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Melissa Bell: Alexandra’s rock and inspiration

Former Tribune reporter Peter Gruner followed the rise of singing star Alexandra Burke and got to know her mother Melissa, who died last week

11 September, 2017 — By Peter Gruner

Alexandra Burke with her mother Melissa Bell

She was the young girl from off the Cally Road who became the nation’s sweetheart – but she never forgot her brave mum.

For Alexandra Burke, who went on to become a superstar after winning ITV’s X Factor in 2008, always referred to her mother Melissa Bell as her rock and inspiration.

Sadly Melissa, herself a former soul singer, has died aged 53 following a long and protracted battle with kidney failure brought on by diabetes.

Back in 2008 Melissa thanked Tribune readers for being among the first to launch the “vote for Alex” campaign for the talent show.

When Alex won, our headline in December 2008 said it all: “Singing star Alex’s triumph the Xtra tonic mum needed.”

No one was more proud of Alex’s extraordinary success than Melissa.

But she had been dogged by illness. Few can forget how she was rushed to the Royal Free hospital with complications on the night of the X Factor semi finals and missed her daughter’s magnificent performance – because the TV in the dayroom was not working.

In the run-up to the finals, Melissa took large containers of Caribbean “soul food” by car to the Wembley mansion where Alex and the other eight contestants were staying. “Alex is fine but she misses her mum’s home cooking,” Melissa said at the time. “She needed something to keep her spirits up, so I did spicy Jamaican chicken, peas, home-made macaroni cheese, coleslaw, and a nice, crisp, green salad.”

The Support Alex Campaign all began with a letter to the paper from her former dance teacher, Shirley McMullins at Copenhagen Primary School, “prevailing” on readers to vote for Alex in the early rounds.

The campaign went on to include the then Lib Dem Islington mayor Councillor Stefan Kasprzyk, who described himself as a “great fan”. Also the Lib Dem leader of the council, Cllr James Kempton, urged everyone to vote for her in the final.

For her part, Alex paid tribute to teachers at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, particularly singing coach Sarah Beagley.

Ms Beagley said at the time: “She is the little girl with a big voice who went on to conquer the world.”

Alex’s win did give Melissa a terrific tonic.

And the best moment in the competition?

Melissa said at the time: “For me, it was when Alex performed with Beyoncé in a duet at the semi-finals.

“Worst, for me, was having to go in and out of hospital throughout and often feeling quite low.”

Later in 2013 Melissa revealed on TV just how much Alex had helped her since winning the title.

She described how she no longer needed to drive to the Mary Rankin Dialysis Unit at St Pancras Hospital three or
four times a week for dialysis. Instead, Alexandra has paid for her mother to have the latest blood filter equipment installed in her home off the Caledonian Road.

“Alex has been very good to me,” Melissa said. “She even offered me her kidney, which I couldn’t accept because without
it she could be at risk if she became pregnant.”

Melissa was a great fan of the NHS and in 2013 joined the Save the Whittington campaign launched by our sister paper, the Camden New Journal. She was joined by stars that included Dominic West, Sir Richard Eyre and Juliet Stevenson.

Melissa said then: “I absolutely support the campaign to save the Whittington and so does Alex. The service was very efficient. And I was very happy with the treatment. I remember taking Alex there when she was a little girl for various check ups. She was once bitten by our little puppy and she needed an anti-tetanus injection. The staff have always been kind.”

Melissa leaves behind children Sheneice, David, Alexandra and Aaron.

Melissa Bell, singer, born March 5, 1964. Died August 28, 2017.

Jazzie B: ‘Now she’s singing with the angels’

MELISSA Bell’s life on earth was far from long enough, as was her time with Soul II Soul, the band’s founder Jazzie B has said in tribute to the singer who died last week, writes Koos Couvée.

The R&B singer passed away following a long battle with kidney failure set on by diabetes, aged just 53.

Having worked for years at Marks & Spencer while performing in clubs by night, she took the plunge as a professional singer in 1991.

Her debut single Reconsider followed and caught the ear of Jazzie B, founder of R’n’B group Soul II Soul. The band had topped the charts with Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), and Keep On Movin’ and won two Grammys, but had lost its singers to solo careers. Melissa became the group’s lead singer at Jazzie B’s request.

Soul II Soul founder Jazzie B

“When Melissa became part of Soul II Soul she would light up any room,” he said. “She was in with a smile and an attitude that literally brought the sun out – it was why we dressed her all in red for the Wish video, to complement that natural radiance.

“She was a local north London girl who so totally got the Soul II Soul vibe, then brought the voice of an angel to
the recordings she graced.”

Melissa left Soul II Soul in 1995, having sung on the hits Wish and Be A Man, finding some success with the singles Rumbled Sex and Mixed Up.

However, her performances became increasingly rare as her career was curbed when a long- term diabetic condition led to kidney failure and ultimately cost her her life.

Jazzie B added: “Like her time with the band, her time on earth wasn’t long enough, now she’s singing with the other angels.”

Melissa’s mother and grandmother had also died from kidney failure, and she showed great strength as she tried to live a normal life despite having to undergo daily dialysis treatment.

“Some people decide that the pressure and worry of dialysis is all too much and they sign off from the treatment,” she wrote in Heart and Soul: The Emotional Autobiography of Melissa Bell.

“I would never want to do that. Music alone is enough reason to stay around on this earth as long as possible.”


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