The last year was like riding a big wave, recalls pop princess Katy Perry, who by any standards has just experienced a momentous 12 months. That wave carried her to the top of the charts all over the world and a record-breaking five number one US singles, including Firework and California Gurls, from her last album, Teenage Dream. No other female artist, not even Madonna or Adele, can match that.
On the back of that incredible chart success, the 27-year-old embarked on a gruelling, 11-month-long world tour that saw her playing 124 cities in front of up to 25,000 wildly enthusiastic fans each night. “Looking back, I’m very proud I got through it,” she says. “I only had to cancel one show and that still sticks in my side.”
By the end of last year, Perry was firmly established as one of the biggest pop stars in the world. But her personal life had suffered. As a new fly-on-the-wall documentary film of that epic global trek shows, her marriage to Britain’s comedic naughty boy, Russell Brand, hit the rocks before she made it home.
The singer made every effort to get her relationship back on track, flying back to America from far-flung places to meet Brand (whom she married in October 2010) and then, after a couple of days, heading back to play another gig.
“Every ten days or so I would put everybody [on the tour] on pause for three or four days so I could go back and re-charge and see to my relationship and give that time, which was very intense for me because the show was still on the road. But I made that sacrifice because it was important for me and I had made a commitment at that time.”
“Sometimes I had to fly in on the day of the show, completely jet-lagged and feeling like I had been hung by my ankles, and have to go on stage. But it’s like I pushed a button when I walked out.”
In the film there are tender shots of her and Brand, clearly besotted, in between gigs. But then, later, come the terse phone calls and whispers among her entourage that all is not well.
There’s one sequence where the camera captures her backstage in tears seconds before she emerges in view of a wildly appreciative audience. Rarely has “the show must go on” seemed more painfully appropriate than when, she admits to me, all she wanted to do was “pound the pillow”.
Watching the film, it is clear that distance played a big part in the couple’s troubles – Brand, with his movie career rocketing, was in America while she was on the road. At one point she says to the camera, “being in love is the dream and then the reality of trying to make it work is not like the movies.”
She refuses to discuss her ex-husband, but if she’s uncomfortable talking about Brand, why didn’t she just airbrush her personal troubles out of Part of Me? “It’s the elephant in the room and it would have been wrong of me not to touch on it. I’m not saying it wasn’t a difficult decision to leave it in, because it was, and I get sweaty palms even thinking about it. I hope it doesn’t come off as a pity party.”
It doesn’t. The film (opening in cinemas today) shows a hugely likeable, funny and clearly talented performer who fought long and hard to get to the top. It’s 11 years since her first album was released and disappeared without a trace, and she played tiny venues and suffered rejection from numerous record companies (four in seven years) before her breakout single, I Kissed a Girl charted in 2008.
Perry, the middle of three children, was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. Her parents, Mary and Keith, are both evangelical preachers. She grew up in a strict religious household and was kept away from all mainstream entertainment, which was deemed inappropriate.
“I was raised by born-again Christians,” she says. “And I believe some of the things and I don’t agree with some other things. I’m on my own journey and I’m looking for answers to my questions, because I came from an environment where it wasn’t OK to ask questions.”
She performed in church as a child and her early influences all came from Christian music. “I didn’t know I was missing out. Everything in my world was related to what my parents thought was best for me.”
By the time she was 15, chaperoned by her mother, she was recording demos in Nashville and a few years later, moved to Los Angeles, where she signed with her first label.
She’s a strong believer in learning and developing as an artist: “It’s important to evolve and grow as an artist. I don’t mind the television talent shows but they are not my favourite. Whenever I’m on one [she has appeared as a guest judge on The X Factor] I just try and give honest criticism that hopefully won’t be too detrimental to the contestants. But I’m honest when people ask me for an opinion because I think it’s a waste of time otherwise.”
She offers an example of her own thirst for improvement. “I don’t have an ego about the fact that there are things that I don’t know because I didn’t really go to school. So I’m not very educated but I’m learning along the way. I love language and that’s my job – to communicate.”
She’s good at it, too. Her music, with insanely catchy hooks, is expertly crafted pop. On stage, with an audience that includes a large number of pre- and early-teen girls, she’s forever swapping one brightly coloured, outrageous costume for the next, and the sets are all lollipops, balloons and primary colours.
That will change because, as she says, perhaps her outlook isn’t quite as sunny as it once was. “I feel I have a lot to say on the next record. I have a lot to flush out of the system. I’m not saying that I’m not going to be the candy queen anymore, but I think it’s time for more meat and potatoes.
“With Teenage Dream, I created this cotton candy cloud with a kind of a wink and a kiss, and it was all cute and fun and playful. Now it’s as if I have had to step off this cloud and face reality. It’s like I’m falling from cloud nine and crashing from the sky, crashing from the sweetness of that moment. And now we’ll see what comes next.”
This is a shortened version of the full interview which can be found in this week’s Radio Times, available now and priced £1.40.
Katy Perry: Part of Me is released in UK cinemas nationwide on Thursday 5 July