'She's going to be the next big thing, Britain's Eminem."
It's hard not to stifle a yawn as the over-enthusiastic PR girl gushes down the phone about yet another unknown singer being tipped as the next best thing. This time it's someone called
Verbalicious. Whatever. . .
But when I hear that she's a Bradford teenager, with Boy George's manager, and her debut single is BBC Radio 1's Record of the Week - as chosen by Colin Murray and Edith Bowman, who are comparing
her with Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes and Missy Elliott - I sit up and take notice.
Verbalicious is 18-year-old Natalia Keery-Fisher, who grew up in Baildon and went to the Girls' Grammar School, Bradford.
Archive T&A photographs show a fresh-faced little girl clutching a performing arts trophy - a contrast to recent publicity shots of her as a streetwise tough-cookie pouting in a tracksuit
"My parents didn't have much when they were young and they ploughed all their money into my education, " she says. "My father is Jamaican and my mother half Irish/half Latin American. I spent time
in Spain and Florida as a kid and grew up with all kinds of influences."
Natalia, or Verbal as she prefers to be called, is a familiar face from BBC1 sitcom All About Me. She landed the role of Sima aged 15, starring alongside Jasper Carrot and Meera Syal in the show
about a mixed race family.
"I didn't know who Jasper Carrott was at first!" she confesses. "It was probably best that I didn't go in all star-struck because that would've made me nervous. The show was great experience and
raised my profile, I get stopped all the time by people recognising me from it. I'll find out soon if there's going to be another series."
There's a mid-Atlantic twang to Verbal's accent and she kind of sounds like she's rapping all the time. It's a rhythm that comes with experience of "MC battling".
She developed a love of hip-hop on the Leeds club scene.
"I started getting into club battles - like the ones in Eminem's film 8 Mile, " she says. "I was doing a mixture of freestyle and writing my own material. You have to think on your feet a lot, the
idea is to take the mic, diss your opponent and get them off so you can take the floor."
At this point I'm feeling about 100 years old. I don't really know what MC battling is but I try to sound as if I do.
"I spent time with my cousins in America for a while and was surrounded by the culture of breakbeats and hip-hop, " she says. "Now I'm focussing more on writing.
Artists like Estelle and Dizzee Rascal are into stories but I want to do something with more longevity. I don't want to write 'no-brainers', I prefer to bring some emotion to my material. One of
my songs is about bullying but it's a positive message about dealing with it through empowerment."
Verbal is precocious and scarily confident for someone of her age, but she's clearly intelligent and articulate, which is said to be reflected in her songwriting.
Her breakthrough came when she won a Radio 1 MC Battle in Leeds, under the name Candy Rapper, in 2003. She was the only female taking part. Is it daunting being part of the tough male-dominated MC
scene as a young woman?
"Gender shouldn't come into it, " she says. "If you have a brain and you can write music and get up there and perform it that's all you need. I feel more free than I've ever done when I'm making
music. I write all my own lyrics and I try to bring humour into it, make it fun."
It's probably performing arts classes rather than an urban upbringing that has given Verbal her bags of confidence. She began singing and dancing aged three and by the age of 12 had a gold medal
from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
She has appeared in Coronation Street, Blue Murder and is a regular on The Archers, playing vicar's daughter Amy Franks. She's in the new series of nursing drama No Angels, filmed in Menston, and
has written a song for new Disney film Sleepover.
One of her biggest thrills was auditioning for the role of Princess Amidala in Star Wars.
"I auditioned in front of George Lucas, it was amazing, " she says.
"They said I was too young for the part but it was fantastic experience."
She values her classical drama training.
"A lot of rappers go into film but they usually play themselves. I've learned to be versatile, " she says.
Verbal has performed with Jamelia and Blue and is currently writing a song for Dannii Minogue.
Her debut single, Don't Play Nice, is due for release in a couple of weeks and she's working on an album for release at Easter. It's a collaboration with her brother Carlos, nicknamed Mogli, who
she says is her biggest inspiration.
"It's an exciting time, " she says. "It all took off after the Radio 1 MC battle, suddenly I was doing interviews and flying all over the world working with lots of different producers. People
keep saying: 'Oh you're the next Eminem' but I'll see what happens. I'm just enjoying what I do."
I only understand about half of what she's talking about but I can't help but like Verbal. She's jolly, intelligent, friendly, full of enthusiasm and clearly enjoying herself.
"I've just finished making the video, it involved me going into this mad hip-hop world with giant 6fthigh trainers, " she says. "I'm so lucky!"
I hope she makes it.
Don't Play Nice by Verbalicious will be released on the Adventures in Music record label.