Health: Diabetes awareness is close to home for Alexandra Burke

Alexandra Burke.
Alexandra Burke.
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Being mentored by Cheryl Cole helped kick off her singing career, and now Alexandra Burke wants to help others achieve their potential. The former X Factor winner tells Katie Wright about her spiritual side and why she’s keen to highlight Type 2 diabetes.

‘Oh my god, some cookies have just walked in the room!” exclaims Alexandra Burke, shrieking with laughter.

Moments earlier, the pop singer had been extolling the virtues of her new gluten-free eating regime, but now the appearance of some decidedly wheat-heavy baked goods may have put her three-month-old abstinence in jeopardy.

“Gluten was making me really sluggish,” Burke, 25, explains. “My body doesn’t really like it, after you eat it your energy levels are low.”

And she certainly needs to keep her energy levels up.

Since beating JLS to win the fifth series of The X Factor in 2008 and releasing the biggest-selling single of the year (her soulful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah), Burke’s been busy.

She’s recorded two albums (2009’s Overcome and Heartbreak On Hold in 2012), toured with Beyonce, and worked with charities like Save The Children and Breast Cancer Care. Splitting her time between New York and the UK, today Burke is in London to talk about her latest project.

She’s supporting Bupa’s new campaign to raise awareness of Type 2 diabetes, which affects around 2.9 million people in the UK.

It’s estimated that some 850,000 others have the condition but haven’t been diagnosed.

Unless well managed, serious complications can arise, including stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease.

Along with Diabetes UK, Bupa’s launched a Facebook app, as well as a section of their website where people can assess their risk of developing the condition (genetics, weight and lifestyle are key factors for Type 2).

It’s a subject that’s close to Burke’s heart, as the condition runs in her family. Her mother Melissa, who was lead singer of R&B group Soul II Soul, is now on dialysis because of kidney failure.

“Growing up with my mum struggling with diabetes was difficult,” she recalls, explaining how she’d often witness her mum collapsing, because her diabetes was out of control.

She’s keen to help raise awareness of Type 2 – “because so many people are so blase about it and think, ‘If it doesn’t run in the family it won’t happen to me’”.

The London-born singer takes the same motivational approach with her siblings, Sheneice, David and Aaron.

“I’m the one that’s in everyone’s ear. They must be so bored of me, but I have to do it.

“I always encourage them to take care of themselves and I try to lead by example.”

Leading by example means four sessions a week with a personal trainer and regular yoga classes. “I’ve introduced yoga into my life. I do that a lot in New York, that’s something that’s really helped.”

And she doesn’t just mean having more flexible limbs: “Mainly it’s mental strength.”

Psychological wellbeing is as important as her physical health, which is why Burke took up daily meditation last year.

“I set an alarm on my phone and spend 15 minutes in silence thinking about what I want to create for my day, for my loved ones and those surrounding me. It’s made me a lot more spiritual,” she says.

This increased focus on spirituality and wellbeing has a lot to do with a new career path she’s venturing down.

“I’m training to be a life coach,” Burke reveals. “I’ve been doing this for about five months now.”

As she talks animatedly about helping people “reach their highest potential” and “discover dreams”, it’s easy to see why life coaching appeals to this former TV talent show contestant (she was mentored by Cheryl Cole during the series).

But it’s not just about enabling others. “I’ve discovered a lot in me that I’ve always wanted to do through this, so it’s been great,” she says.

Does that mean Burke is abandoning music in favour of helping others ‘live their best life’, Oprah Winfrey style?

“No, it’s alongside music, my music will always come first,” she insists.

In fact, she’s currently putting the finishing touches to her third album, which she’s been recording over the last two years, having split from her previous record label in 2013.

“It can get frustrating at times,” she says of the lengthy recording process, “because I just want to be back on stage.”

The album doesn’t have a release date yet, but with a video shoot scheduled for the coming weeks, Burke anticipates “some fun times ahead”.

As if video shoots, singing and life coaching wasn’t keeping her busy enough, Burke also wants to follow in the footsteps of Beyonce, with whom she performed an emotional duet on The X Factor final, and has been taking acting classes.

“It’s challenging. It’s something that I wouldn’t say comes naturally to me,” she admits.

With all this self-improvement going on, it’s a wonder Burke ever finds time to relax, but when she does, she happily admits she’s “the biggest kid alive”.

“Last time I was bored I took my whole family to Thorpe Park. And I love bowling. I’m not that great, I have the kiddy bars up, I’m a bit of a cheat.”

For now, though, play time will have to wait.

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