As Diana Ross is currently cleaning up across the UK with her capacity–filled arena tour originally organised before the pandemic, plus an unexpected, but much welcomed, appearance at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee concert (as well as her headline appearance at the famed Glastonbury Festival which the BBC presents live on Sunday, June 26th), I thought we’d re-visit a chat with Diana during June 1992, when we sat together on a sofa in an expensively decorated hotel suite at The Dorchester, in London’s West End. This was the first time we had talked face-to-face for any length of time, as artist and journalist, even though we had touched each others’ lives during the past when she called upon me to assist with a few projects. That was mostly phone conversations. And, of course, I worked with her at Motown, when in 1980 (Motown’s 20th anniversary year) during a private holiday with her boyfriend Kiss’ Gene Simmons, she joined Stevie Wonder on stage at Wembley.  He was part-way through his sold-out “Hotter Than July” tour when Diana was persuaded to sing with him and Marvin Gaye (who also chanced to be backstage and who had also received the same Stevie request) in front of a disbelieving audience.

From this appearance, Diana – who was red hot property following the success of her Chic-related “diana” album – agreed to host a press reception at The Inn On The Park hotel. This event was the hottest ticket in town and I was every journalists’ bestie!  While in London Diana also filmed the promotional video for the future top five hit, “My Old Piano”, the follow-up to “Upside Down”, top two.  The third from the album was of course “I’m Coming Out” which peaked in the top twenty.

Anyway, let’s haul ourselves to 1992 when, wearing day make-up, dressed in casual black with her hair wildly controlled, we spent over an hour talking.  Listening to the cassette just recently (yeah, you read that correctly! And I still have the original player – so there) it actually seems longer than thirty minutes but hey, I wasn’t counting.  She was extremely animated over the success of “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”, a UK top two single, from the platinum album “The Force Behind The Power”.  Oh, and the title track was also chosen as a single to peak in the top thirty.  This success was repeated across the universe, so no wonder the lady was on cloud nine.

I’ve just remembered: if “Bohemian Rhapsody” hadn’t been re-issued in tribute to Queen’s Freddie Mercury whose unexpected death from AIDS stunned the world, Diana would surely have hit the top. She was aware of the circumstances and stressed she wasn’t at all disappointed. “I was just happy that the record was in the charts and I was a hit over again.  I haven’t left the hearts and minds of a lot of Europeans but sometimes at home people say ‘when’re you going to have a new record out?’ and I say ‘Uh?  I have one out right now.’  In some places it’s not as wonderful as it is here….I’ve said this often, there’s a loyalty here that I don’t experience anywhere else.  Strangely enough, I feel a little loyalty in Japan because they follow the records and stay with it.  No matter what record I release it always seems to go to number one there.”

“But the loyalty here (in the UK) is what really is so comforting to me. It’s staggering, it really is.  People of our age group have wonderful memories of the songs of the sixties and somehow once they become your fans and friends they stay with you.  They start to know about your personal life….People actually stop me in the street and say ‘how are the kids?’  Just as if they’d seen me yesterday!” It’s no secret that Diana has always emphasised family is everything to her and at this time in 1992, she admitted she had tried hard to keep her boys (Evan and Ross) under wraps, away from the public eye.  In the end though this was impossible because she decided they should start touring with her.  “I’m very proud of my children, so much so that I want to bring my family pictures out and show them to everyone.  I don’t know what I would have done just having a career and not having them.  However, I think it’s real important to try to keep some balance in their lives.  I was able to do that with my older girls (Tracee, Rhonda, Chudney) so I’m hoping to do the same with the boys.  Anytime you try to keep something like them away from the public, that’s the time when they want to get to it more.  And then I worried that that wasn’t a good thing either.  So I tried to balance that while trying to protect them.”

Privacy is a luxury for superstars of Diana’s status.  While signed to Motown, she was protected by a wall of executives and the like.  Breaking free from the company, she experienced the fragility of being publicly exposed:  happily the gap was quickly filled by another team of publicists and their protective arms.  It was due to such a publicist that I was granted an interview with Diana, the only journalist to do so during her short stay visit to London thanks to Concorde, that magnificent supersonic airliner.  The singer and her publicist Phil Symes enjoyed a special relationship; their mutual respect and trust led to an astonishing media campaign for “The Force Behind The Power” project, that included Diana being honoured in 1993 by the “Guinness Book Of  Records” declaring her the most successful female music artist in history.  In this year, celebrating her thirtieth anniversary in the business, there was also a plethora of high-profile activities, recordings, her memoir “Secrets Of A Sparrow” and book signing sessions, and…. so it went on and on…

Let’s spend a little time with her book as I’d like to share a paragraph or two from her press statement at the time of its publication. “I want to share my thoughts and feelings from where I am today – in the middle looking forward to tomorrow and touching on the past as it relates to where I am today.  I look back with a gentle heart full of love, remembering the good times.  I was extremely lucky. A perfectionist because it was and is important.  I have very high standards for myself.  And I’ve worked hard.”    Let’s face facts, it’s this kind of attitude that has stood her in good stead from day one; she’s never been afraid of hard work, and while her methods may have been less than desirable sometimes, they carved the career she went on to enjoy.

Our conversation then moved to her live performances and we talked awhile about last year’s Wembley dates (1991).  We touched on the control she has over her public; none more so than when eight thousand people rose to their feet to hold hands to sing “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”.  Laughing, she said “Actually in the last couple of years I don’t really have to ask audiences to hold hands anymore.  It just happens and it’s a nice feeling when it does.  As for control” she paused, looking at me as if trying to read my mind, “It’s a funny thing about control.  As soon as you let go of it, that’s when you have it. The most important thing for me is to be there and my mind shouldn’t be anywhere else except in that theatre with that audience.”

I’m thinking most people who have been in her audience will agree with me that we get a feeling that is, erm, almost overwhelming, like a warm, comforting embrace. So much so that when she sauntered down the aisle on her way to the Wembley stage, I wanted to stop her to say “Hi!”   “You could have,” she replied instantly. “I wouldn’t have minded, but the security people probably wouldn’t have understood.”  Fair comment Diana, as I’ve a feeling I’d have been frogmarched pretty damn quickly out of the arena.  “I’ve never had an audience who have wanted to harm me or tear at me.  I’ve been so lucky in that respect.  I don’t think I provoke that kind of energy in my shows” she continued. “The work on the stage is different for me…. I don’t know about other performers, but I find the stage is the most comfortable and most secure sort of place for me.  It’s something about the eyes, people being able to see me, and me being able to see them.  That’s a kind of connection, some kind of energy that happens.  I actually feel as if I can throw myself and my voice all the way out in this whole space….it’s something that’s unexplainable.  Maybe it’s because of the number of years I’ve been on stage!”

We spoke further about her touring schedules, leading up to the question of whether it had crossed her mind to take that side of her life a little easier.  I realise that as I write this, she had no choice but to ditch her original plans to travel abroad due to CoVid, and is now making up for lost time, but back in 1991 her commitment to her public was also resolute.  “I’ve been given this gift and put in this very special place to do this work and to stand in front of people.  So I feel I don’t really want to throw it away.  I think if …someday, somehow I get some messages that I don’t need to work and do this anymore…..well, I doubt it.  I started singing not for – I hate to refer to it as ‘work’ – because I enjoyed it.  I was singing to entertain and I wasn’t making any money.  So, when the day I’m not getting paid for it arrives, I’ll continue to sing….perhaps in a choir or something.  The time may also come when I’m not making records but I’ll always sing for an audience.”

After a short pause for tea and mineral water, we chatted about choosing suitable material for her to record.  An awesome task because she will only consider songs she can identify with.  She explained. “Truthfully, I play them and if they make me feel good and are saying something, that they’re the words I’d choose to use, I’ll record them.  Choosing songs for “The Force Behind The Power”, Peter Asher (one of the album’s producers) and I found eight songs together.  We sat down with the writers, some people had germs of ideas and we’d try to help them develop them. I had always wanted to work with James Carmichael – he was partners with Lionel (Richie) all those years, then Lionel wanted to do something different – and James is such a talented producer.  He’s a very quiet guy, who I’ve always wanted to write with.”

She acknowledged “The Force Behind The Power” was her choice as a single because it meant so much to her.  The reason being that after years of badgering him, Stevie Wonder finally wrote her a song. “He’s such a special person, and I was really pleased to have this song on the album.  He calls his songs ‘gems’, a gift from God.  Stevie read it to me when it was a germ of an idea and then it took a while to complete because he was busy on another project.”  However, not one to give up easily, Diana continued to pester Stevie – but all he’d say was, “OK, it’s coming”.  In the end, he delivered. “You know, he’s busy with his own career and he does write songs for other people, then produces them, and that’s a time consuming process.  Unless a person really knows what this process is, coming up with a song idea, getting the lyrics written, then the music, finding musicians, getting them in the studio, recording with people who have the same feeling or idea that you have is really quite a job.  Years ago, we used to have a lot of songs on an album, sometimes twelve or more tracks.  Today it really is a process trying to get eight to ten good songs.”

Well, so much has happened to Miss Ross since this chat in 1992 that it would take another book to do justice to those years,  so I won’t try.  Instead, I’ll retrieve some of my closing comments that went something like this: “It was a great thrill to talk to Diana Ross without interruption, and I felt I got to know her better. Despite being told she rarely agrees to give an autograph, I bargained with her.  If she would sign my book, she could have the CDs I brought with me in exchange.  A deal was struck!”

Sharon Davis