I’m now a champion: Cape Town musician Claire Phillips opens up about her abusive past

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Claire is using her life story as a catalyst to help others to make better decisions. (Photo: Instagram/@clairephillips952)
Claire is using her life story as a catalyst to help others to make better decisions. (Photo: Instagram/@clairephillips952)

R&B singer Claire Phillips wasn’t sure about many things in her life growing up – but touching lives through song was the one thing she knew she was supposed to do.

Her work is music with meaning, Claire says, and she’s using her life story as a catalyst to help others to make better decisions.

“If I look back on my life, every decision I have made, every step I’ve taken has led me to where I am right now,” Claire tells YOU.

“I’m not just here to be an entertainer. There’s a message I need to deliver.”

Claire’s past is mired in trauma, but her journey is inspiring.

After an addiction and years of sexual abuse, Claire is reclaiming the self-worth that was stolen from her.

And she wants everyone who listens to her new single, Champion, to do the same.

“Champion is for people like me who struggle every day with the aftermath of abuse in any form,” Claire says.

“When I listen to the song it gives me hope. It reaffirms that I’m a champion. Because no matter what happened to me, I’m still here.”

The song features award-winning rapper YoungstaCPT, a close friend.

“I call myself the queen of Cape Town and every queen needs her king,” Claire jokes.

“He’s such a conscious rapper. He raps about real things and he’s giving a message to kids. He was the only logical choice.”

Claire has always been an activist against gender-based violence (GBV). Her desire to see change is fuelled by her experience with sexual abuse.

“I grew up in a time where if an adult asked you to do something, you did it without question,” she says.

“The first time I was molested, it was by my grandfather. For years I thought it was normal.”

Like many victims, she pushed the experience aside, she says.

Her grandfather died when Claire was 13 and she never got the opportunity to confront him.

Her granddad abused her until he died, she says. She was also abused by a boy in her high school and she was raped once by two men while walking home from school.

Bottling things up turned her into an angry and bitter teenager who repeatedly lashed out at those around her.

“I eventually told my sister but didn’t tell her everything,” Claire admits.

One night at a party her friends encouraged her to experiment with drugs. Claire, just 14 at the time, soon became addicted.

Her self-destructive behaviour was picked up by her school and she was sent to see a psychiatrist. It would soon lift the lid on the secrets she’d been carrying for so many years.

“I didn’t know at the time that because I was underage but whatever I told the psychiatrist they told my parents.”

For 13 years she grappled with an addiction to methamphetamine (tik), cocaine and heroin.

One day she decided enough was enough. “My willpower got me through it,” she says. “The withdrawal symptoms were tough but I made music and used that as a distraction.”

Her decision to turn her life around was rooted in her love for music, which she has used as a tool to have an impact on the lives of people with stories like hers.

“This is going to sound messed up, but because of my purpose I had to walk that path,” she says of her life growing up.

“I wouldn’t change one incident. Not one rape. Not one molestation. Because that shaped me into who I am.”

Claire has taken ownership of her story. She doesn’t shy away from the experiences but also won’t let them define her.

It’s the reason she penned Champion.

“I faced the pain, endured the rain, I dusted myself off and I’m up again,” the lyrics of the soulful track read.

Claire released the song by hosting a benefit concert, the proceeds of which went towards building a safe house for women and children run by Cape Flats community worker Lucinda Evans.

The pair struck up a friendship after meeting at a march to parliament to protest against gender based violence in September last year in the aftermath of the murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana.

Lucinda addressed the crowd gathered outside the National Assembly, but Claire felt Lucinda was speaking directly to her.

“The hairs on my arm stood up,” Claire recalls. “The words coming out of her mouth just resonated with me.”

Two weeks later her team received a call from Lucinda asking whether Claire would perform at an event she was hosting.

Claire had no hesitation. “When I met her it was like I’d met someone from my tribe.”

The two are now hard at work building at least two safe houses in Cape Town. Claire says the houses will be a shelter for women and children who are victims of abuse in any form.

The safe house will implement a two-week programme, facilitated by social workers, which will help victims with tools such as laying a charge against their abuser or applying for an identity document.

Claire says she’s only able to extend a helping hand because she has worked hard to overcome the obstacles in her life.

“I’m saying things I’d never even have thought of five years ago,” she says. “Part of it was because of that shame. I believed that maybe if I don’t say it, then it didn’t happen.

“But one of the tools I learned along the way was accepting it happened, acknowledging it, moving through the emotions that it brings and moving on.”

And moving on to greater things is exactly what Claire is doing. Reminding herself she’s a champion each step of the way.






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