Once upon a time, a little Sheffield songbird dared to dream that fairytales can come true, writes digital editor Graham Walker.
Philippa Hanna believed one day she might appear on radio, television and tour Arenas with music legends, perhaps even Lionel Richie.
And here’s the happy ending. Singer-songwriter Philippa Hanna has done all that and more this year.
Through The Woods, her new fairytale-inspired 11-track album, tops a life-changing year for the Handsworth girl who bares her soul as she tackles a full storybook of human emotions, from good to evil and back again.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our video chat with Philippa.
Heartbreak, self-harm and survival, to fun, laughter and new beginnings, nothing is off limits and she takes the listener on a journey through the dark forest and out the other side.
It’s mainly light, dynamic and perfectly produced pop with a sense of hope and wonder. At the centre of it all is her songwriting, strongly influenced by her Christian faith.
Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady are big fans, playing her on their radio shows. She did a live session for Clare Balding on BBC Radio 2 and has performed twice on BBC TV’s Songs Of Praise.
And yes, she really was dancing on the ceiling when Lionel Richie got her to support him on his Arena tour earlier this year.
Philippa, aged 29, who started out in coffee shops and church halls, was plucked from virtual obscurity for that gig.
Playing to thousands of fans has resulted in new-found fame and a demand for a third studio album, following her 2007 debut Watching Me and 2009’s Taste.
Through The Woods was in part funded by her fans, with a campaign on crowd-finding website Kickstarter, that raised over £14,000.
She’s hoping the album will be the springboard to realise even more dreams, including a major tour next year.
In the meantime, she has a busy schedule including the Big Church Night In 2013 tour.
She will also join an all-star bill, including Heaven 17, ABC’s Martin Fry and Tony Christie, at The Sheffield Women Of Steel Concert, at Sheffield City Hall on Saturday, November 9. That will help to fund a £150,000 appeal for a statue to honour the city’s women who kept the steel mills going during two world wars.
Philippa said: “I’m very excited about the album. It feels in many ways like a debut, because it’s slightly different to my other albums. It’s got themes running through it, of fairytales and stories.
“It’s a whimsical adventure, a mysterious journey into the unknown and out into daylight. There are lots of hints towards famous folk tales with themes of poisoned apples, kings and princes, cherry coloured coats and sailors lost at sea. I’ve always loved story time and this is my collection of tales.
“As a singer songwriter it’s hard not to be autobiographical and for me it is a therapy, so I find myself pouring my heart out and wearing it on my sleeve in the songs.
“ I’ve touched on some really personal subjects but I’ve packaged it more as me, Snow White, or Red Riding Hood - which gives it that little bit of distance, while keeping it quite personal.”
Hollywood, the new and third single from the album, is about how real-life relationships have their ups and downs.
Happily married for four years to Joel Cana, drummer in Sheffield band The Gentlemen, she said: “We are both musicians. We are on the road and sometimes don’t see each other for a while. But it’s about team work and getting through those times.
“Films can end with a fairytale wedding, but that’s really where the true love has to begin. That’s a part of the beauty of it.
“Life is real, to quote a Max Restaino song. It’s sometimes really challenging.”
She’s written a new book, called Following The Breadcrumbs, revealing more about her journey and faith.
She said of the album cover: “We used a photographer called Rosie Hardy - who is just unbelievably talented and she helped us create the fairytale with shots in Ringinglow Woods. But you would be forgiven for thinking it was Never Land.”
* Philippa walked The Star through her fairytale album, Through The Woods. Here’s her insight on each track.
1. Lighthouse: It’s about being lost and found again
2. Stars Will Fall: An adventure. I’d been watching The Hunger Games and imagining going into the wilderness.
3. The Daffodil Song: Fun, about being in the sunshine, being noticed and being yourself. It features fans who pledged on Kickstarter to appear.
4. Apples: A Snow White inspired fairytale about being completed by the right kind of love.
5. Cherry Coloured Coat: My Red Riding Hood song. We may be chased by wolves through the forest but we have a special coat of protection.
6. Sharks: About self harm in all forms. My plea for people to stay out of harm’s way.
7. Fire: This is about being ignited about something you are passionate about, in particular a person who lights you up.
8. Hollywood: A warts-and-all song about relationships and how you really need to commit during difficult times.
9. Just a Song: A love song, about how it can take you back to square one.
10: New For Old: Transformation and seeing good in things which other people might think are totally useless and broken.
11. Sweet Surrender: Laying down your weapons and letting life happen.
12. Circuits: A limited edition bonus track, about how true love can rewire you.
WOMEN OF STEEL CONCERT TICKETS: See Philippa Hanna and a host of South Yorkshire superstars performing at our charity concert to help fund a statue to honour the city’s Women Of Steel. It’s at Sheffield City Hall, Saturday, November 9. Full details and tickets, from just £20 - CLICK HERE.