Jones is asked about the highlights of her extraordinary career, and pays tribute to some of the formative figures in her life.

"It was my vocal coach who said 'your voice is your voice, no-one else has it'. That gave me the clarity not to compete with anyone," she explains.

After the conversation has ended and the singer is planning her appearance at a party, I am called back, so she can tell me that the birth of her son was the true highlight of her life.

When you are summoned by the inimitable Grace Jones, you respond.

Hurricane by Grace Jones is out now, and new single Williams' Blood is released on 8 December. Her UK tour begins on 19 January in Birmingham.

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