Dr Natasha Berridge gets virtually up close & personal during Lockdown with British actress and songwriter Victoria Ekanoye.
When did you decide to become an actress?
I was kind of thrown into the deep end really as first and foremost I was a singer. In fact, I’ve been singing since I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. My career began with The Lion King in 2007 when I went for an open audition and had no intentions of acting whatsoever.
I didn’t go to drama school, so I didn’t have the conventional training that a lot of people in the industry have. To be honest, I was so convinced that I wasn’t going to get a part in The Lion King that I actually moved back to Manchester from London. And I just remember thinking ‘what have I just done this is not going to happen!’ Luckily, they took a chance on me, which I’m so grateful for as it’s been a truly life-changing experience.
I started performing in the Lion King five months later but purposefully did not tell anybody about the job until I actually started just-in-case they decided to change their minds! Rehearsing for the show was extremely fast-paced with a very intensive training program. The discipline that I learnt was one of the most valuable lessons in my career to date.
Following your appearance on Celebrity X Factor in 2019 what do you have planned next in your singer/songwriter journey?
I’m always singing around the house, which is probably frustrating for my partner. At the moment I’m writing all the time which is quite nice. Particularly during the lockdown, I guess it’s a way of passing the time, but also being creative which I find rather therapeutic. I did have work lined up with producers to start working on new ideas but obviously everything’s on hold at the moment. With lockdown in force, I’ve got plenty of time to give my full attention to songwriting/music.
Although I don’t have an album plan in the pipeline, I really like the idea of collaborating with another recording artist. Collaborating appeals to me much more than doing a solo album, however, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t do my own album. I almost feel that I would need a little bit more time to work out what my own style is as everything I’ve done so far has been for a specific role. On the contrary, when I took part in the X-Factor I was singing songs chosen by me for me, which was a huge difference. The X-factor experience definitely re-ignited that ‘musical fire’, I’ve fallen in love with singing again and would like to explore options within the industry further.
Who are your musical heroes?
From a songwriting perspective, it has to be Sade. She’s Incredibly elegant, extremely sensual and has a beautiful classic look about her. It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in I can listen to her music all day, every day. It’s the tone of her voice, the emotion she conveys within her music; Sade’s sound is timeless.
Vocally, I don’t think anyone will ever compare to Whitney Houston. When I was younger, I learned to sing by listening to Whitney and all I knew how to do was mimic her. In fact, my mom entered me into a local Stars in their Eyes competition, and I won singing ‘I Will Always Love You’.
From a musical genre perspective, it has to be Tina Turner because blues/rock and roll is my comfort zone. I love the music, the lyrics and the feel of Tina’s songs; she’s been through so much and you can really hear that in her music.
So, who’s been your biggest role model or inspiration in your professional career to date?
It’s probably going to sound quite cliché but irrespective of singer/actor that may have influenced what I have done or aspire to do, literally my mom has always been my number one inspiration. She has been such a huge influence.
As a child growing up, mom always encouraged my creative side (such as writing poems), would listen to me sing and support me taking part in talent shows. She’s never doubted me neither has her belief in me ever wavered. Mom has been my constant support, from a young age in life right up until now. She’s been there for me through the heartache, disappointment and successes. And has never suggested that I get a backup career just in case singing and/or acting did not work out.
Given the industry, do you feel under any pressure to constantly look ‘your best’ or perhaps hide the signs of ageing?
I definitely think that within the industry the pressure is immense. Personally, I haven’t had anything done and hope that I continue to feel that I can get by without intervention. Likewise, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in getting whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better; whether that’s going to the gym, embarking upon a specific diet, using fake tan or getting your eyelashes and nails done. Whatever it is that you need to do I believe that as individuals we should live and let live. I certainly don’t feel that anybody should be condemned for taking measures to do things that make them feel better.
As time progresses, I can notice different changes in my face. I’m 38 now and found a grey hair the other day! My mom is 58 and honestly looks my age. I really hope that I’ve inherited her genes! To keep intervention at bay, I try to keep as physically fit as I can. I aim to eat well and get plenty of water, take regular vitamin supplements, all in a bid to keep it as natural as possible for as long as possible!
I would never say never to Botox or Fillers if I needed a little help minimising the effects of ageing. But I’ve seen where some people, in my opinion, have gone too far. And it makes me really sad as it’s likely that they feel the need to conform to a certain look or have been influenced by some of the ‘unrealistically perfect’ images on social media that have fuelled an underlying insecurity. It’s not improbable that if people feel that they look okay outwardly that they can handle everything else underneath. And you know, I suppose to an extent we wear ‘that mask’ with makeup anyway so I feel that some aesthetic treatments are just the next step up, almost like a longer-term way of making yourself look like you want to feel. So, I understand why people get aesthetic treatments done but it has to be approached with a healthy mindset.
Your skin is glowing Victoria. Can you tell us about your skincare regime?
I’m using an amazing skincare brand called Environ, which my beautician introduced me to back in England. The products contain powerful vitamins and antioxidants that help to create healthier-looking skin. I’ve been using the range for the past 18 months and can honestly say that there has been a massive improvement in the quality of my skin. Maybe it’s partly to do with the consistent use of the same products as part of my regular skincare regime. Additionally, I don’t wear makeup unless I’m going out or to an event as I think it’s good to let your skin breathe a little from time to times. I haven’t really had the need to do facials as the products that I’m currently using have been great for my skin.
For those that aren’t aware, you have sickle cell disease. How has the disease impacted on your life and how do you cope living with the condition?
That’s right, I have sickle cell disease. Not a lot of people know about sickle cell disease but simply put, sickle cell disease is a severe form of anaemia. It ranges in severity and therefore how it can affect you but in the worst-case scenario, it can lead to amputations and death. I’m extremely lucky because I probably have one of the mildest versions of the disease, which means that I don’t have to take penicillin daily (most people with sickle cell have to) and don’t have to have regular blood transfusions, which again, can be a weekly occurrence for some people with the condition.
Fatigue is my only real symptom from my sickle cell disease and so it’s really become the trigger for me wanting to be as healthy as I can. I also feel really fortunate that I’m able to have a full medical check every six months which most people don’t get back in a lifetime, for whatever reason. Essentially, if any other medical problem were to crop up it would be caught sooner hopefully.
In essence, having sickle cell disease has made me more much body aware. With my condition, I can’t do certain extreme physical activities such as sky diving or bungy jumping. I’ve got to keep myself well hydrated and therefore as far as drinking alcohol is concerned, I drink with moderation. At a social event, I’ll always have one to toast and then maybe another but if I feel tipsy, I then have to switch to water. And I’m happy with that anyway.
Has your condition led to being admitted to hospital for any length of time?
In 2014, I became really unwell with my sickle cell disease and spent just under three weeks in the hospital. In fact, I spent my birthday in hospital and was discharged on Christmas Eve. I didn’t tell my mother or sister at the time that I’d been admitted into hospital as I didn’t want to worry them. Silly really in hindsight but I did have the support of my friends who came to see me and in fact the nurses kindly allowed them to put on a small celebration for my birthday.
I’ve really got the most supportive network in my partner, family and friends. The experience was extremely scary and to be fair I didn’t quite understand what was happening to me. But it was the big wakeup call as up until that point, I didn’t realize how serious my sickle cell disease could be. I simply realised that I couldn’t carry on living life how I had been. Now I have my dedicated sickle cell team that I see twice a year, so I feel really privileged to an extent because of the care that they are providing for me. The NHS is just wonderful, and I feel incredibly indebted to them.
Can you tell us about your charity work and why you chose to support them?
I’ve become the patron of Sickle Cell Care Manchester and will be working on projects again with the CEO, Anthony Mason when Lockdown is lifted. More than anything, I want to use whatever influence that I’m fortunate to have to help raise awareness of sickle cell disease and subsequently to help raise more funds, in order to enrich the lives of those that are suffering. I’ve also helped out with The Sickle Cell Society who is a London-based charity.
Prevent Breast Cancer Manchester is the other charity where I have become a patron. My mother is also a patron of the charity and does the work together. Sadly, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early forties and it has also been very prevalent in other family members too. Although there are many charities out there that are doing great work, one of the reasons that my mother and I chose to become patrons of Prevent Breast Cancer Manchester, is because they are more focused on prevention and raising awareness so that people become more body aware (including men who can also suffer from breast cancer).
And finally, what are your well-being/self-care secrets?
Unless it’s taking a personal break, I use guided meditation each evening before I go to sleep. It just allows me to reset and I find I get a better nights’ sleep. If I can’t do a guided meditation, then I’ll listen to music such as Indian Flute which really puts me into the right frame of mind and gifts me a peaceful nights’ sleep. I also like to use a lot of essential oils and diffusers, so our bedroom is extremely Zen which makes a huge difference for our peace of mind.
I enjoy exercise and try to do it as often as I can, especially early in the morning as I find it sets me up for the entire day. With all of those endorphins rushing around after a good workout, I just feel great and feel like I’ve achieved something for the day. My support network and being able to talk to people is so very important to me. If I feel that I can’t talk to somebody, then I find writing it down on a piece of paper can be just as effective as talking. It’s a great way to verbalize your emotions and what might be going on in your head. Just the act of writing it down onto paper and then throwing that piece of paper away can be hugely cathartic. It’s really for me not to harbour any negative feelings or resentment towards anybody. I think it’s really important to take care of yourself before you can take care of anybody else and that’s something that I’m very much working on.
To find out more about the fabulous Victoria Ekanoye and gain further insight into her world, follow her on Instagram @victoriaekanoye