A decade ago, Duffy – single name, single album (at that point), multiple Brit Awards, a Grammy, very Welsh – had been to number one on debut with her album Rockferry. She looked at least as likely, if not more so, than fellow single-moniker fresh face, Adele, to become a long-term star, and songs such as Warwick Avenue, Mercy and the title track were on the way to being standards.
When she toured Australia in early 2009, the shock of that success, the smack to the head of that fame, was still fresh, yet that more would come seemed a given, her return to classic soul setting a trend, surely.
But by late 2010, the songwriting and management team she’d had around her now discarded, her second album arrived and promptly fell over, her relationship to fame was troubled, and a retreat from the music industry turned into an escape that is yet to end.
What happened? Who knows, but you might see a clue or two here in this March 2009 interview.
When I first spoke to Aimee Duffy a little over a year ago, both of us perched on decrepit chairs in a back office of her record label in London, she was days away from releasing her first album. Nervous and excited, she was a mixture of quiet confidence and barely controlled insecurity about what would happen to an album of drama-laden neo soul songs she'd spent four years writing and recording.
That same mix was obvious the night before as this tiny Welsh woman from a provincial town so small it didn't have a record store, performed in a super trendy Soho club called The Piccadilly. The talent was obvious even if the stagecraft was as yet undefined, the voice growing bigger as the night went on, the hair already heading heavenward.
And in there was Duffy – the Aimee having long been dropped professionally - working hard to convince herself as much as the audience that she was ready.
"Of God, you're not going to believe it in March, it's like a totally different person," she says now, perched on a banquette in a Sydney hotel several layers of swank up from that office.
"I think I've stopped apologising. ‘Sorry, sorry I'm singing. Sorry, did a trip over the mic? Sorry.’ So fucking what, I'm singing, let's get stuck in together. You're here, I'm here, what's the worst that could happen? You could put it in other ways: was it being shy, was it being coy, was it being afraid? I don't know. But apologising is the only word."
There's not much to apologise for now. That album, Rockferry, was the biggest selling album in the UK last year and has sold nearly 6 million copies so far around the world. She's won multiple BRIT awards (the British Grammy equivalent), was nominated for three Grammys, winning for best pop vocal album, and by the by was selected by Paul McCartney to reprise his Live And Let Die on a start-bedecked charity album. Yeah, it’s gone alright.
And what's pleasing her just as much is that people have stopped referring to her as the new Dusty Springfield or the new Amy Winehouse. Sure they’re all white Brits singing a classically black American art form but neither comparison was really appropriate: though she's got the big hair and makeup, her voice is nothing like Springfield's; her lifestyle is nothing like Winehouse’s.
Still for Duffy and fellow young British soul singer Adele and to a certain extent the Australian Gabrielle Cilmi, those tags were easy handles for a while.
"It's gone, everything is gone. Which is probably a bit more frightening because before I had certain references but now it's just me on my own,” says Duffy. “It's okay. You want to be recognised for who you are but the moment that happens it's a bit scary. I don't know really know what I want any more to be honest."
Duffy is prone to this kind of comment. Even if she appears at the Grammys in yet another Alberta Ferretti frock, has Tom Jones declaring he wants to work with her or does the chat show and red carpet circuit gracefully, she doesn’t do flippant. Instead she’s very earnest and serious, likely to stare at you intently each time you make a feeble attempt at humour. You can't tell whether she didn't get it or just didn't think it was funny.
Although she says she "likes a laugh" (except it seems in men trying to pick her up with a line of gags – don’t bother fellas) she is more inclined to pondering on the vicissitudes of a career she chose when she was a teenager.
"It's a funny industry you know. I'm not hedging my bets because I don't want to put my hopes on it I suppose and I'm okay, steady now. Fulfilled," Duffy says when asked if she is pleased now. "Nothing is going to make me feel more fulfilled or less fulfilled and that's probably how I'm going to approach everything now. All the glories anyway. The music is a different matter.”
And in case there’s any doubt, even after she reveals that her music obsession for the past year has been that none-more-serious and elusive figure of Scott Walker, she does another typical Duffy thing - happily confess to frailties and, at the same time, strengths.
"I'm going to say it, I think am a bit fragile. I just think I'm built that way," she offers. "So in order to survive you have to say, ok, I'll decide early on that all these things that come before me are things that I don't have to have. You don't have to have anything. Do you have to have the right person in your life, do you have to have that car, do you have to have that holiday? No, I'm all right.
"I can be little bit of a control freak with my music because at least my music's mine; no one can take it away from me. No one can tell me what to do with it so that's what I hold on to in everything. It's the one thing that won't hurt me really."