Lolly's still bring that 90s pop fun to the audience

“When I was really young, my parents always got told I was shy.”

Anna Kumble who had fame as pop star Lolly
Anna Kumble who had fame as pop star Lolly

You certainly wouldn’t have been able to guess it from my conversation with Anna Kumble.

Bright, bubbly, brimming with confidence, we chat away merrily about all manner of things, from lockdown, school life, family, Birmingham in the ‘good old days’ and Tik Tok.

“I have trended on Tik Tok!” she tells me, excitedly. “But my daughter (Belle) was like , ‘Mum, do not go on Tik Tok! So I have been warned!”

It’s 22 years since Anna broke onto the pop scene as Lolly, with three top ten hits in 1999, Viva La Radio, Mickey and Big Boys Don’t Cry/Rockin’ Robin.

It was a time when pop was fun – B*Witched, Steps, S Club 7 were on the scene, filling dance floors with C’est La Vie, Tragedy, Reach and the like.

“They were great days,” says Anna, who grew up in the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield. “It was all fun and we miss it.

Anna at home in the recording studio

"There’s not as much of that anymore and we need it! I have realised there is still a lot of love out there and people need that fun, 90s, care-free happy days.

And that’s why Anna’s still bringing bubblegum pop to audiences now, performing live on stage at a host of events – “I’m in my 40s and doing what I love. I’m blessed really,” she says. “The feedback is always amazing at gigs.”

The pandemic might have stopped her performing but it didn’t stop her music. Far far from it. Now living in Lichfield, she took to the studio in her family home.

“The pandemic has been tough,” she reflects. “I do lots of gigs and they were cancelled so it was difficult. We had losses in the family too. It has been so tough on everyone. We have all gone through it.

“But my partner is a record producer and we have a studio at home. We did some lockdown songs so that was fun and we tried to keep ourselves motivated, being creative.

"I wrote a song called Paper Rain that I had never finished and it gave me a chance to get that out and do a lockdown video for it.

“I’d written it about my daughter, Belle, as she’d gone through a tough time and it was a message to her – words can be slung your way but let it all wash over you like Paper Rain.

"It was me saying ‘Believe in yourself, I’m here to wipe your tears away. Things will be alright’.

“I’d written it the year before when she was going through some bullying at school. Things are better now and she is going to a new school now.

"We have moved back to the Midlands to give her more of a childhood, away from the inner city of London. It’s been nice to come back to my roots where my family are. It’s a nice place to bring up children with a nice quality of life.”

Her own childhood was, Anna says, very happy.

“Sutton Coldfield was a lovely place to be brought up,” she reflects.  “I went to the Shrubbery School, when Miss Rankin was still there and it was a brilliant – a real family school and there was so much love there.

"I was very lucky and I had really nice classmates and I’m still friends with a lot of them now.

"I also went to The Novelli Stage School, based on Rectory Road, at the time, run by an incredible lady called Yvonne Novelli.

"The children I met there, many are still my best friends now, from when I was five. True friends."

Anna as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella

"Through going to dance school I found something I loved. I came out of my shell and when I was on stage and performing, I opened up and that’s where my confidence was.”

Anna moved to London at 16, heading to drama school and she ‘loved it’.

“I had the focus and drive.,” she adds. “It was a great opportunity.

"Even at 16 I was shy in groups, meeting people. I had a talk to myself and say: ‘I have to make the opportunity work’.

"So I started to make myself get to the front of the class, push myself a bit more. Act confident and all of a sudden you are confident.”

She hit the West End in Elvis The Musical, playing Priscilla Presley at 17, before she made the switch to pop.

“I was in a girl band. A girl band at college,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to do pop as I was into musicals but I had remained friends with the producers.

“They put together an act called Lolly and they had me in mind but thought I wanted straight acting and theatre.

"So Rachel Stevens was the original Lolly but it wasn’t quite working out so they put her in S Club 7 and called me up and asked me.

“I was leaving Starlight Express that day so it was just timing and I was like ‘yeah, why not , I’d love to’

“I have always thought, go with the gut and have a go. We recorded three tracks and it just happened. I took it as a role, a theatre thing. Lolly was a character.

“My friends knew me as Anna but the public knew me as Lolly.

"It was really good fun, a whirlwind. I travelled the world, performed with amazing people. I was in Japan and was on the same line up as Sting.

"They are pinch yourself moments. When you are in it, you don’t appreciate it as it goes so fast, like a rollercoaster. It was pretty cool.”

Anna in the recording studio

TV followed, including Xchange, a live magazine show with Holly Willoughby.

"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was my last track and I'd had enough then," Anna reflects.

"I stopped enjoying it. I had a showreel done, got an agent and started on the next journey.

"I left and went to help launch CBBC Digital. That was like going back to college for the BBC.

"It was brilliant and I presented Xchange, a live magazine show with people like Holly. We were in our 20s, having a laugh, travelling the world and interviewing amazing people.

"When I was in my 30s I thought – I don't want to be gunged anymore! But it's hard. You get put in boxes.

"People still expect Lolly – they expect you to do one thing not realising I went to drama school and can do a lot of things.

"I'd done so much children's work that no one was really interested and people didn't see me in more mature stuff.

"I had Belle and then I just wanted to be a mum.

"I went into management, helping acts but not so long back my music went out digitally.

"Back in the day it was tapes and CDs and within a week I had had two million streams and I was like 'Oh my God, this is just crazy!'

"I had turned my back on Lolly and wasn't interested in performing as her but I realised there was still a lot of love out there."

"I recorded a song called Stay Young and Beautiful and I really enjoyed it and I've enjoyed performing again.

And, while singing is still her main love, she has another ambition, involving television work.

“I’d love to present a DIY show,” she says. “I love flat packs and building things. I am a bloke bird in that way, getting a hammer and putting things up.”

It sounds like a plan. Anyone got a number for Nick Knowles?

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