The daughter of American jazz legend Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole rode to musical success in the mid-1970s as an R’n’B artist. A best friend of Whitney Houston, Natalie also suffered from substance abuse problems but overcame them to re-launch her career. We chatted with the singer before her first-ever Middle East concert at the Abu Dhabi Festival 2012.
Welcome to the UAE! What are your first impressions?
Abu Dhabi reminds me of a wannabe metropolitan city. It’s very over-the-top, a bit like an exotic Las Vegas. The architecture is amazing and of course this building [Emirates Palace] is just outrageous – everything is so big!
What was it like growing up in the shadow of your very famous father, Nat King Cole?
I had a pretty decent childhood. My parents tried to keep us as normal as possible. I think one of the greatest things as a child was being able to travel. I went to England for the first time when I was about nine and we went to lots of different places across the world. Travelling with my dad was really a very special thing.
What’s your opinion on new artists in the charts today?
I must say, I’m not impressed with too many! Adele has a great voice and I like Lady Gaga because she’s actually a musician, not just a ‘flash in the pan’ type of star. I’m anxious to see how she’s going to grow and what she’s going to do with her career.
You’ve performed on American Idol, what’s your take on the reality TV format?
I’m pretty critical of that way forward. The way that I came up, you didn’t just audition and then become a big star. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be! It’s a little deceiving because these people think, ‘Once I win I’m going to be this big star and my life will be so much better’. And it does change, but it may only last a short time.
What’s your message for young stars today battling problems like you did?
It’s so heartbreaking. I’ll bring up Whitney [Houston] here – she was a dear, dear friend of mine; she was a bit like my baby sister. To think that we’ve lost her to such a tragedy, is really, really tough. I think sometimes you do get caught up in the business – even the most sophisticated of us gets caught up and distracted and for a moment, we think we’re invincible. The only thing I’d say is, please try to stay grounded.