And Virgiel was an amazing woman anyway.’Thanks to such influences, Alicia has avoided all the hazards of a drug-fuelled business that have beset, for example, Whitney Houston, for whom Alicia wrote the song ‘Million Dollar Bill’.And her secret, she says, is learning hard lessons in life very early.She was raised (after her parents’ divorce when she was two) by her Scottish-Irish-Italian mother Terri (Teresa) and Terri’s African-American mother-in-law Virgiel in the tough Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan where drug-addicts and prostitutes were among their neighbours.Although divorce can often sever contact between in-laws, Alicia explains: ‘It felt very natural for my father’s mother to help my mother raise me because Virgiel lived in Long Island and was one of my closest family members – whereas my mother’s mother, who I love dearly, lived in Ohio.Now she says: ‘I’m comfortable in my own skin – comfortable enough to know when something is right for me and when things need to change.
The way I avoid temptations, what did it for me, was that I grew up around drugs, sex, alcohol and death – and I think that when you see that in your life, you know what it does to you and you have no desire to do it,’ she explains.
By her own admission, she usually goes on the road with a 75-strong entourage.
So nothing has quite prepared me for the homely approachability of the smiling, open-faced girl sitting with me in a dressing room at BBC Television Centre in West London.
All sorts of intriguing myths and legends swirl around Alicia Keys, whose steely focus upon her career has given rise to rumours of control-freak divadom and whose CIA-like secrecy about her relationships has led to speculation about her sexuality.
The classically influenced R&B singer/songwriter, who grew up in a notoriously tough area of New York, is such a hit-making phenomenon that she has sold 30 million records and won 12 Grammy Awards since her 2001 album debut Songs in A Minor.