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April 2009

THEY call her "the Russian Madonna" but, while the notorious baby-adopter is known worldwide, Valeriya is a virtual unknown in the West.
So, let us start at the beginning – how do you pronounce the name?
Oh, like malaria.
"Uh, yeah."
Maybe it's the English humour but it's more likely that Valeriya isn't used to people being anything other than positive having been a pop icon in her home country for two decades. She is Russia's biggest pop star with 17 number one hits and more than 100 million albums sold.
So why venture over here – she's supporting Simply Red on their arena tour – where no-one knows your name?
"It's an experience," she chirps.
"I want to be heard by not only Russian-speaking people. It's a challenge and a new step. I don't like to stay still."
Even if it means starting from scratch?
"(Laughs) I feel like the newcomer. It's like re-freshening your life."
The 40-year-old is speaking from Moscow, where she lives. She also has homes in Dubai and France and is looking for another in London.
Shifting that many albums means she's clearly loaded – Forbes magazine cited her as Russia's ninth-highest earning celebrity – but, aside from expanding her collection of houses, what indulgences does she have? Jewellery, cars, art...?
"I have three children, my husband has three children – we have six between us. And I have my relatives. For me it's one of the most important things, to support my family. I spend money for my children's education which demands a lot," she laughs.
"I wouldn't say we waste money. It's not the goal of my life to collect things (such as) jewellery or furniture."
As one would expect, back in Russia Valeriya can't take a stroll without being mobbed by fans but she does get recognised in the UK as well, she insists.
"Even in London I cannot just walk around. I am recognised quite often. Of course it's much quieter but still there are a lot of Russian people there. And all around the world. We are everywhere," she chuckles.
She was born into a family of classical musicians in the central Russian town of Atkarsk. While studying at Moscow's acclaimed Gnesin Academy of Music in the mid-80s, she listened to a lot of Western music that was smuggled in to the country. Simply Red included.
"I listened to their music in the 80s when I'd just started singing. The first song I heard was (sings) IIIIIII want to fall from the stars..."
That'll be Stars.
"Yes, it's called Stars. Very famous, very popular in Russia."
So there was a lot of British pop over there when you were growing up?
"Not really. Because we lived in a closed country, behind the Iron Curtain. So all this music came to the country illegally. Somehow it broke through: The Bee Gees, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and many, many others.
"In the (late) 80s it was the time of perestroika so it was different. Musicians started coming to the country to perform."
She favoured Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Annie Lennox and Sam Brown.
"She had this one big hit 'Think You Better Stop It'"...
That'll be Stop.
"We met once in Moscow," she says of Sam Brown.
Have you met Madonna, the artist you are often compared to?
"No, we haven't met. I cannot say that I'd like to. I wouldn't mind but she's not my favourite artist. I respect her very much. She's a self-made woman and she knows what she wants but there are other artists I like much more."
Such as?
Mariah Carey... Beyonce...?
"Absolutely, she's great. Christina Aguilera, she's great. Amy Winehouse, very special. She's a character. Tina Turner..."
She went through what you went through, of course. Domestic violence.
"Oh yeah. The situation was quite the same. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one in this world."
Valeriya, who was born Alla Yuryevna Perfilova, rose to fame at 23 after winning a national singing contest but disappeared from the limelight to escape an abusive husband.
"I consider myself an ex-victim of slavery," she says.
"Domestic slavery and domestic violence are almost the same."
Now with her third husband, she campaigns to highlight the problem in her home country.
"We opened a rehabilitation centre where we provide psychological and medical assistance to those who have ever become a victim. Mostly they are women who suffer from sexual exploitation. And men who suffer from forced labour. And children, horrible things...
"We've started to draw attention to the problem. We started talking about it openly. The situation is being changed step by step but still it's not enough."
Her next single, Back To Love, released later this month, addresses the subject. Her debut UK album, Out Of Control, follows on April 27.
"I've heard a lot about this city," she says when I ask if she is aware of Nottingham.
"I know it's related to the Robin Hood stories."
So the legend has reached Russia?
"Yes, it's a very famous one. Like a fairytale."
As I sign off she adds: "I hope to see you at my part of this concert."
I will. Then I'll leave when Mick Hucknall comes on.

Valeriya supports Simply Red at the Trent FM Arena, Thursday April 9, 7.30pm, £37.50-£42.50, 08444 124624.

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