What’s it like to have your life played out centre stage? We caught up with DARE cover star Louisa Johnson to find out how the spotlight’s shaped her – and why she’s so crazy about Christmas

Louisa Johnson wearing a Nutcracker inspired outfit

Photography: Sarah Brick

The nights are long. There’s shopping to be done. Christmas is just around the corner. And for DARE cover girl Louisa Johnson, crowned The X Factor’s youngest ever winner at 17 three years ago, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Curled up in the dressing room at our Nutcracker-themed shoot, the Bad Behaviour singer lights up when she talks about Christmas Day. ‘I spend all day in my PJs, eating loads of food,’ she beams. ‘I can’t wait!’

But just because you’re pop hot property doesn’t mean you escape the squabbles and scrambling that come at this time of year. ‘My parents aren’t together, so I’ll be between houses, but I like to get around and see everyone,’ she explains. ‘You need to make time for those moments, no matter how busy you are. You’re a lot more important than your job.’

Just like Louisa’s down-to-earth family-packed Christmas, her wish list is decidedly unstarry. She doesn’t want to find much under the tree. ‘I used to be very materialistic when I started this job, but while I love all that stuff, I’d much prefer a nice holiday.’

Louisa Johnson in Nutcracker style outfit

Photography: Sarah Brick

Despite favouring moments over material things, Louisa is a girly girl. ‘I’d say it takes me about two hours to choose what I’m wearing and an hour to do my makeup and hair,’ she admits. Does all that effort make her a hit with the boys?

The star split with her recruitment worker ex, Daniel Elliott, back in the summer of 2017, after a year and a half together, a relationship that formed just weeks after her breakup with long-term love Ellis Stevens. There have been no public romances since. ‘I get a lot of messages on social media, but I never get approached in real life,’ she says. ‘If I did, I’d want someone funny, as I love laughing, and who’s really easy-going and can just be themselves.’

Perhaps it’s important that a potential boyfriend must be himself, given Louisa’s own complicated journey to getting comfortable in her own skin. From breakouts to breakups, being a teenager is tough for  anyone. But what if award ceremonies and social media trolls were mixed with your mood swings and mate troubles and played out in public? ‘I just can’t get away with the same things my friends can,’ she says. ‘Everything I do is under a microscope.’

Louisa Johnson Nutcracker

Photography: Sarah Brick

Thrown into the lion’s den of fame as a teen, the singer refers to her overnight success as ‘less of a transition and more like jumping off a cliff. I just didn’t know how to do my job’. And while the headlines haven’t always been as upbeat as her hits – she caused a stir for stripping down to her undies and dancing on tables during
a meeting with record label execs – their effect has thickened her skin, leaving her with a much older head on her 20-year-old shoulders.

‘When I first came off the show, I was really scared to be myself,’ she explains. ‘I was constantly worried about what people thought of me, which I think is important to a point as you don’t want to be an idiot, but it was debilitating.’ But how have three years in the spotlight reshaped the star? ‘I’ve started to believe I was given this platform for a reason, so I’ve stopped being afraid to be myself.’ But when you’re a hitmaker and headline fodder, being yourself can come at a cost. 

Despite the Essex-born star’s seemingly steely confidence,
she struggles with the darker side of pop. ‘I can’t help but read about myself,’ she admits. ‘It’s a paranoia. If there was something written about you, you’d want to know, right?’ she says. ‘I’m sure it’s a big part of my anxiety.’ Yes, despite the glitz and good life, Louisa admits she often feels angsty.

‘I’m very quiet sometimes. I could be having the best time of my life and then all of a sudden I start feeling anxious,’ she explains. ‘It’s hard for me to talk about it as I’ve never really opened up before, but I want people to understand that it’s OK to feel rubbish.’

Louisa Johnson Nutcracker outfit

Photography: Sarah Brick

The singer thinks social media is, on some level, to blame. ‘It’s the best and the worst thing ever. You only show and see the good side,’ she muses. ‘I struggle with my body image but I try to think, well, she hasn’t got what I’ve got. I see the best in people and that makes me think they probably think the same about me.’

Louisa’s mantra used to be ‘fake it till you make it’, but she’s felt freer since embracing her emotions. ‘I read something recently that said it’s important to feel your feelings. They’re never an excuse to be nasty to anybody but if you’re feeling rubbish, give yourself permission to feel crap – it takes the pressure off.’

It’s this attitude that seems to be standing the star in good stead. Despite parting ways with Simon Cowell’s label Syco back in July, she feels excited by her career again. ‘I’m trying to make my music more personal and get involved more in my projects,’ she explains. ‘Yes, there’s never really a solution for coping with setbacks,’ she says. ‘But they’re going to happen. You just have to get used to change.’ And with that, she’s back in the makeup artist’s chair getting ready for another close-up.

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