IT’S been a whirlwind year for Cheryl, who is in a reflective mood when we meet during a break in rehearsals for her Children in Need performance.
She got married, returned to X Factor, became the most successful UK female singer in the history of the singles chart, and released the album she has always wanted to make.
Now she’s thinking about what’s next — and has a big decision to make.
Despite incorrect reports stating she has signed a £2million contract to return to the ITV talent show next year, she has to decide first whether to start a family.
In her only newspaper interview this year, Cheryl tells me: “You couldn’t do them both.
“Next year is going to have to be the time where I reflect on what I’ve done and think about what I want to do. I’m not ruling it out. To think about going back next year at this point is too much. I put my heart and soul into it — I’m not a half-hearted person. You feel like you’re on the biggest rollercoaster. I can’t even think about it right now. I need to find my balance, sit down, have a drink and rethink things.”
It’s no wonder Cheryl feels a bit frazzled. She released her brilliant new album Only Human at the same time as X Factor’s notoriously controversial live shows.
But she has no doubt that her decision to go back to the show was the right one.
“I felt like I needed to put a lid on it — there was unfinished business. A lot of the focus goes to the judges but a lot of the time I find that ridiculous. I genuinely want to create talent.”
The three years since they last worked together on the X Factor panel hasn’t calmed Cheryl’s fractious relationship with SIMON COWELL, which she insists isn’t faked for the cameras.
“Simon is Simon. He hasn’t changed one bit. He’s giving us a hard time. What people don’t realise is what goes on backstage. There’s a lot of snide remarks and competing.”
Cheryl and judge LOUIS WALSH — her former manager in GIRLS ALOUD — have an even more difficult relationship.
But right now she feels sorry for the Irishman, who became a national hate figure after sending home PAUL AKISTER on Sunday’s tense results show.
She says: “To be fair, Louis has had a tough week, he’s rethinking his decision on the weekend. I think he’s found this season quite hard, honestly, on his emotions. And, believe me, I’d be the last person to usually be nice about Louis.”
But what about his claims that Cheryl didn’t actually have malaria, despite her doctors speaking publicly about it?
She sighs, then says: “I’ve had it from every angle, haven’t I? It gets to the point where I don’t let it affect me any more.”
At least her friendship with fellow female judge MEL B has blossomed, despite suggestions the pair might clash.
Cheryl says: “We are very different in character and our approach to things. But we just get each other. She’s actually not scary at all. It’s all a bit of a front, to be honest. But sitting next to her I can see it in her eyes — she’s a softie.”
Only Human is by far her most confident and accomplished album. More than just a pop record, it’s influenced by Zen philosopher Alan Watts.
Cheryl says: “I feel like I’m in a really good place as a woman. I mean, my twenties were turbulent.”
That’s the understatement of the year, I tell her — thinking of her failed marriage to ASHLEY COLE, sacking from X Factor USA and near-death brush with malaria.
But she says: “I think a lot of people go through the same phases in their life. In your thirties you settle into your skin. I fought my battles in my twenties.”
Has she given up the fight? With a knowing twinkle in her eye, she says: “I’m still a fighter. But you reach a point where you prioritise what’s real and important.
“This album was about me doing what I wanted to do. I told the label I was putting this Alan Watts speech on the intro whether you like it or not. It was a very conscious decision to do this. I remember my 17-year-old self. Now I’m in my thirties, my fans look to me and what I do. I felt that responsibility this time to send out a positive message.”
The album’s overarching message is to never make a decision in life based on fame or money.
Cheryl says: “Remember, I’ve come from nothing. I’ve been fortunate to have money now. I’ve lived both. But I would have done this job for free. I knew I’d be OK because I was already getting by with a couple of hundred pounds a week. I know people who are on the bones of their a**e to people who have billions. But I’ve witnessed people with no money who are happier than the rich ones.”
Does she worry about people taking the mickey out of her for sharing life views?
She answers: “People do that anyway. It doesn’t matter what I do, say, wear. People have always got a judgment or opinion. That’s life. If people choose to be ignorant and do that, I couldn’t give a s**t. I don’t care about that stuff any more.”
That’s why she’s also being more experimental in her approach to music.
She says: “On one track I was meant to be rapping like NICKI MINAJ. It was fun.”
But she will not be following the music industry’s move towards an uber-sexy image, sparked by acts such as MILEY CYRUS.
She insists: “I couldn’t imagine twerking in a thong. I don’t feel I want to do what everyone else is doing and go sexy. There are a couple of sensual songs on the album, but I didn’t want to start talking about explicit things. It’s not me. There is a lot of pressure, but I didn’t want to feel it. It’s important to stay true to yourself. I’ve never been that person — I’m quite prudish by nature.”
Which brings me to the big showbiz issue of the week, KIM KARDASHIAN’s nude shoot for Paper Magazine.
Cheryl screws up her face in horror, then says: “I don’t think it’s real. I’ll refrain from judgment because each to their own. But I would never do it. I could never. I could never. I could never. I can’t even get changed in front of my stylist who I’ve had for years. Just no.”
Cheryl has responded to rumours she’s fallen out with her former manager WILL.I.AM.
She says: “He’s still a good friend. It was difficult for this record because he was literally there and back to Australia while I was making it. I never know whether he’s filming The Voice or at a technical convention about Mars or hanging with Obama. But when I do get him, he’s always got a fresh ear and a good piece of advice.”
So why move from his management company to Modest, who look after ONE DIRECTION, LITTLE MIX and OLLY MURS?
She says: “Will’s company were taking care of me when I was in America. When I was going to be based back here, it didn’t work. I’ve got a bit of an American fanbase. But I’ve never had the American dream. It’s a luxury to live my dream here and be free in the US – apart from the tourists from Newcastle who I always bump into in LA. My career is me. There’s no nine-to-five. With The X Factor, it’s all-consuming. But I do know how to balance it now.”