02/08/2012 at 09:30 AM EST
With the Grammys right around the corner, everyone is talking about Adele.
The singer's eagerly awaited return to the stage
on Feb. 12 will mark her first public performance since vocal cord surgery
in November. The British pop star, 23, is also a favorite to sweep the six categories for which she is nominated
, including album of the year for 21
But in this week's cover story, PEOPLE goes inside Adele's private world, chronicling how she triumphed over the heartbreak that inspired her emotional songs, a broken home and almost losing her voice.
"She got to where she is through sheer hard work," says Arthur Boulton, her teacher at London's BRIT School.
She also succeeded by being true to herself. While Karl Lagerfeld recently called
the singer "a little too fat," Adele has always embraced her curves, and seems determined not to bend to body bullies.
"I've never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines," she says. "I represent the majority of women and I'm very proud of that."
For more on Adele's childhood in a rough London neighborhood, her vocal cord crisis – and her boyfriend Simon Konecki – pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday