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Leona Lewis on new festive album ‘Christmas, With Love Always’

As Christmas nears, Leona Lewis tells Rolling Stone UK how she's become a mainstay of the festive season

By Mark Sutherland

Leona Lewis poses live
Leona Lewis is back with a new Christmas record (Picture: Press)

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without Leona Lewis. The former X Factor winner hasn’t released a new album since 2015’s ‘I Am’, but her ‘One More Sleep’ Christmas single returns to the charts each festive season.

And she has Santa on her mind once again with a revamped version of her ‘Christmas, With Love’ album – now titled ‘Christmas, With Love Always’. She’s also on tour with Gary Barlow ahead of her own dates next Christmas and is appearing as a judge on ‘Queens of the Universe’, a new drag queen singing competition from the makers of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

And so, with ‘One More Sleep’ already heading back to the Top 40, Lewis sat down with Rolling Stone UK to talk Christmas, talent shows and why The X Factor isn’t dead yet…

What made you want to revisit ‘Christmas, With Love’ this year?

“During the pandemic, when everything shut down, I started recording and really wanted to have some new music out this year – I haven’t had anything out for a while. I had these two songs [‘Kiss Me It’s Christmas’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’] in my back pocket already, so I just thought this would be the perfect year to share them. Hopefully we’re all going to be together again at Christmas. All of us found it so difficult last year. I wasn’t able to be with my family, like a lot of people, the lockdown and everything was just piling on top of each other, it was just such a rubbish Christmas. So I want to make this Christmas a bit different.”

How was it working with Ne-Yo on ‘Kiss Me, It’s Christmas’?

“It was so cool! He’s super-talented and I’m a big fan of his voice and him as a person. When I heard the record, the songwriter Iain James that worked on this song was originally singing, but I just heard Ne-Yo’s voice. So I asked him if he wanted to be involved, he loved the song and it really came to life as soon as he put his vocals on it.”

You’ve covered The Bee Gees’ ‘If I Can’t Have You’. But what’s Christmassy about that?

“Well, I’d always loved the lyrics and I wanted to hear how it would sound as a ballad, stripping everything away. It reminded me of a break-up that I went through at the Christmas period years ago. So that’s why it reminds me of Christmas – we produced it so it had a festive feel, but still very much in keeping with that very emotional ballad.”

Have you made a lot of money out of ‘One More Sleep’? Justin Hawkins told us that The Darkness’ Christmas song has “kept him in sports cars”…

“(Laughs) That’s hilarious! I honestly don’t even know! I don’t even have one sports car yet, but I’ll let you know if I ever get there! Where’s all that money? It must be going on my dog!”

Tell us about ‘Queens of the Universe’…

“It’s very unique. Last year I said to myself, ‘I just want to do stuff that I enjoy – fun, heartfelt things that I’m going to have a good time making.’ This ticks all of those boxes – it’s really good fun, we’ve got some really talented drag queens who are singing with their real voices. I always wanted the opportunity to go on Drag Race, experience it, see the queens and be involved but then this came along and was the perfect thing for me, because it involves music. It’s a show like no other!”

What are you like as a judge? Are you nice or do you give it the full Simon Cowell?

“(Laughs) Not quite Simon Cowell! But I’d like to think I give very honest, useable feedback that’s going to be beneficial to them, whether or not they win the show. Because I always found that helpful – I obviously went through the same process on The X Factor and I liked critique that could actually enhance my performance. That’s my role in the show.”

It’s 15 years since you won The X Factor. How do you look back on it?

“I’m like, ‘Wow, I had some guts to get up there and do that’. I look back at it and think, ‘You know what, I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved’. I had a dream of being able to earn a living from music, put music out into the world and make records and I got up there and really went for that.”

The show was axed a couple of years ago. Should they bring it back?

“A show like that will always come back. It’s one of those British homegrown shows that we all love to watch, it just needs a bit of a rest, a minute to have a break and then it will make a comeback. It was a different time, things have changed and shifted and you have to go with it. but it will probably come back in a different format. Does it need to be reinvented? Yeah, probably.”

And are you going to release a new album any time soon?

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself, but I might… I have some songs I really want to share and I’m in a space where probably next year I’ll be ready to do that. But there’s no certain timeline or anything like that.”

Leona’s headline tour is on sale now – ‘Christmas With Love 2022: An Evening Of Christmas Classics And Greatest Hits’