Life’s a cabaret - being a woman

‘It was very convenient for me to play Peggy Lee, because I could put a wig on and I could be a diva. But I’m not in my real life,” insists Kate Dimbleby, “that’s not part of who I am.” Dimbleby might be one of the most versatile singers on the jazz-blues circuit, but she is also a 36-year-old mother-of-two, who feeds her children while putting rollers in her hair and sings with gusto, as she ferries her kids around the park. This modern-day juggling act is at the heart of Dimbleby’s upcoming cabaret show, I’m A Woman, which will run for five weeks at the New End Theatre in Hampstead. It is, according to the intoxicatingly rich-voiced Dimbleby, “my own personal anecdotes, mixed in with stories about the women I’ve chosen to feature.”

The programme is impressively diverse, but what links songs ranging from Pearl Bailey’s gloriously woozy I’m Tired to Dolly Parton’s feisty 9 To 5 is the idea that “you don’t have to give up anything”.

Dimbleby comes across as an exceptionally grounded performer and her insistence that women can “have it all” is not a flippant one. She describes herself as “impossibly driven” from her time at Birmingham University onwards, where she learned her trade singing in local jazz bars and pubs.

In 2003, following a sellout show with the BBC Big Band at the Royal Festival Hall, Dimbleby decided to take a step back from her career. She explains: “It was quite an enormous thing, it sold out and I didn’t really know what direction to go in next.”

Rather than stick with some-thing successful but unsatisfying, Dimbleby left her native Britain and relocated to Vancouver with her husband: “But then I got pregnant and that screwed everything up,” she said.

She hung up her microphone for a few years and concentrated on her children, her writing (it was in Vancouver that Dimbleby penned her own album, Things As They Are) and cultivating new passions, including the Alexander Technique and doola.

Yet even these new interests, seemingly distinct from singing, tap into the themes vital to Dimbleby’s show.

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Doola, explains the patient Dimbleby (she has an air of gentle authority, which reminds one she is the daughter of BBC commentator David Dimbleby), is when one woman accompanies another in childbirth. It is a practice that resulted in two “very good birth experiences” for Dimbleby and also piqued her interest in “women with women”.

Recently, the singer has noticed a burgeoning tension between career women and stay-at home mothers and this show is partly about reconnecting women and “keeping everyone together”.

Director Cal McCrystal, along with Dimbleby’s band The Honky Tonk Angels, will be on hand to keep this message of female unity on track.

“I can drift off into my own world and Cal pulls me back down,” she says. “I’ll talk about the fact that having a baby has affected the way I see the world.

“The show came from a feeling that we’re at a point where women need to be connected to each other, regardless of what they’ve chosen to be.”

I’m A Woman will also, inevitably, champion girl power. Many of the songs, such as Sophie Tucker’s I’m Living Alone And I Like It, are blazingly defiant, energising numbers.

No doubt Dimbleby will lend her own emotional sweep to the songs (“I think my cheek, a desire to giggle, sets me apart”) but a single line from Tucker’s song – “There’s no darling husband yelling at me!” – contains more girl power than a Spice Girls reunion, on Mother’s Day.

This sense of female empowerment also rumbles behind Bessie Smith’s In House Blues, which Dimbleby considers one of the show’s most inspiring numbers: “She does sing about horrible men and having no money, but what really comes across is the power of her voice.

“She’s like this Messiah. I exist. Look at me!” enthuses Dimbleby, straining to be heard above the screaming babies near our not-so-secluded spot at the Royal Festival Hall. “I guess I want that sense of inspiring through your voice. It doesn’t have to be singing. Just letting your voice be heard – there’s power in that.”

o I’m a Woman is on at New End Theatre, Hampstead until October 3.