Mawazine 2016: I felt I couldn’t go on, says Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel Wahhab

Singer Sherine Abdel Wahhab says that what should have been a career high sent her to the depths of despair.

When I announced I was retiring, the feeling was similar to throwing myself into the river or jumping in front of a car, says Sherine Abdel Wahhab. Courtesy Wahid Tajani
Powered by automated translation

It is often said that success breeds more success. For Sherine Abdel Wahhab, however, it became a breeding ground for despair.

Not that we knew about it – the past 12 months were full of career highs. Last Ramadan, the Egyptian singer showcased her underrated acting chops in the acclaimed television drama Tariqi.

She followed this up with an accompanying album of the same name, before joining the judges panel on the third season of MBC's talent show The Voice, in which she became the winning mentor when Jordanian contestant Nedaa Shrara clinched the title.

By the end of the year, any remaining concerns that the 35-year-old was more style than substance were convincingly quashed.

But despite her success, Abdel Wahhab says that during what should have been bright moments, she was on an emotional downward spiral.

“It got to such an extent that I thought about committing suicide – I actually thought about that more than once,” says Abdel Wahhab, speaking at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, which ended on Saturday.

“The stress of the work got to me. I had some panic attacks. Then that lead to some deep depression. I was sad, I was concerned for my children, I was concerned for myself – it was a such a difficult time that I still find it hard to explain.

“It got to such a state where I felt I couldn’t go on – and that I didn’t want to go on.”

Aware that she had to take steps to relieve the stress she was under, the singer announced her immediate retirement from the entertainment industry on February 29, citing the need to focus on her family.

“When I announced I was retiring, the feeling was similar to throwing myself into the river or jumping in front of a car and hoping that it would run me over,” she says.

“It was shocking to myself – but an equally big surprise was the reaction it received.”

The news sent shock waves around the industry and made headlines across the Arab world.

While Abdel Wahhab was prepared for the gossip and media commentary that ensued, she didn’t expect the outpouring of support from peers and fans.

Three days later she announced she had reconsidered her decision. Speaking at Mawazine Festival on Thursday, Abdel Wahhab provided the most detailed account yet of her troubles.

The experience had clearly taken a toll on her – she appeared gaunt and unusually reserved, and that trademark playful twinkle in her eye had all but faded.

Her concert later that evening was punctuated by a few uncomfortable pauses, during which a teary Abdel Wahab struggled to compose herself in front of the 30,000-strong crowd.

She also choked up when talking about the letters of support from fans and fellow artists – including Morocco's Samira Saeed, Lebanon's Nawal Al Zoghbi, and fellow judges on The Voice Kadim Al Sahir, Assi Helani and Saber Rebai.

“The love I received from the fans and my peers really touched me,” she says.

“When I made the decision to retire I meant it – but when I decided to come back, I felt like it was something I must do. I felt so valued that I really I had no choice but to come back.”

The rapid change of mind led to derision from some on social media and in sections of the press, which labelled her actions a “media stunt”.

“I think we could all agree that I have a high-enough profile that I don’t need to resort to such things to gain media attention,” says Abdel Wahab.

“To do that would be just cheap and I wasn’t brought up like that.

“Think about it – why would someone who is doing well in their career, and still relatively young, decide to walk away? Of course something bad must have happened.”

Abdel Wahab says the experience caused her to be more careful about what career challenges she takes on.

One role, however, she is happy and excited to continue with is mentoring The Voice winner Shrara who, she says, is forging her own path as a performer.

“Nedaa is a special case,” she says. “She is doing good job, but she is doing it her own way.

“She has an agreement, for example that she will not perform in any places where alcohol will be present. This means her shows will be more limited than others.

“She has a seven-year contract and has already started working on some new songs. We are in constant contact.”

As for her own professional plans, Abdel Wahhab says she will continue to appear as a mentor on The Voice but will work at a more steady pace – one of the biggest lessons learnt during her time of personal turmoil.

“I learnt a lot about myself,” she says.

“You can’t be in control of everything all the time, but you should do your best to look after yourself and not take things for granted.

“I also learnt that when I go through challenges, I should be calm and speak with a low voice.”