Dido - in Auckland and laughing
Dido laughs readily; she probably looks like someone you know and has hair that gets in her face... something that can't be said for most pop stars. And she is giving nothing away with regard to her upcoming nuptials to lawyer Bob Page.
"I heard the rumour that Britney Spears was coming to my wedding. She's not." Dido affirm, with a laugh that reappears continuously throughout the press conference preceding her one night show at Auckland's St James. "The best rumour is that I used to be a porn star, which is fantastic, but I'm not one." Slight regret there? No not really, she worked out that her porn-star name would be "Tufty Lonsdale", so it's just as well that the singer named after the Queen of Carthage, kept her own name and a pursued a different profession.
Dido's album is called No Angel, which seems a rather self-deflating comment on the surface. She looks like an angel - and she sounds like one too. Recent audiences at New York's Supper Club might have agreed with the album title, however, after she swore her head off for no apparent reason. The tirade of abuse was brought about by a combination of make-or-break stress and a sudden memory blank as the beginning bars of her huge hit "Thank You" began to play.
"I just went totally blank," she recalls "I could not for the life of me remember the opening lines. So I'm just standing there like an idiot, when all of a sudden this torrent of foul language starts coming out of my mouth - like The Exorcist. I thought, that's it, I'm finished. The Americans are forever going to see me as English Swearing Girl. My career is officially over."
But Dido Armstrong couldn't have been further off in her short-term predictions that particular night. Uncharacteristically, members of the press in attendance chose to ignore this outburst, and focused on the music. Might have been a different story had she been performing in London. But that is ancient history now, and her album has topped eight million sales worldwide. New Zealand, being the small market that it is on a world scale has contributed significantly to these figures by sending the album into quadruple platinum and having it maintain the number one album spot for nine weeks.
Four letter words aside, the audience will be treated by songs from No Angel, including the aforementioned "Thank You" (as sampled by Eminem on his stalker hit "Stan", which effectively introduced the world to Dido), and the atmospheric "Here With Me".
No Angel features songs that were co-written and produced by her (already semi-famous) brother Rollo, who has already found respectable chart success with his hauntingly brittle and claustrophobic, yet equally atmospheric and joy-inducing Faithless ensemble. In fact Dido started off as a vocalist for Faithless while her brother was still in the studio working out the mechanics of their initial release.
"The way I got on the first record was quite manipulative, I suppose. I'd appear in the studio without being asked, especially when I knew they were doing vocals," she states. "They wouldn't have asked me but if I was there Rollo would say, 'My sisters here, we may as well use her'". The rest of the time I'd sit round making cups of tea for people and that's how I ended up doing more and more on the album."
Dido had actually made a conscious decision at the tender age of 17 to give up music completely. Struggling with classical piano, and in no way inclined to become a 'professional recorder player', she decided to give it a rest - choosing law as a possible career path in the meantime. She didn't stay away from music for long, however. With her visits to her studio-bound brother becoming more and more regular, she realised she loved being in on all the action. And she loved singing.
While touring with Faithless, Dido also began writing her own songs. Her album was released in the States in June 1999. Slow to pick up momentum, the promotional slog got rapidly easier after Public Enemy No.1 (Entertainment Category Entrant) Eminem sampled verse work from "Thank You". By now the teenage mutant X-File show Roswell had also picked up "Here With Me" as its theme song. Dido was becoming a household name in the land where to break is to make.
It's hard to make comparisons with other pop divas but Dido doesn't see herself as competing in the rat race of rock n roll "I'm not trying to outdo anyone. I just want people to hear my music." Could Dido be one of the nicest pop stars about? It's possible, especially when contrasted with some of those she has worked with.
Apart from a few public appearances singing the track with Eminem, and a cameo in the "Stan" video as the boot-bound girlfriend, she has kept away from becoming too involved with the controversial rapper.
"Of course that sample did me a big, big favour," she says, "I adore Eminem but it'd be tacky to exploit it."
In fact, another controversial entertainment figure, 'shock jock' DJ Howard Stern has also played a major part in breaking the singer. As a big fan and a popular radio figurehead, it was only a matter of time before Dido appeared on his show - something she was understandably nervous about.
"On his radio show I thought he was going to suddenly turn around and savage me, but he was worryingly pleasant. He brought his daughters to meet me and was incredibly kind and gentle. Before I went on they had this woman vomit on a man who got turned on by woman vomiting on him. So he'd had this bloke doing his thing while she threw up on him and then it was me!"
Big brother Rollo (these names are the real 'McCoy', by the way) is helping Dido out on her second album. She is going into the studio to start recording work in January. New single "Hunter" will be out soon, which means yet more promotional duties - more questions about her friendship with Eminem. More questions about her success in America. More questions about her name (apparently 'Dildo' was the schoolyard moniker of choice for the discerning bully). And probably more questions about this wedding she says she is looking forward to planning.
But that's what you get when you rise to the top of the star platform in a great big hurry. And Dido seems characteristically self-deflating about the whole thing, and then she laughs.