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A Gem Of A Girl

American songstress Jewel is a megastar in her native land. Now she’s over here and trying to convince us Brits that deep is meaningful. Catherine McDonnell was open to persuasion.

SINGER-SONGWRITER JEWEL KILCHER is only 24 but she’s already accomplished a lot. Her debut album Pieces of You sold eight million copies in the US, while Spirit, her second album, has already sold four million copies. Her book of poems entitled A Night Without Armor has sold two million copies and this summer she makes her acting debut in Ang Lee’s Ride With The Devil.

Despite such vast achievements, Jewel insists she hasn’t found her feet yet. “I see people around me who inspire me,” she explains, “And I realise I’m still quite young and unaccomplished for my age.” This, obviously is a big fib. No one is “unaccomplished” after achieving so much before they’re 25. For Jewel it’s not enough though. She’s worried about her inner self. She published her book of poetry, she says, so “People could se my vanities as well as my aspirations for goodness.” And Jewel’s aspirations for goodness are huge, having set up a charity, Higher Ground For Humanity, with her mum Nedra. “We’re working on world events as well as local,” she says.

Jewel is the kind of person who makes you feel guilty for talking about Eastenders when you could be out saving the planet. Peering over her cup, slurping tea through a teaspoon, she talks about trying to understand herself and other people. I tell her in a moment of British-not-searching-for-myself-ness that after 27 years, I know myself pretty well. She looks puzzled. “You think you know?” she queries. “I’m nowhere near knowing myself. All the time I’m growing and evolving.” “Yeah, Jewel. Me too,” I backtrack. Jewel is what can only be described as ‘very intense’. You can’t ever imagine her dancing to Steps. What would she gain from that experience? Instead of disco dancing to relax, Jewel writes. “If I’m getting uptight, my friends are like: ‘Will you just go and write,’ because they can tell I haven’t written.” And Jewel works – all the time, “I haven’t had a day off in five years,” she states. Mainly, however, Jewel is sorting her head out. “I write because I have thoughts,” she explains.

Jewel grew up on an Alaskan farm which had no electricity or running water. Aha, is this the root of Jewel’s deep thinking? She thinks not. “Everybody feels they were having a hard time,” she muses. “Whether people are rich or poor, everybody thinks, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I getting along?’.”

After life on an 800-acre homestead you’d have thought Jewel had had enough hardship for one lifetime. She hadn’t though, and aged six, she earned money by travelling with her father and singing to a host of unsavoury characters. “I saw a lot of cultures,” she explains. “From bikers to American veterans with missing limbs. It taught me compassion for people. It made me try and be as thoughtful as I could be in my life so at least my life can be my own choice instead of a thoughtless thing.”

Thankfully, Jewel isn’t always a complete goody-goody. Sighing as she goes through the list of places she is soon to tour – Europe, Australia, Asia, the US – she says she’s suffering from tour fatigue. “I get tired of travelling, even though I look forward to doing the shows. And I find promotion hard. You don’t get gratification for doing it.” I smile at Jewel in this, her hour of need. “You sometimes get a bit jaded I expect,” I sympathise. “Jaded?” she asks, her voice rising for the first time. “Do I sound jaded to you?” There’s a dramatic pause. “You do a bit…” I mumble. “Well, if you listen to your tape you’ll find I don’t sound jaded,” she snaps. I listen to the tape when I get home. Talking about her tour, Jewel sounds jaded.

Jewel is a star who is adamant she didn’t work to be a star. She wants to make it clear success fell into her lap and her massive album sales and huge popularity just happened. “I never wrote thinking people were going to hear my songs,” Jewel explains, so sincerely it’s hard not to believe her. “I wrote because I wanted to write songs. It was something I did in private. It just turned out bigger.”

And how it did. At 18 Jewel left her dad, moved into a van and sang in coffee shops to earn money. A record deal arrived. Fame, success, money were hers. But for Jewel, living in the car was more “free and lovely.”

In a way, it’s almost too easy to knock Jewel. We’re British. Our feet are firmly on the ground. We’d rather dance to hits like Cleopatra’s Theme than hum along to folksy deep stuff. Especially American folksy deep stuff. “I’m inspired by the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Buddha Jesus, my mom…” says Jewel, and the urge to pat her gently on the head and say, “But of course you are,” is almost too great. Despite all this, some of her songs ain’t half bad.

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