Strictly star Pixie Lott is nursing a secret heartache – over the death of the woman who inspired her pop career.
The singer – who wowed judges last night with her rhumba – lost her grandmother Peggy Bennett weeks before she signed up to the show.
In an emotional interview Pixie, 23, tells how she sang to her dying 84-year-old nan at her bedside and how she would love to win Strictly as a tribute to her.
She reveals how Peggy shared her love of music and encouraged her to follow her dream as a teenager.
And she describes her despair at losing BOTH her grandmothers to dementia within only two years.
“In the end, I don’t know if my nan recognise me or knew my name. It was heart-breaking to see her in such a bad way,” says Pixie.
“Before she became really ill, I went to the nursing home and I took my guitarist James along and I sang my first single, Mama Do, as I wanted to see if it reminded her of when it first came out. She was really supportive when that was happening.
“Then I sang some old Beatles songs I knew she liked.
“I could see her give a little smile and it made me so happy.”
Pixie credits her nan as being “a big influence in her life” and shared her love of music and the Sixties.
She says: “I spent many happy days as a child at my nan’s house. I started writing and recording songs at the age of 12 and I would always bring a CD over. We would sit and listen to it and she would say how much she loved it. She encouraged me and loved listening to my new songs and voice.”
Pixie, a supporter of Dementia UK, remembers how her nan’s illness first started to show.
She says: “She thought my uncles were still her little boys, that they were only 12. She started saying things like, ‘I have got to pick the kids up’. And she got confused over what time of day it was.
“When nan got really bad, she couldn’t talk or interact much. You could tell she had something to say but couldn’t find the right word.
“Towards the end we were saying things like ‘blink if you can hear us’ and she would blink. By the end she was like a completely different person.”
Pixie also lost her maternal gran, Amelia Martin, to dementia at 84 in 2012 – the same year Peggy was diagnosed. Pixie describes it as one of the “hardest points” of her life.
She says: “Losing Nanny Martin was tough. I had never experienced death before and all the emotions of loss and mourning.
“I don’t think anyone or anything can ever prepare you for something like that. Then when I lost Nanny Bennett it brought all those memories back and I felt that same churned up feeling all over again.
“I had flown back from LA when I found out the news. I opened the door to my flat and my mum and dad were there.
“Then they told me the news and I was just really upset.
“The funeral was just four weeks before I started on Strictly and it was very upsetting.”
Pixie had decided to write a song to her nan but chose not to perform it at the service as it would have been too traumatic.
She says: “A week after she passed away in June, I wrote a song alone at home and recorded it the next day.
“It is called You Are The Best but the only people that have heard it are my family.
“I have yet to sing it live, as well as Cry And Smile, the song I wrote for my Nanny Martin that is on my last album. But when I do it will be really emotional.”
She says she tried to cope with her grief by throwing herself into her dancing training for Strictly.
“It’s been tough and behind the scenes I’ve struggled but I’m determined to keep on as I know that it’s what nan would have wanted,” says Pixie. “Wherever she is I know she will be watching and she will be willing me to carry on.”
Pixie admits she wishes her nans were able to watch her.
She said: “They were fans of ballroom dancing. Nanny Martin loved Come Dancing back in the old days and she enjoyed it when I twirled about in the living room. I’m sure if they were here they’d have been there cheering me on.”
Pixie, who is partnered with Trent Whiddon, says her boyfriend of four years Oliver Cheshire, a model, has been amazingly supportive and helped her through her heartache.
And Pixie has been reading up on dementia to try to understand it more.
“It is really important for everyone to have an understanding of the condition,” she says. “When you meet someone living with dementia, it’s good to know the best way to support that person, whether that’s being more patient or explaining something more clearly.”
She reveals she has one keepsake from her nan that she will always treasure.
“Nan left me a gold bracelet to remember her by.
“I love it and I wear it lots but I’m very careful not to lose it. It’s very precious to me.
“Ultimately what has happened to both my nans has made me realise that you have to cherish every minute of life.
“I try to live in the moment and enjoy what I have with my friends and family as you don’t know what is around the corner.”