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The Guardian: Why collect dolls? I grew up without stamps, says Sophie Ellis-Bextor

The singer used to say: "I don't collect dolls, I just keep buying" - until she realized how many she already had

Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor with some of her doll collections. Photography: David Levene for the Guardian

It took me a while to realize it was a collector. I used to say, “I don't collect dolls, I keep buying” – until someone saw them on my shelves and I finally realized that's exactly what I was doing. I'm already about 60: I don't do things by halves.

When I was six, I collected stamps. I was inspired by my grandfather on my father's side and my great-grandfather on my mother's side. They would bring their old stamp collections to show me, and I loved the pictures and the stories. At that age, I also loved to wonder how valuable some of them could be. I fantasized that I would be very rich if I collected the right ones. In the end, I grew up without stamps. I thought it was very serious – maybe that's why I became interested in dolls.

A Mouseketeer doll that Sophie bought on eBay. Photography: David Levene/Guardian

Most of my dolls are cheap and cheerful, from car sales, charity shops and eBay. Archiving and categorizing doesn't work for me either. I am not prized for any of the things I collect. I wouldn't want anything in the house that the kids couldn't touch. My dolls are everywhere: in our living room, in the boys' rooms and in the office. They're used to me having weird things going around. The eldest even started collecting. He's currently after a Beetlejuice toy from the 1980s.

'They all have a personality and charm,' says Sophie. Photography: David Levene for the Guardian/The Guardian

Friends arrive, look at the dolls and say: “I couldn't have that in my room, it's so scary”, and I say: “Calm down, it's just a doll”. I like the bizarre way they look. Maybe they're a little macabre, but I find it amusing. I also collect picture books from the 50s and 60s, postcards and posters, and I love the aesthetic of that era, the innocence of it, everything being picture perfect, neat and sweet. Dolls evoke this.

I've had one or two that were pretty weird even for me. I once found a clown doll on eBay from the Moscow Cat Theater, famous for its “cat artists” and “cat clowns”. When the doll arrived, I thought, I can't keep this. He looked scary, big orange hair in a halo and a clown face. I had to donate it to a friend. I say I like the weird ones, but really, what I like about my dolls is that they are a representation of the human being. They all have a personality and charm.

Blythe, Sophie's rare find and her favorite doll. Photography: David Levene/Guardian

My favorite doll is Blythe. It was a quest to find her. It was only available in stores for one year, 1972, a rejection because kids didn't like it. I found her because someone in the States made a photo book about her having all kinds of different adventures (Blythe by Gina Garan). She's an absurd thing, with a huge head in relation to her body, but I thought she was cool in a weird way. One of my friends said she looks like me. It took me two years to find one that was in good condition but not too expensive. In the end I paid around £200. It was later mass-produced in Japan and there is now a store in Tokyo dedicated to it. I think the newer ones are worth £500-600 now, but I never buy them for the investment.

Sophie traded these dolls to a friend for a clown doll that was too weird for her. Photography: David Levene/Guardian

I buy a lot of dolls on tour. I love Soviet-era dolls from Russia and Ukraine. I like their style. They're basic and unsentimental, but there's a real quirk to them.

I think it helps if you're a little nerdy. I like to read about what I collect, discover the story behind them. When I find a new doll to hunt, it boosts my endorphins, I get excited. I end up finding it and thinking, “This is too expensive, I know I can find it elsewhere” – that's the challenge and the joy. For me, collecting has to be fun, so you can bring it into everyday life. I suppose I'm an extrovert with my collection. Some women collect shoes and dresses, I collect dolls – it has to be showy somehow.

Blythe Available in

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