Britain's Smooth Operator from the 80s who's outselling Adele in America (despite living as a recluse in the Cotswolds)
09:04 GMT, 14 March 2012
Evergreen: The British singer Sade on stage at the O2 World in Berlin, Germany, last year
The sleepy part of Gloucestershire where Eighties singer Sade has maintained a reclusive existence since 2005 is not exactly known for its celebrities. But that is just the way the reticent singer likes it.
Preferring days spent weeding, planting and lugging a wheelbarrow around her immaculate garden, few notice her as she browses for bulbs and seeds in her local garden centre, without a scrap of make-up and dressed in scruffy baggy cords, a fleece and a headscarf.
Yet, although to some Sade's brand of cool jazz might seem as Eighties as brick-sized mobile phones and frizzy perms, she has quietly established herself as our most recognisable and money-spinning musical export — bagging a new breed of adoring and powerful acolytes such as rappers Kanye West and Jay-Z who appeared on her latest album, The Ultimate Collection.
The extent of her enduring international success is revealed by new figures from America, which show that the Essex-raised singer, who had her first hit with Your Love Is King more than a quarter of a century ago, raked in an astonishing $16.4million (10.5million) last year in the U.S.
Across the pond, Sade has even out-earned the likes of fellow Brits Adele, Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney.
Coming in at number six on the Billboard list of the most profitable artists of the past year, she is just two places lower than Lady Gaga.
For the irony is that although she remains this country's most successful female singer ever — having sold more than 50 million records worldwide — most Britons may only fondly recall her debut album Diamond Life and its hit singles Smooth Operator and When Am I Going To Make A Living.
Meanwhile, Sade and other British bands from her era, such as Depeche Mode and The Cure, remain huge crowd-pullers in America where a younger generation has never tired of their brand of Eighties nostalgia and whose moody tracks are constantly used in popular TV shows such as The Vampire Diaries and Smallville.
For the better part of the past 20 years, however, Sade has spent her days cooking at her secluded home, away from the intense glare of the media spotlight.
Her former boyfriend, British radio presenter Robert Elms, says of her: 'She never wanted to be famous, just to write and sing good songs. She finds celebrity very vulgar.'
Her need for rooted security can perhaps be pinned on an unorthodox upbringing. Sade's mother Anne was an English district nurse who met and married her Nigerian father Adebisi Adu in 1955 in Britain, then followed him back to his Nigerian homeland.
Fellow British artist Adele (left) is still being outsold in the U.S. by the multi-talented singer-songwriter, composer and record producer Sade
The couple had a son, Banji, and their second child, Helen Folasade Adu, was born in Ibadan in January 1959. Soon, however, her Christian name was dropped and she became known to her family simply by the nickname Sade.
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The pop singer was highly successful in the 80s and appeared on stage at the legendary Live Aid charity concert at Wembley in 1985
Her big break came by chance. In the early Eighties, friends who were starting a band and had never heard her sing asked her to join as a backing vocalist because they thought her exotic looks would attract male fans.
But an early manager pronounced she could not sing, and she and three other members of the group splintered away to form their own band. A few months later, Sade was given her solo role in front of the microphone.
Despite her inexperience, she showed an early shrewdness that would stand her in good stead in the cutthroat world of the music business. In 1983, when she recorded a demo of her first single Smooth Operator, it was originally rejected by every major label. But she persuaded Elms, who worked in the media, to drum up publicity in fashion and style magazines based on her stunning looks, trademark black polo-neck sweater and slicked-back hair.
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American musician Kanye West is one of a host of stars who appeared on Sade's latest album, The Ultimate Collection
Former boyfriend radio presenter Robert Elms, pictured here in 1989, said of Sade: 'She finds celebrity very vulgar'
In the 20 years that have followed, she produced only three studio albums: Love Deluxe in 1992 and Lovers Rock in 2000 before a comeback in 2010 with Soldier Of Love.
During her long absences, she has quietly been bringing up her daughter Ila, now 15, from her relationship with Jamaican music producer Bob Morgan. She moved briefly to the Caribbean to live with him in the late Nineties, but they separated.
Making only a rare public appearance in 2002 to accept an OBE at Buckingham Palace for services to music, she settled for near obscurity in the Gloucestershire countryside where, in 2005, she bought a run-down, stone-built cottage to renovate near Stroud.
Neighbours now speak of her trundling around in a ten-year-old Mercedes to visit the local garden centre.
Nonetheless, with a reputed fortune of 40million, she is known as a canny investor, with a property portfolio that includes a 3.5million townhouse in Islington, North London, a West End penthouse that she generously lets friends use, as well as houses in New York and Switzerland.
She has also fallen for a local man, Ian Watts, a former Royal Marine and fireman-turned-scientist, with whom she and her daughter now live, along with Mr Watts's 20-year-old son Jack.
Perhaps in a sign of her domestic happiness, the singer, who seems barely to have aged since her Eighties heyday, has even been slightly more forthcoming of late about her personal life, recently describing Watts in her local paper as 'The One'.
In a rare recent insight into her unstarry home life, she joked: 'I always said that if I could just find a guy who could chop wood and had a nice smile, it didn't bother me if he was an aristocrat or a thug as long as he was a good guy. And I've ended up with an educated thug. I have a lovely stepson who lives with us and I feel lucky, like I've won the lottery, finally.'