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INTERVIEW: Katie Antoniou meets Catherine Bennett: a Credible, Likeable, Superstar Role-Model

Performance artist Bryony Kimmings' latest social experiment is the creation of a 'Credible, Likeable, Superstar Role-Model.' Bryony teamed up with her 9 year old niece Taylor to invent her latest alter-ego, Catherine Bennett; a pop-star for kids, designed by kids. With the help of Girls Aloud make-up artists, iD magazine stylists, X Factor wig experts and prolific pop producers,Taylor and Bryony have invented 'Catherine Bennett'; a bright, slightly clumsy, tuna-pasta-loving, bike riding, museum worker who has made time in her busy working life to write her own pop songs and star in her own music videos.

We caught up with Catherine Bennett to find out what matters most to a real-life role-model.

KA: Who were your role models when you were growing up?

CB: My mother. I think as a young girl your first role model is the woman who is bringing you up. Mary Anning a British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset Cyndi Lauper – I love 80’s music and she always seemed so in control of her own career, I loved her so much more than Madonna.

KA: Did you always want to be a singer?

CB: I always wanted to work in a museum with dinosaurs, I have never wanted anything more. I studied hard and qualified as a paleontologist. I have always loved singing along to the radio, the pop came so much later. It came from a need to create something different to what kids today listen to, something alternative and more celebratory, perhaps slightly less about fame, money and love and more about the things that I found cool and fun as a child.

KA: Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

CB: I am managed by a nine year old girl, not a record label. Everything I do, wear and say is with the direction of Taylor. She tells me what my songs should be about. We sit down together with a cup of tea and talk about all the wonderful things pop can be about, like it was in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I write songs for her about polar bears, animals, journeys and friendships. It is a really wonderful collaboration, I felt that if I wanted to write for kids that age then I needed to get the instructions straight from the horses mouth.

KA: What makes a good music video?

CB: Bright colours, funny concepts, great locations and ideas. I don’t like the boring idea of singing at the camera and doing a dance routine that looks like everyone elses… I love a good participatory dance that people can learn and join in with, I love my new video for a song called “the Future” - Taylor and I are flying around in space and hunting for a lost pen.

KA: What are the best and worst things about being famous?

CB: The best thing for me is that I can get kids to see that music can be about anything and that it can be written and sung by anyone. I love going into the schools we are touring and seeing young brains being opened up by the fact that a paleontologist has arrived with some seriously kooky pop and a real story of empowerment and activism for children. I am not too famous that I can’t walk down the street as yet, I can imagine that would make getting to work at my museum harder!

KA: What are the best and worst things about being a girl?

CB: I don’t like to think about life in this way. Being alive is lovely. I think being a boy or a girl the best thing is seeing what you do make other people happy, having lovely friends and doing something you believe in are key. Although I do know that sometimes being one gender means other people don’t view you as equal, I try to spend my life dispelling the idea that being a boy or a girl limits what you are capable of. I don’t like princess culture as it makes girls into one thing, I know loads of boys who want to be princesses and girls who want to be princes and I don’t believe that is pre-determined by which gender we are!

KA: What are the best and worst things about being a grown-up?

CB: Bills are pretty horrid. Being big enough to go on a plane on your own to the middle of a desert and dig for dinosaurs on your own is really pretty cool.

KA: If you could collaborate with another musician, who would it be and why?

CB: I think it is really vital that my music, managed by a nine year old, isn’t seen as an attack on what is already out there, it is merely an alternative to current trends in pop which I think are pretty limited to a very strict set of rules not governed by artists. With that in mind a single with Jessie J, Katy Perry and Rhianna that talks about personality and taste and celebrating differences in humans would be cool. (Maybe with beats made on real dinosaur bones!)

KA: Lots of popstars go on to do other things too, like acting, or working with charities- do you have any ambitions like that?

CB: My singles are all charity singles. I don’t want to be mega rich, just get my message out there that its ok to be different, its good to work hard and its important to dream big. So I already feel I work with a charity, the money we make goes to working with kids around media literacy and gender equality. I wouldn’t mind acting… if it was in a Jurassic Park remake!

 

You can see Catherine Bennett at The Almeida Festival and Latitude and at The Edinburgh Festival.

 

Photos by Christa Holka