As a friend of the Jackson family, Gladys Knight was hit harder than most by The King of Pop's death but it was "God's plan" she says. Ahead of her farewell show at the Trent FM Arena next month SIMON WILSON spoke to the Empress of Soul.
IT is 5am in Las Vegas but Gladys Knight isn't ending her evening in the city that never sleeps with a round of press interviews. "You know what? I'm an early riser," says the 65-year-old, dubbed the Empress of Soul.
"I've been to bed but I wake up around two or three. I know that's crazy but I got this way when I first had my kids – waking up for the feeding. I just kept it going.
"I'm a morning girl. Plus, I'm an insomniac."
Though she was born in Atlanta, Georgia, Vegas has been home to Knight for more than 30 years.
And for the past four years she has been off the world touring circuit, committing to a residency at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in her adopted home city.
"It was a fantastic experience. It was two shows a night to start with, five nights a week, every week for four-and-half years. The only time I was out was when I was sick."
Did she prefer that to being on the road?
"I didn't mind it, you know, because I've been flipping and flopping this road for.... (laughs) OK people go ahead and ask me 'how old are you?"
"(Laughs) Yeah, right.
"But it had been a long time so it was enjoyable. You get to know your family again, you get to watch your grandchildren grow up and I got to spend time with my husband."
But next month she'll be on the road once again bringing the same show to the UK.
"It's the same show to some degree," says the great grandmother.
"When you have an intimate setting like Vegas, you can talk a lot and you can shake hands with people. If you're in an arena it's a little bit less intimate so you have to reach them with a little more... how can I put it?... energy, maybe. And production and stuff like that.
"So that will be the difference. But I love to talk so that will be difficult."
I know you're a great-grandmother but why say goodbye on this tour? There's still performance life in you, isn't there?
"I would like to think so but we can't take things for granted. Tomorrow you're never promised. I wouldn't want to go out of this business – or even life – without saying goodbye."
She's determined it won't be the first of a few farewell tours.
"I've never appreciated in our industry where people would retire and then the next month they're back."
She doesn't rule out performing again but that will be strictly special occasions.
"Say, for instance, Elton and I are friends and if he asked me to do a benefit with him I would."
Joining her on the tour will be a number of surprise guests. Dionne Warwick, who Knight sang with on the 1985 hit That's What Friends Are For, has been confirmed to appear in Manchester (I guess that's no surprise now).
No-one has been lined up for the Nottingham date as yet but Tito Jackson will be opening all of the shows on the seven-city tour with his 14-piece band The Funk Brothers. His set will include a tribute to brother Michael.
Knight and the Jackson family have been friends since the early sixties. She introduced the Jackson 5, of which Tito was a founder member, to Motown label boss Berry Gordy.
"I watched those kids grow, from when they were really, really little kids," she says.
"And as they got older they got to be friends with my kids. So I know the family very well. Katherine is such a wonderful woman to me. I just love her to death."
Knight, a Mormon, uses an unusual phrase to describe Michael Jackson's death when I ask how she reacted to it.
"It really was sad in my heart for Michael's homegoing. But it's not our plan. That belongs to God. And as much as we'll miss him... we should be joyful for him that he's not in pain anymore.
"And he doesn't have people speculating about his life...well, you know, they still do."
Now they're speculating about his death.
"I know, you know. It's just really sad that our world, not just our country but our world has come to (view) gossip and speculation as what the news is all about rather than facts.
"The integrity has gone out of the news industry."
Alerted that my time is almost up and not wanting to end on a downer, I ask how Gladys Knight feels about the label Empress of Soul.
"Is that what they call me?" she laughs, like she's never heard it before.
"Work on it, work on it!" she adds, hysterically.
"That people would think of me that way, I love it!"
She invites me to say hello at next month's concert (they usually do) and says how much she's looking forward to it – which they always do but Knight has a very good, if bizarre, reason.
"I love shopping over there," she hollers.
"And I hate shopping!"