Jessie J performs at the Central Galleria, Mall of the Emirates for Fashiontainment, Dubai. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News

It’s hard enough surviving school when you’re a regular teenager. It’s worse when you’re a 16-year-old musical theatre geek going to class with Adele.

“Adele was the cool kid,” recalled Jessie J on January 19. “She was in music and everyone knew her. She wrote songs and wore dope, vintage clothes.”

The pair went to the Brit School for Performing Arts and Technology together, and J would always have “different coloured hair” owing to the fact that she was a Vidal Sassoon model.

“I used to travel doing hair modelling to make money, and I was in a girl band. But we used to hang out randomly at lunchtimes and sing together. I couldn’t be more proud. She’s incredible,” she said.

Now 28, J is a multi-platinum singer with enough of a following to warrant a weekend trip to Dubai, where she performed a free, acoustic set at Mall of the Emirates. She has three albums to her name and top 10 singles (Do It Like a Dude, Price Tag, Bang Bang) on both sides of the Atlantic. But she hasn’t released a record since 2014’s Sweet Talker.

“It’s so hard, because I completely understand that it’s been a long time since I released music, but I didn’t stop working from that album until literally just the fall-, winter-time last year,” said J.

“I was touring, the longest I’ve ever toured being 200 shows around the world. That took a year and a half,” she added.

Born Jessica Cornish, J is the youngest of three siblings. Her sisters — five and seven years older — were far more academically inclined, the kind to become head girls and strike up friendships with their teachers.

“And then there was me. Wasn’t the head girl. Wasn’t very academic,” laughed J.

When she was six, she asked Santa for a boombox, blue eyeshadow and red lipstick.

“I will never forget the day I woke and my mum was like, ‘I think Santa came.’ I shot down the stairs and there was this massive boombox, which literally, I think my mum still has it,” said J.

“It had a microphone attached to it and that’s where my love for singing started. That was my hobby, off school.”

The blue shadow and red lippie kick-started J’s love of make-up, which this year culminated in a collaboration with Make Up For Ever.

“I did performances at British art school, and that’s the standard performance-as-a-child make-up, which is really weird. It might have changed now, but like: pink blush, blue eyeshadow and red lipstick,” said J.

“Throughout college, I used to draw music notes on my face with eyeliner. I’d wear green eyeshadow — like peacock green,” she added.

“It kind of just evolved into who I am today and what I do for a living. Just the love of it — of being able to feel good, and not use [make-up] to cover up, but use it to cover out, if that makes sense. To be expressive and to be yourself.”

These days, J’s sisters — she referred to them as her best friends — have gone down the creative path, as well: one’s a writer, the other a photographer. J still feels like the youngest, but she’s become something of a style guru amongst them.

“I give advice on everyone’s fashion. No one will clear their wardrobe out without me. It’s funny, they’re always like, you’re the youngest — but what do you think of this?” she said.

And though she’s been taking some time out for herself — “I’m enjoying life and doing bits and bobs here and there, making sure my fans know that I’m not going to disappear,” she said — she has 2017 pegged as a career-year.

“I think I’m in the best place I’ve ever been,” she said. “I’m proud of where I’ve become and what I’ve learned. I’m excited to see what happens.”