It’s hard to believe that it’s over two decades since we first fell in love with Gwen Stefani, the ska-punk golden girl who stormed the charts as the lead singer of No Doubt. Since then she’s enjoyed solo success with mega hits like Hollaback Girl and What You Waiting For? and, more recently, she’s carved out a TV career as a voice coach on the US version of talent show The Voice. Then there’s her hugely successful fashion line, Lamb, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and recently added an accessories collection, GX by Gwen Stefani.
The platinum rocker is also a mum of three, having given birth to her third son, Apollo, last year – an unexpected surprise at 44. Not that she shows any signs of losing her dark edginess to the school run. A true individual, she is as effortlessly cool now as she was when she first captured our hearts singing Don’t Speak in the mid-Nineties (as her 1.5-million Instagram followers will attest to). As we wait with bated breath for her new solo album (due any day now – there’s also talk of a seventh No Doubt album), we discover why Gwen is just as badass as ever.
Fame hasn’t changed her
Despite her superstar status, Gwen can empathise with the wannabe singers she mentors on The Voice, as she can still remember her early days as an aspiring musician jamming in friends’ garages. “These girls are trying to ‘make it,’ and I’ve been thinking: What is making it?” she says. “My parents taught us, ‘[Music] is your hobby. People don’t make it. It just doesn’t happen.’ It still shocks me that people care about me. I trip out about it all the time.”
She adds, “It’s mind-blowing! For me, I’ve never got to a point where I felt, ‘OK, I’ve made it, I’m number one!’ It’s an amazing feeling to hit number one, but it’s not that different a feeling from not being number one. It’s really about the journey – that’s where the joy comes in. It’s not about the end result, as there isn’t really ever an end.”
In fact, agreeing to replace Christina Aguilera as a judge on the commercial talent show was not an easy decision for a woman with punk pumping through her veins. “It was hard to wrap my head around, but I needed a change creatively and it felt like something new, fresh,” she says. And the responsibility of taking a seat on the famous spinning chairs is not something she takes lightly.
“Watching all these performances and being critical, it’s a big responsibility and a new kind of inspiration I’ve never had. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Though she admits she would probably never have got through auditions for The Voice had she tried back when she was starting out (“my kind of voice would never impress people”), she’s a welcome antidote to the seemingly endless conveyor belt of today’s manufactured pop starlets who seem to care more about image than the music. Songwriting is part of her DNA, and the source of much of her killer confidence. “When I discovered I could write songs, that gave me a power that I didn’t have. Before that, I put all my energy into my relationships. Having something else I could put energy into, that I actually created, really changed who I was in the best way,” she says.
And, unlike many of the younger generation of singers, Gwen doesn’t feel she has to strip off to sell records. “We have this sexual side to us that is alluring and powerful. It’s a gift. When you discover it when you are around 14, it feels amazing. But you learn it’s fleeting. Sexuality is something I’ve never felt comfortable with. I won’t be doing any topless photo shoots anytime soon. It’s not my thing. I don’t judge people for it, but I didn’t even wear high heels until I was 30. It’s important to evolve outside of your sexuality to entertain people. It was never a card that I played or will play – ever.”
Family comes first
Speaking of relationships, Gwen has been happily married to Gavin Rossdale, the British rock band Bush frontman, since 2002 – making theirs one of the most enduring unions in showbiz. “I wasn’t a huge dater. I’ve only had two boyfriends, and I married one of them!” she laughs. Her other ex is her long-time bandmate Tony Kanal.
Gavin and Gwen welcomed their third son, Apollo, last year (they are already parents to Kingston, eight, and Zuma, six), and she admits that getting pregnant at 44 came as something of a bolt out of the blue. “Being pregnant was so shocking and totally unexpected,” she recalls. However, she makes juggling parenting three sons with a successful career look like a walk in the park – literally. A hands-on mum, hardly a week goes by without pap shots emerging of Gwen out and about LA with her brood. Despite how easy she makes it seem, she admits she did go through a period of adjustment in recent years. “I was definitely swimming upstream,” she says, “trying to balance everything that’s been going on with having kids and a family. There’s no way to do all these things.”
And like most working mothers, she is not immune to feelings of guilt. “Every day I fail at something,” she says. “Every day someone is suffering because I’m doing all these things.”
She credits her husband with giving her the support she needs: “My biggest accomplishment is my marriage so far. Because it’s hard, everyone knows it’s hard. [Marriage] is something that I always wanted to do successfully. It was a dream of mine. I like the official-ness and the family-ness of it all, having the same name and making decisions together.”
She adds, “[Our relationship] is better than it’s ever been… We’re learning about each other all the time. He’s an amazing dad, he works so hard – I can hear him writing songs through the wall, and it is at a much quicker pace than me! He balances me out. And he – he never stops liking me, which is awesome! It makes me feel happy, that someone likes me as much as he does.’”
Even after almost 13 years of marriage, the singer is still dazzled by her rock star husband. “I never really saw myself landing a guy that hot. I don’t know if I was a nerd in high school, but I definitely wasn’t the super-cute cheerleader so I never saw myself getting somebody like that. But I do think he’s quite handsome. It’s not the most important thing about him, but it is nice, and he makes really cute babies!”
And it seems Gwen’s kids dote on her just as much as she dotes on them. “Kids know if something is good or not. Like, even Apollo, I swear, when we play [Gwen’s single] Spark the Fire, he totally dances. I play everything for them and they tell me if they like it or not. They tell me, ‘You’ve got to write a good song that everyone is going to like.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll try.’”
One of a kind
One of the reasons that Gwen is destined to be viewed as a ‘cool mum’ by her kids is her unique sense of style. Her white-blonde hair, scarlet lips and skater-girl chic combo gives her a next-level kind of cool that has garnered legions of fans and Insta-followers. And though some of her outfits are out-there, she doesn’t have any style regrets. “If you [hand] me an old photo of myself, I can tell you why I’m wearing what I’m wearing. Somebody just showed me a picture of me at the MTV awards, where I was wearing this blue fur bathing suit top. Right away, I was like, ‘Yup, I know why I wore that.’ I had just got off a two-and-a-half year tour with No Doubt and I felt like I needed to break free a bit. How can anyone regret wearing something? I never do. It reflects who you are at that moment.”
In fact, long before she was being papped, Gwen had developed her own sense of style. “I think when I discovered music in the eighth grade, that was when it really hit me… like, who am I? I knew who I didn’t want to be. I knew I wasn’t this girl or that girl. But I wasn’t rebellious at all – I was just curious. I just knew what affected me in a positive way and went from there. I was actually a big copycat! I would see all these girls who had cool style and were just different, and I knew I wanted to be like that. I’d see something I liked and then sort of make it my own—you keep doing that and it becomes a sort of evolution of your style.”
She adds, “I’ve always loved fashion — it’s a reflection of your personality. Even if no one was looking, I’d still be wearing the same things.” And therein lies the secret of her appeal: she’s not out to impress anyone; she’s just being herself. And what’s cooler than that?
Gwen has gone from being lead singer in the band No Doubt to a solo artist and a judge on US talent show The Voice alongside Maroon Five’s Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams.
With her own couture line, Lamb, which takes influence from Guatemalan, Japanese, and Jamaican fashions, Gwen’s own red-carpet style is chic but always has her signature edge.
Despite hanging out with the cream of the celebrity crop, including Miley Cyrus and Angelina Jolie, Gwen manages to keep her down-to-earth image intact.
Gwen is very family orientated – happily married to British rockband Bush’s frontman Gavin Rossdale for nearly 13 years, she gave birth to their third son last year at the age of 44.