CLAIRE Richards apologises as soon as she comes to the phone.

"I am so sorry, my Uber driver dropped me in the middle of a council estate," she says. "I said 'I don't think this is right, I need to be at the Arena' and he didn't have a clue what I was talking about."

Within seconds though, she is de-flustered, relaxed and answering questions about what she thinks of a gig a full six months away.

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Steps – singers of '5,6,7,8', 'Tragedy' and 'Say You'll Be Mine' – have been revealed as performing at Darlington Arena on May 27 as part of Grandslam 2018: The Summer of Steps tour.

Supported by Aqua and Blue, Claire and fellow band members Lee Latchford-Evans, Lisa Scott-Lee, Faye Tozer and Ian "H" Watkins, will be playing to thousands at the stadium in what everyone hopes will be warm Spring sunshine.

It's certainly not like that as we speak.

"It's absolutely bloody freezing. Way colder than it has been," says Claire. "So the gig is something to look forward to – warmer times.

"It does seem funny, but that's our life I suppose, we spend our life talking about stuff that's really far in the future."

Steps have gone through something of a renaissance. They first achieved fame in the late 90s, selling 20 million records, before taking a break in 2001.

A decade later, they got back together. In 2017, 20 years on, they released their 'Tears On The Dancefloor' album to rave reviews.

While routines and stage plans are some way off, Claire says she is very much looking forward to playing in Darlington – though she admits seeing a sea of faces rather than just the first few rows might be something of a distraction.

"In terms of the staging and lighting, it will be different, because in the summer it doesn't get dark til 10pm so doing it in 'daylight' can be a bit weird. I find that is a challenge for me. I feel very comfortable when it's dark, that is probably my introverted side," she says.

"In these kind of gigs you can't escape faces, so I find them personally a little bit of a challenge, but at the same time it's nice because you can see everybody enjoying themselves and smiling back at you and having a good old dance."

There are not that many pop acts that have stood the test of time in the way Steps have and though she is a little older, Claire says her love for performing remains as strong as ever.

"I kind of feel old and not old at the same time," she says. "We are doing a two-hour full on show every single night and I don't feel like I am going to fall apart when I get off stage."

If she feels anything it's pride.

"I do feel really proud, because every single time we do something like this we are never really sure how the audience are going to respond or how are fans are going to react," she says.

"All credit to them, they have never disappointed us. I don't think any of us ever thought it could be bigger than last time and it is."

Claire admits that Steps have a formula and they are reluctant to change it too much.

"We were very, very clear when we came into this that the very basis for everything Steps record has got to be a good song and has got have a good melody and lyrically it has got to make sense," she says. "I think the production is slightly different and we have tried to bring it into 2017 without going to far off the formula."

Claire says it is great to hear fans asking about the new songs as well as the old.

"I think we are gaining new fans, it is surprising people that we can actually sing," she says. "A lot of people didn't think we could and to be honest, back in the day, we did mime quite a lot because the routines were so full on and we had head mikes, which don't sound great.

"But on this current tour and next summer we have chosen to go completely live."

So are the band happy with people declaring Steps as their favourite 'guilty secret'?

"We are because we know better than anybody that people don't necessarily like to admit they are Steps fans," says Claire. "People either love us or hate us. We do get quite an extreme reaction. But actually I have found that this year people have been way more complimentary about us. We have got quite a lot of respect this year, which is not something we are used to."

  • For tickets and information see www.ticketmaster.co.uk

​Win tickets to the show

WE have two pairs of Golden Circle tickets to give away to Steps Grandslam 2018 concert at the Darlington Arena on May 27.

To stand a chance of winning all you have to do is answer this question.

What is the name of the album Steps released in 2017?

Send your answers to Matt Westcott, Social Media Editor, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL11NF or email matt.westcott@nne.co.uk, marking both Steps Competition.

Only entries with correct answer and name, address and daytime telephone number will be considered. One entry per household.

Entries close on Monday, December 11. Usual Newsquest North-East rules apply.