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Carleen Anderson overcomes fears to swim for family

Renowned soul singer Carleen Anderson will be conquering her fears in memory of five family members who lost their lives to cancer when she swims the Serpentine this September. 

The former Young Disciples and Brand New Heavies singer, best known for critically acclaimed 1991 single Apparently Nothin’, says open water swimming used to leave her ‘paralysed with fear’ but she’s battled hard to beat that feeling. 

“It was a huge task to get to the point where mentally I realised – you can do this. It’s taken a very long time to get there,” she said.   

Swimming half a mile at Swim Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park on 16 September will be the culmination of years of hard work for Carleen. It will also help to raise around £1,500 for Macmillan Cancer Support, which is a charity close to her heart.     

Born into a musical family and goddaughter to the Godfather of Soul James Brown, it might seem Carleen was destined for a career in the music industry but it wasn’t that simple. 

There have been plenty of challenges on the way, not least being a single mother struggling to make ends meet as a bank clerk in 1980s Los Angeles. 

But after being offered the opportunity to move to the UK in 1990 to pursue a music career, the Texan says she’s never looked back. “I feel very fortunate. I was never planning to have a music career but I’ve worked with so many fantastically talented artists.”  

Carleen, who turned 60 in May, decided to take up the challenge of open water swimming to help her recover from a twisted pelvis suffered in a horse riding accident in 2008. She has since taken part in three mass participation swims but admits they have been tough. 

“My first event was at Lake Windermere in 2012. It was very daunting. I was petrified by the size of the lake and how far away the buoys looked. I was clinging onto the kayak after 15 metres.”

Despite the setback of not completing her first event, Carleen continued with the sport. A year later she swam at Little Marlow but suffered similar problems.

“My pride wouldn’t let me get in the kayak at Marlow in 2013, so I swam to the bank and pulled myself out of the water. I felt defeated.”

With two failed attempts to complete mass participation swims, some people might consider throwing the towel in but the experiences made Carleen more determined. 

She said: “My grandparents raised me not to let these things defeat you. You have to get straight back on the horse.”

A year later, Carleen returned to Little Marlow to face down her fears for a third time. She said: “At Little Marlow in 2014, I made it to the halfway point and my coach told me. When she said that, I knew I had to do the rest. It was a great feeling to finally complete the distance. 

“It took me a couple of years to get my form and not to panic if I needed to take a break. Now it’s something I love to do, I get up at 4am to be at the lake by 6am. I can’t wait for Swim Serpentine.”