Anastacia: “Getting breast cancer was a great irony…”

Anastacia discusses her battles with breast cancer and Crohn’s disease, awkward teenage years - and what Elton John calls her!

We moved from Chicago to New York City when I was 16. My mother, she was an actress and she’d just got divorced from my step-father. So that was a big transition for me. I was still quite shy. I was friendly but I wasn’t advanced. I couldn’t wear anything too risqué or my mom would knock my head off. She’s a Chicago Irish woman and she’s true-to-core. She kept a tight rein on me and my brother and sister.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 13, which doctors discovered when they went in to investigate a dislodged benign tumour. Otherwise I was a healthy child and once I had my operation I didn’t have any Crohn’s issues until I was 19 and tried to go on a diet. Basically, I was trying to lose my boobs and my butt. [A producer said] they were not working for the dancer’s body, they didn’t fit the image. So I was put on this mandatory diet of vegetables and fruit and after three weeks my intestines collapsed. That’s when I realised what this condition meant.

The boys never looked at me the same way again. I was mortified

I felt very awkward as a teenager. I wanted blue eyes, I wanted to be taller, I wore glasses, I got my chest early and I was very embarrassed about it. I just wasn’t the kind of girl I thought guys would want to date. Though in some ways I was okay with that because I didn’t want to date any boys anyway. I just wanted to be friends with boys, boys were cool with me. Until we were doing a show in school where we all had to wear these catsuits for a dance routine. I walked into the room, all boobs and bum, and the boys never looked at me the same way again. I was mortified. That’s probably when I started wearing my stepfather’s shirts, big and baggy, to cover up. I just wanted to stay a kid.

My career started properly when I was 30. I often say I was like a fine wine, I took a long time to mature. I didn’t get into make-up or anything girly until I was signed to Sony and they were putting make-up teams in front of me. I would sleep with my make-up on because I was so like – wow! Look at my face! I couldn’t believe my face could look like that.

When I think back to the teenage me, I actually really like her. She was extremely innocent about the world, probably for too long. I didn’t really understand how things worked out there, not until my career started and I had to make serious decisions. Until then I’d had part-time jobs, I was back and forth to my mom’s, and she never put pressure on me to be anything or commit to anything. Maybe she saw talent in me and thought, this one’s going to be somebody. But I didn’t see for a long time that I might have what it took to take on the Madonnas and the Janet Jacksons.

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If I told my teenage self she was going to be a big pop star, she’d just say no way. She just wouldn’t believe it in a million years. And she wasn’t even dreaming of it. That was my mom’s dream, that was not my dream. My mom was singing into the mirror, imagining herself winning all these awards… To think I’d end up living that life! The younger me would be like, what ME? Are you kidding me? Yet I do find myself oddly comfortable with the fame. I feel quite normal. I enjoy being around interesting people, having conversations with interesting people. And in a way I still feel I’m like that 16-year-old, not knowing exactly what’s going on.

My career happened so fast I don’t think I realised how big I was until I was already going back down the ladder and people were saying, hey, what happened to her? I think while it was happening I was so busy, and trying to please everyone, I was not in the now. Now I am in the now. And enjoying what’s happening each moment, giggling like a schoolgirl, thinking – this is cool, I’m signing my own name on my own CD. These fans are outside my hotel and they told me they’re following me around for 17 dates and I’m like oh my God, seriously?! It’s fun.

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If I really wanted to knock my younger self out, I’d tell her about singing with Elton [as a special guest at Elton’s Greatest Hits Live show in New York]. Oh my God, are you kidding me? That moment, to this day, is my favourite moment in my life. I still remember singing along to his albums out of the window of my house when I was a kid. So wow, the feeling of thinking: I am here, onstage, singing with him right now. I’m looking at him like my mom looked at his album cover. We sang Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. In truth, in my nervousness on stage, I got some of the words wrong. And he was like, oh my God, you couldn’t even sing the right words, you old cow! That’s what he calls me, old cow. We have such a laugh together. I still giggle if he calls me.

That moment, to this day, is my favourite moment in my life

It’s a great irony in my life that I absolutely hated my breasts and then I got breast cancer. [After two bouts of cancer Anastacia had a double mastectomy in 2013]. These two little monsters – now I call them my twin set and they are just awesome. Now I’m just so very proud to be a woman. I’m extremely blessed – breast cancer brought more femininity my way than I knew what to do with. I had been so scared of it but now I embrace it. At the beginning of my career I was like, I’m a sex symbol? Oh my God, eww! I want people to respect me for my talent and my mind. Now I’m like, totally disrespect me, see me as a dumb blonde if you want. I’m enjoying being a wee bit Marilyn – ‘Ooh, can you open the door, it’s just so heavy!’ It’s sometimes fun to feel like that because before I was always like, hey you, I got the door!

I used my mother’s Irish sense of humour to get through the cancer treatment. What else could I do, it was my life. I found the ridiculous in everything. I still do. Just before I got on the phone with you I cracked my front tooth. Everyone around me is saying, oh my God, we must find a dentist before we do Strictly. And I’m thinking, now I can properly say ‘thuffering thuccotash’, which weirdly I was saying all day yesterday because I was wearing a Sylvester the Cat T-shirt. Because, you know, I can afford to fix the tooth. It’ll be okay.