Mica Paris credits grandmother for launching career after collecting MBE

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Mica Paris has been made an MBE (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)
Mica Paris has been made an MBE (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)

Soul singer Mica Paris has credited her grandmother as the “first agent” of her glittering three-decade career as she collected an MBE at Windsor Castle.

The London-born artist and actress also hinted that she could make a return to EastEnders, and teased that her latest album, Motown, includes a “duet with Jimmy Ruffin – even though he’s dead”.

Paris became a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to music, entertainment and charity at a ceremony hosted by the Princess Royal on Wednesday.

The 80s singer, whose real name is Michelle Wallen, said her grandmother Gwendoline Armstrong (nee Birch) was like her “first agent” and loved the monarchy because she felt it gave her family the opportunity to build a life after emigrating from Jamaica.

The Princess Royal oversaw the investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
The Princess Royal oversaw the investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

She told the PA news agency: “The only thing I’m sad about is that my grandparents aren’t here because they would have been over the moon – this is their dream. It’s very special.

“They came over in the Windrush generation, and built up their whole family here.

“My grandmother used to go on and on about how this country’s been so good to her. When she died she had four properties, after coming from Jamaica with absolute zero.

“For her she just loved what Britain stands for – the monarchy, the Queen – they gave her the opportunity to have success.

“And she opened the door and laid the foundation for me to be able to do this thing called music.

“I started off in my grandparents’ church when I was eight, they were ministers and they discovered I had an amazing voice.

“I was singing Rupert the Bear, and they went crazy. People started coming from far and wide to hear me, and my grandmother was like my agent taking me everywhere.

“Then I got signed at 17 to Island Records, and my first record went out when I was 18. It has just been 33 years of that really, so I’m very, very humbled about how it happened so fast.”

The soul singer said the “greatest moments” of her career included working with Prince and “watching him in concert and him dragging me out of the audience to come and sing with him”.

Mica Paris said her grandparents helped launch her career (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Mica Paris said her grandparents helped launch her career (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

“Another highlight was singing at the Prince’s Trust, and many years ago meeting Diana,” she added.

“Diana gave my grandmother a bunch of flowers, and until the day she died, 10 years ago, she had those flowers pressed in a book.”

She also counted starring as Ellie Nixon in EastEnders as one of her career highlights – and hinted that she could make a return to the soap.

Paris told PA: “I was in it last year as this terrible woman, Ellie Dixon – oh she was evil – but she’s in jail at the moment, so you never know.

“Jumping from music to that was massive, and thank God people liked it.”

Paris’ latest enterprise is an album called Motown, released on Thursday with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and which includes songs with late American soul singer Jimmy Ruffin.

“I’m doing a duet with Jimmy Ruffin, even though he’s dead – it’s amazing,” she said.

“He sounded like he was in the studio, it was really eerie.”

On the future of gospel music, Paris said: “I think now you can enjoy gospel religion without being religious, and I think people want to feel that thing and not necessarily have to be a Christian to enjoy it, and I think that’s what’s changed from my time.”

The 52-year-old released her debut soul album So Good in 1988, which peaked at number six in the albums chart.

Paris’ follow-up album, Contribution, was released in 1990, and extended her soul and gospel influences with hip-hop and house elements, including the track If I Love U 2 Nite written by Prince and recorded at his Paisley Park studios.

She has also appeared on stage in Love Me Tender, Chicago and the West End production of Fame, before diversifying into presenting, co-hosting the BBC consumer fashion programme What Not To Wear.

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