She was responsible for a handful of the most enduring radio hits of the 1990s — but early this century, British singer Des'ree seemed to disappear without a trace.

If the name's not instantly familiar, you'll definitely remember the songs: her breezy breakthrough Feel So High. The inspirational You Gotta Be, her first Australian top 10 in 1994. Then there was the aching, tender Kissing You, a worldwide hit thanks to its placement on Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, reports news.com.au.

She'd rather have a piece of toast: Des'ree in the music video for her hit single Life. Photo / News Corp
She'd rather have a piece of toast: Des'ree in the music video for her hit single Life. Photo / News Corp

And most infamously, the infectious 1998 single Life, which ended up on more than a few "Worst ever lyric" polls thanks to this memorable verse:

"I'm afraid of the dark,

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Especially when I'm in a park

And there's no-one else around,

Oh, I get the shivers

I don't want to see a ghost,

It's a sight that I fear most

I'd rather have a piece of toast

And watch the evening news"

In 2003, Des'ree experienced her first real flop when fourth album Dream Soldier stalled at number 178 on the charts in her native UK.

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And then, nothing. For 16 long years, the singer disappeared from public life. No social media, no gigs, no "Where are they now?"-style TV appearances.

In fact, in recent years, the most you'd see of Des'ree in pop culture was thanks to the popular parody account The News By Des'ree, delivering the day's headlines in the style of those much-maligned Life lyrics:

And then, this week, out of nowhere, a return. Des'ree quietly dropped a new single, the lush ballad Don't Be Afraid, with an album titled A Love Story to follow next month. Actual Des'ree is even on Twitter! (She has issued exactly two tweets thus far):

It seems the famously shy singer is only taking the smallest of steps back into the public eye — an interview request was politely declined by her UK record label — but the press notes accompanying her album announcement paint a candid picture of what her life has been like for much of the past 16 years.

Innate shyness, chronic stage fright and a fear of flying led Des'ree to believe that 2003's Dream Soldier would be her last album.

The singer was struggling with low energy due to an underactive thyroid, and when her record company Sony did not take the option for another record, she walked away from the music industry completely.

From there, Des'ree took up courses in ceramics, pottery, painting and jewellery design before arriving at her other passion, alternative medicine. She qualified as both a nutritionist and naturopath.

In 2007, Des'ree found herself in the headlines due to a high-profile legal battle with none other than Beyonce, who'd covered Kissing You for her album B'Day, retitling it Still In Love (Kissing You) — and gave herself a writing credit. Des'ree's camp claimed Bey had violated the copyright conditions with those changes — the lawsuit was later dismissed but not before editions of the album featuring the song were pulled from sale.

It had been her second legal stoush with a pop superstar after reaching an out-of court settlement in 1998 with Janet Jackson over similarities between Jackson's single Got Till It's Gone and Des'ree's earlier hit Feel So High. It's estimated she scored at least two million pounds from that settlement — listen to the two songs side-by-side below:

In 2014, Des'ree made her first tentative steps back into the studio, recording music "for pure pleasure, without expectations" with her longstanding co-writers. Eventually, the songs started to form an album, and the singer opened herself up to the idea of a low-key return to the music industry.

Then life got in the way once more, as Des'ree's mother became seriously ill and she and her sister became her carers. Now, at 50, she's finally ready to return.

"Despite the heartbreaking sadness, Des'ree was able share some of the new songs to which her mum would quietly smile and give her endorsement," states the release for A Love Story, out October 11.

Listen to Des'ree's first single in 16 years, Don't Be Afraid, below: