If you were to have asked a young Lisa Scott-Lee, growing up in Saint Asaph Wales what she wanted to be when she grew up, being a pop star would have been at the top of her list!
Having developed a passion for the arts at the tender age of 3, Lisa sat countless exams and achieved various qualifications in dance as child, before auditioning to attend the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, where she would go on to finish her training and subsequently become a teacher of dance following her graduation from the prestigious stage school in the mid-90’s. Never one to be afraid of hard work or to rest of her laurels, Scott-Lee hit the often ruthless and competitive audition circuit soon after, where her steely determination and ruthless ambition to succeed was put to the test as she tried out for countless parts and dance jobs with varying degrees of success.
In 1997 her luck was to change, after answering an advert posted by songwriters Steve Crosby and Barry Upton, along with talent manager Tim Byrne, in The Stage Newspaper which stated the trio were looking to find fresh, young talent to form a mixed all singing, all dancing pop line-dance act! After several rounds of auditions, Lisa along with Lee Latchford-Evans, Claire Richards, Faye Tozer, and Ian ‘H’ Watkins was chosen to be a part of the final line-up of the band that would go on to be known as Steps!
Famous for their unapologetically classic British pop sound, colourful stage costumes and easy to follow dance routines, the group would go on to achieve monumental chart success, selling millions of records and winning countless awards, as well as being acknowledged by the BRITS as being one of the U.K.’s biggest selling live acts ever!
“When you’re auditioning to be in a pop group, you know if things work out and you do well, you’ve got maybe three to five years max of work ahead of you, and then history kind of shows that that’s usually it.” Lisa says as we begin our virtual interview via zoom. “For us to have bucked that trend, and to still be around now, considering where we came from, blows my mind… and it’s all thanks to the fans.”
25 years on from the launch of Steps debut single ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ and now living full time in Dubai, Lisa and her family have spent the summer back in the U.K. celebrating the bands silver anniversary with a string of live concert dates – dividing their time between London and The Curve Theatre in Leicester where her eldest son Jaden has been appearing as Billy in Billy Elliot: The Musical.
“This summer has been incredible!” Lisa says with a warm smile as she relaxes in her hotel room the morning of Jaden’s final performance in the new production of Lee Hall’s hit awarding winning musical. “I’ve really enjoyed being back in the U.K. and spending a prolonged period of time here; it’s been so nice… hectic, but really nice (laughs).”
Hectic would be the one word to best describe the Welsh singers life of late, as not only is she wife to husband Johnny (Shentall-Lee), and devoted Mum to both Jaden and Star Lily, the Italia Conti alum now serves as the full time Principal at the Dubai Performing Arts Academy – a school she and Shentall co-founded and opened back in the autumn of 2014. However it’s perhaps Scott-Lee’s role as “Lisa from Steps” that has kept her the most busy over the course of the last month, as she along with fellow bandmates Claire, Faye, Lee and H, have found themselves travelling the length and breadth of the country performing at an array of open-air festivals and PRIDE events as part of the groups 25th anniversary celebration tour.
“We’ve had a ball doing these shows over the last couple of weeks.” Lisa says as she reflects upon the bands summer jaunt so far. “When we do summer festival tours there tends to be more of a relaxed vibe amongst all of us compared to when we’re out on the road doing our big arena shows. And I think that’s because for these gigs there’s no big production around us or different parts of the stage or venue to travel to, it’s just the five of us on stage, singing all of our hits, in our glamorous costumes, celebrating the music!”
Clearly feeling invigorated by the groups less-is-more approach to performing, the former Dancing On Ice contestant adds: “It’s nice to change things up and do something a little bit different, and the audiences seem to be loving it too which is great! I love performing outside; I think it’s wonderful to be out in the fresh air, and to be able to properly see everybody’s faces in the crowd, it really makes me smile to see them all enjoying themselves and having a good time; it’s lovely to think that our music and what we do onstage brings people so much joy. It’s something the five of us talk about a lot actually, and we often will say to one another: ‘how lucky are we to still be experiencing moments like this 25 years into our career?’ – it’s just amazing!”
“Right back to where we started…”
With the release of their new album, ‘The Platinum Collection’ today (August 19th 2022) Steps celebrate over two decades worth of success in music!
Available for purchase in various formats including standard CD, deluxe 2CD, vinyl, cassette and digital, and packed full of their greatest hits from 1997 to 2022, the record also features two brand new tracks along with a selection of some previously-unreleased remixes. Five very special solo editions of the album, each with unique bonus tracks of the band’s favourite songs from across their career, can be purchased for a limited time from Steps official online store.
“Considering where we started, and having a song like ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ be our debut single… my goodness, I don’t think any of us ever thought we would still be here, making music and performing together, a quarter of a century later!” A seemingly amazed Lisa tells us almost lost for words. “When you’re new to this industry, you need people to believe in you, and without wishing to sound too pessimistic, there can be no getting away from the fact that people didn’t really have that much faith in us in the beginning.”
“Don’t get me wrong, in a way that’s to be expected because you’ve got to earn your place in this business, and there will always be people who doubt you and critics out there that maybe don’t enjoy what you’re doing, and that’s fine. But at the time it felt like there were more people in the industry against us rather than for us if that makes sense? So it was hard for us in the beginning, but you know we’ve always been really lucky to have had a loyal fan base who have championed us, and stood by us through thick and thin – it’s their unwavering support and belief in us as a band that has allowed us to go on and to be in this position where we can proudly celebrate 25 years of Steps; we owe them (the fans) everything.”
Whilst it’s clear that the band can now (metaphorically) sleep safe in the knowledge that their ever loyal audience will no doubt continue to show them unwavering amounts of love and support, we would still imagine that even 25 years into their career, the build up to releasing any kind of new project must trigger all kinds of nerves and feelings of trepidation amongst the famous five. With this thought in mind, we wonder if Lisa feels a different swell of emotions putting out a career retrospective, greatest hits album compared to releasing a record of all new and original material?
“That’s a really interesting question!” Scott-Lee ponders for a moment. “It’s funny because even though some of these songs were released over two decades ago, this album as whole feels really new and fresh to me. As with anything we release, this album is like our baby, it symbolises our journey together as Steps and it’s ultimately the soundtrack to our lives, and our fans lives too! So whilst in a way we’re not putting anything out there that people haven’t necessarily heard before (apart from the two new tracks which I’ve got to say I love), the sentimental pull that we feel towards ‘The Platinum Collection’ makes this album just as special as all of our others.”
It’s our fans unwavering support, and belief in what we do, that has allowed us to be in the position where we can proudly support 25 years of Steps!Lisa on the gratitude she feels towards the bands loyal army of followers.
“We’ve changed so much, and still love remains…”
For any artist, a greatest album serves as something of a musical scrapbook of their lives – with each note sung, and each lyric spoken reflecting a moment in time, that’s then captured forever in song.
“Every single track on this album has a personal memory attached to it…” a slightly nostalgic sounding Lisa says with a gleam in her eye. “Whether it be a particular performance, something funny that happened on the set of a music video, or even just thinking back to the moment of being in the studio and recording it, this music really is the soundtrack to our lives, and tells the story of who we were in our early 20’s, and also who we are now.”
Reflecting further, a candid Lisa adds: “Back then I don’t think we thought too much about the future, we we’re too busy living in the present. We knew what we had together was special but we didn’t know how long it was going to last, and then when we did take a break, none of us were sure if we’d ever comeback and do it again… I mean I certainly don’t think any one of us could have ever imagined in our wildest dreams that one day we would be up on stage performing together with all of our kids sat beside us like we did a few years ago.”
“Children put everything into perspective, and I love sharing with my kids what we did back in the day – but I’ve got to say, it’s even better that they’re here to see what we’re doing now.”
Living life as a proud Mum of two must now feel like a world away from her days of relentless touring and performing high-energy dance routines, dressed in colour co-ordinated stage costumes alongside her bandmates we suggest… “Oh it does!” Lisa says letting out a hearty laugh. “But I think it’s wonderful that my children can go on YouTube and watch all of Mummy’s old music videos! And they like them… well, the tell me they do (laughs). But that’s what’s so great about our music, it does seem to appeal to people of all ages, and it continues to be enjoyed by fans both old and new today.”
There can be no denying that Steps music has unequivocally stood the test of time – their classic pop melodies, and glorious harmonies seemingly evergreen in hearts of millions, as they transcend each new decade and somehow find their way into the lives of a new generation of music lovers all looking to find a safe place to escape the harsh realities of everyday life.
“There’s an immense sense of pride amongst all of us when we look back over our back catalogue.” Lisa explains with genuine affection. “These songs really do mean something to people, and as much as I say they are the soundtrack to my life, they’re also soundtrack to our fans lives too.”
“Music is so powerful. You sometimes only have to listen to the chorus of a particular song, and it takes you right back in time to the exact moment you first heard it! You can remember where you were, who you were with, what you were wearing and what was happening in your life, which can be really comforting and it brings me great joy to know that people get so much out of listening to our music.”
As one fifth of the band, who has spent the last 25 years singing these songs on various stages around the world, we wonder how Lisa’s personal relationship with Steps music has changed over the years? “Ooh I love that question… how has my relationship with our music changed?” An animated Scott-Lee exclaims contemplating her answer. “Listen, firstly I think it’s important to say that I have always been a fan of our music! And I say that because it’s my belief that as an artist you have to love and believe in the music you’re making because how can you expect others to love it if you don’t?”
“But in terms of my own personal taste in music, as much as I’ve always enjoyed and listened to pure, classic pop songs, my preference leaned more towards more pop / dance tracks, that had more of a club style beat to them… so, as you can probably imagine I wasn’t all that keen starting out in Steps releasing a song like ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ (laughs). It was pure pop and then some wasn’t it? And it obviously had that novelty feel to it as well, so I was a little resistant to it for a while there, but now, I honestly have so much love and respect for that song because no matter what anybody says about it, you can’t take away the success of it or what it did for us… I mean it hung around in the charts for months!! It gave us a platform to be able to go on and do what we did next, and it’s the reason why we’re still here today – we wouldn’t be talking about ’25 years of Steps’ if it wasn’t for that song, we really wouldn’t!”
“That being said… (laughs) we knew we couldn’t continue to release songs like ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ and expect to be around very long! That’s why it was so important for us to venture out and meet with different producers, and it was by doing that and working with Pete Waterman at PWL that changed everything for Steps! I was a massive Kylie fan growing up, so getting to be in studio with Pete was like a dream come true for me! I loved all of those early sessions we did, and it was during that time that we really created our classic Steps sound – you know those catchy pop melodies and uplifting choruses, the key-changes, the layered harmonies and bittersweet lyrics, all of those components that form the DNA of what you hear on our albums came as a result of our time working with Pete.”
“And of course over the years our sound did evolve and change, so when we recording tracks like ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ I was in my element – I was in absolute pop heaven (laughs). I’ve always been a fan of that song, I just thought it was amazing and I still do! I genuinely think it stands up as being a great pop record! So yeah I’ve honestly loved all of our music, but songs like ‘Love U More’, ‘You’ll Be Sorry’ and even our new single ‘Hard 2 Forget’ are my favourites… gosh I’m feeling all sentimental now!”
Steps ‘Hard 2 Forget’ (Official Music Video)
Steps new album ‘The Platinum Collection’ is available to download / stream now.
“The story has just begun…”
Having first burst onto the music scene in the late 1990’s at the height of the British pop explosion, Steps played their part in helping to re-define what it meant to be a successful contemporary pop act at the turn of the millennium.
“It was such a magical time in music, and I feel so honoured that I was able to be a part of it.” Lisa says as we cast our minds back to what many now refer to as being a glorious era in British pop music. “When you really think about it, there were so many British pop acts ruling the charts in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. You had S Club 7, B*Witched, 5ive, Westlife, Liberty X and Blue all releasing great pop records, and regardless of how well we knew one another, it still sort of felt like we were all in it together. That’s why it’s so nice doing these summer festivals now, because we’re able to catch up with a lot of our peers and see how they’re all doing. And though life might have taken us on different journeys, and some have now ventured down different paths, we’ve all been through a similar experience (of being in a pop band) and that bonds us.”
As leading pioneers in their field, it wasn’t just at home the band enjoyed popularity and chart success, for following the release of their debut album ‘Step One’ in 1998, the group expanded their musical horizons further by venturing out into the realms of planet pop and unleashing their own unique style of music around the world.
“We were so fortunate that we were able to tour internationally and see so much of the world!” Lisa says with a sense of gratitude. “I’ll never, ever forget the three months we spent in America and Canada supporting Britney Spears! You know it was one thing to be in the U.K. or Europe and meeting celebrities, but to have the opportunity to meet some of the big Hollywood stars was mind-blowing! I think back in those days so much was made of the American acts – they were the ones that were seen as being the real-deal, big-time superstars, so when we got to meet people like Christina Aguilera, *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys… I mean, it puts the biggest smile on my face just thinking about it, and it’s only really with hindsight that you realise how special and exciting it was!”
Pausing for a second to reflect, Lisa quickly adds without missing a beat: “I have led a mad life haven’t I? Maybe I should write a book – it would be a best seller I’m telling you (laughs).”
As an artist you have to love and believe in the music you’re making because how can you expect others to love it if you don’t?Lisa on the importance of championing the bands music.
Aside from all of their incredible success (to date the group have sold 22 million records worldwide) and obvious impact on pop culture, perhaps Steps greatest achievement has been their ability to always remain true to the essence of who they are both as a band, and as individuals, despite the pressures imposed upon them by an industry seemingly obsessed with being perceived as ‘edgy’ and ‘cool’.
“I definitely think the fact that we’ve always stayed true to who we are has helped us to stay around for as long as we have.” Lisa admits when broached on the subject of the bands authenticity. “Very early on we knew what Steps was, we understood the assignment, and we ran with it (laughs). We were young and we were having fun! We knew we wanted to be a very visual band, so that’s why each single campaign had a theme and a designated colour. Our videos were full of character and we were always so enthusiastic anytime we got to perform on stage. It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes things didn’t work out how we’d hope, but we figured out what did work for us and we developed our look and our sound over time in a way that wasn’t chasing trends or trying to copy what any of our peers were doing.”
“Being authentic is so important in life, and it’s a message we try to convey in our music now. We always tell our fans to be true to themselves and not to change change who they are for anyone because they’re perfect as they are. We’re an inclusive band, and we have an open door policy at all of our shows where anyone is welcome to come along an join our gang. We know how it feels to be excluded at times, and it’s not nice, so we’ll go out of our way to make sure that none of our fans ever feel that way.”
“You’re always in my heart to stay…”
Throughout the course of their entire career together as Steps, it is was always “party Steps” aka Lisa Scott-Lee who seemed to whole-heartedly embrace the life of a pop star!
“I was brought up to always be grateful for any opportunity that I was given, so even right at the beginning of the band, before we’d even released a single or had any real kind of success, I just thought it was incredible that I was in a pop group!” A humble Lisa explains as our interview draws to a close.
“I’d always wanted to perform, and I had hopes and dreams that I would one day be able to travel and see more of the world, and I got to do as a member of Steps. I know people are probably sick of hearing me say it, but I don’t care because it’s true – Steps isn’t a job for me, it’s my life! So many good things have happened to me as a result of being a part of this band – I met my husband because I was in Steps (Shentall was a dancer on Steps first U.K. arena tour back in 1999), we now have two children, we’ve got our performing arts school in Dubai and it’s all because of Steps really.”
“I feel very lucky, and I’m always careful to make sure that I don’t ever get too caught up in the chaos of everything to forget how lucky I am. So I’ve created a ritual for myself that I call my ‘snow globe moment’, and it takes place at the end of each show we do, right as the confetti and streamers are fired out of the cannons! So as all of the ticker tape is cascading through the air and falling all around me, I take a mental picture in my mind of the moment, and I relish in the excitement and joy of what we’ve just done, all the while standing in the middle of my very own Steps snow globe.”