Claire Richards on making ‘gay anthems’ for new album Euphoria and the future of Steps
“I don’t want to jinx it,” Steps singer Claire Richards tells PinkNews, “but, it just feels really good. I’m really happy with it.”
She’s talking about her hotly anticipated second solo studio album, Euphoria, which is released on Friday (25 August).
And if you go out looking for a copy in Surrey, you might just bump into her doing the same – it’s her release day ritual.
“I have to go into a shop and buy it myself. Even back in the day, I used to go to Our Price or Woolworths and I always have to do it now. I don’t know why,” she laughs, referring to her early career with Steps.
When we speak, she’s at home, the chaos of the early days of the school summer break enveloping her surroundings.
Three minutes into our chat and she pauses to tell one of her two children not to use the noisy air fryer. Later on, the doorbell rings. Her house is full, but she has to get up to answer it. “Sorry, school holidays,” she chirps.
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Euphoria is a big departure from Richards’ mid-tempo, 2019 debut solo album, My Wildest Dreams, in that this one is full of covers. It’s packed with big, soaring pop numbers from some of the greatest divas the music industry has ever seen. There’s “So Emotional”, by Whitney Houston, Cher’s “(This is) A Song For The Lonely”, and Celine Dion’s “I Surrender”.
The final track is “Goodbye to Love” (Karen Carpenter is Richards’ idol), while the opener is Loreen’s seismic Eurovision smash “Euphoria” – and is the song that gives the album its title.
In June, she got to meet the two-time Eurovision winner in person, and tell her about how she’d inspired the record. “She was absolutely lovely. She was really touched by it,” Richards reveals.
Other than Loreen, Richards has only ever met one other pop icon who directly influenced the record, Canadian superstar Dion.
The pair met years ago, “early on in both of our careers – all I remember about is that she told Faye [Tozer, her Steps bandmate] that she loved her hair. I was so jealous.”
Through Steps, Richards has accumulated an ardent queer following over the past 25 years. News of her releasing an album of songs that feature heavily on queer playlists everywhere – it’s even got ABBA on it, for goodness sake – has thrilled her LGBTQ+ fandom.
One fan on social media suggested that her album track list was “gay rights”, while another simply declared that “Claire Richards is giving us the most homosexual album ever” – a post that makes Richards guffaw when I read it out.
“It could be the campest, possibly” she says. “I think we realised quickly when we were putting the album together that they were gay anthems.” She’s thrilled that there is such hype in the community. “It was made for them, and I’m glad that they are embracing [it].”
It’s unsurprising that queer people are fawning over the record, considering they are the ones who have stood by Richards since the beginning of her career.
In 1997, Steps (Richards, alongside Tozer, Ian ‘H’ Watkins, Lisa Scott-Lee and Lee Latchford-Evans) released their debut single “5, 6, 7, 8”, a whacky, campy, country-pop song. Richards wasn’t sure who, if anyone, would enjoy its novelty sound.
“Luckily for us, the LGBTQ+ community did embrace it – immediately. We’ve had that loyalty since,” she says. In return, she tells PinkNews, the band has always tried to offer their support back.
Earlier this month, and a week after we spoke, the group, who reunited in 2017 and have released four albums in the six years since, headlined Brighton Pride’s Sunday festival in their only gig as a group this year.
While on stage, Watkins, who is gay, took a moment to share a poignant message of solidarity with the trans community, who are being demonised by members of UK political parties and by the British press.
“To trans people, to people who are identifying in a different way, or maybe you just need to hear this: you matter. You are valued and you are loved,” he said. “A Steps show is a safe space. It’s a place where you can be you.”
As much as they want their gigs to be safe spaces for the queer community, Richards finds a comfort of her own in performing for her queer fans. “I feel safe in the company of that audience,” she says.
Alongside Brighton, Richards has headed solo to other Pride events this year, including in Margate and York. To her, they’re the “best shows”. In fact, when she’s performing at non-Pride events, she gets nervous.
“When I do Pride, I feel completely fine. I know I can go out there and I’m gonna get accepted for what I am and what I’m doing,” she says.
When she’s at non-Pride events, like one she headlined just before Brighton Pride, alongside Boyzone singer Ronan Keating and singer-songwriter Chesney Hakwes, she feels she has to fight to have those in the crowd understand her. At LGBTQ+ events, “there’s a relationship there already. I don’t have to win over the audience”.
After their Brighton performance, the band are taking a break. Fret not though, Step fans: this isn’t the end.
“It’s not a break as in a break-up. I don’t even call it a hiatus,” the singer insists.
In the past six years, alongside their albums, they’ve embarked on four tours. Now, they’re stepping away to rest and rejuvenate.
“We’re just not doing anything for a couple of years, then we will be. There’s nothing to worry about. We absolutely will be back.”
The world would feel weird without Steps. Besides their undeniable impact on Britain’s pop machine – they’ve scored 13 top five singles, including two number ones – they’ve also garnered fans across the globe.
Richards remembers one tour they did in their early years in south east Asia. After landing in Taiwan, they were escorted to their “enormous” hotel, where they were greeted by every member of staff, lined up on either side of the entrance, with bunches of flowers in their hands.
“We thought someone famous was there,” she chuckles. “It was for us.” The fgroup spent the rest of the trip with an assigned butler each, while a police escort stopped traffic and cleared roads as they travelled to do interviews.
The intense fan adoration is something the singer still doesn’t quite understand. “All these thousands of people are cheering for us… that to me is something I can’t get my head around a lot of the time,” she admits.
Particularly when, in her downtime, her life is so incredibly normal. While she’s hoping to take Euphoria on tour, she’s not sure how she’ll spend her time away from Steps, but is likely to be busy at home with her children, or working on other projects.
She’s just finished competing on reality show Cooking With The Stars, and, in January, she came seventh on The Masked Singer, where she performed as “Knitting”. Next, she’d quite like to do a travel show of sorts.
“It’s so random,” she says. “One day I’ll be singing songs in a giant knitted costume, and the next day I’m walking the dog, doing the ironing.”
Euphoria is out now.
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