The nation’s sweetheart, face of L’Oreal Paris and No1 stylish celeb – as voted for by you – on tricks for being happy, and learning through hard knocks
It’s been seven months since I first met Cheryl Cole and boy is she in a different place right now. Back then, she was filming her second series of X Factor and was hailed as the people’s princess. L’Oréal confirmed she was ‘worth it’ by making her the face of a haircare range and everything was good with the world. All, that is, except her ‘stinky garlic breath’ (her words, not mine), which she’d got from eating houmous for lunch. For the record, she was fresh as a daisy. Dressed in a tight, thigh-skimming LBD, she perched on the sofa next to me and, all smiles and dimples, demurely poured us both a cup of mint tea.
Now it’s 9am on a crisp April morning and a shiny black Mercedes with blacked-out windows has whisked me off to a top-secret location to meet her again. But even the suited 7ft driver with slicked-back hair and mirrored aviators only vaguely knows where we’re going. As we pull into a quaint square of London town houses, he makes a call to find out the exact address of our destination. It’s bizarre. Every measure has been taken to keep out the paparazzi, but I’m starting to feel like I’m part of some covert military operation.
It’s understandable though. It’s been a bittersweet year for Cheryl. Despite 3 Words, her platinum-selling solo album topping the charts, three singles making the Top Five and a tour with the Black Eyed Peas, all this was tainted by the breakdown of her marriage to Ashley Cole. After the Chelsea footballer was caught cheating (several times – the fool!) she’s allegedly set the wheels in motion for divorce – but the betrayal is still raw.
Today, wearing skinny jeans, a T-shirt, a grey slouchy cardi from Whistles and a bunch of chunky chrome chains around her neck, her doll-like frame looks teeny-tiny but. thanks to her womanly curves, she doesn’t look dangerously skinny. And while her outfit might sound casual, Cheryl, with her perfect hair and make-up, is immaculate.
As I’m taken into the living room of the showroom house that I’ve ended up in, I’m suddenly aware of the silence. You wouldn’t need to listen hard to hear a pin drop and, despite greeting me with a friendly big hug, she appears tired.
‘Sleep, what’s that?’ she tuts as we chat in the cold, echoey room with minimal furniture. ‘I’m a really bad sleeper, I always have been. I think if I get a good four hours in, I’m alright. Me mam sprays me pillow with lavender but… nah.’ As she wrinkles her nose, I suggest something stronger. Agreeing, she says ‘vodka’ with a giggle. Good to see that wicked sense of humour hasn’t got lost.
Keeping herself busy to numb the pain she must be feeling, the Parachute singer is throwing herself into a new L’Oréal Paris campaign. Talking about the lip gloss that gives her ‘kissable lips’ can’t be easy given the circumstances, but she excitedly shows me the limited-edition Elnett hairspray can that features her face.
‘I kept thinking is that really my face?’ she says in amazement. ‘It’s special. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – so I did both. I did dance competitions when I was younger and it’s the smell I always remember. I have a really strong sense of smell – I’m like a dog. Dove Soap takes me back to being a teenager not knowing how to wash my face properly. And a certain aftershave really reminds me of my dad and me granddad – I think it’s called Brut For Men.’
At nine years old, those dance competitions helped her win a scholarship at the National Ballet’s summer school. Little did she realise she was well on her way to becoming a national treasure. Now she’s admired as much for her style as she is on stage. Running away with the Best Dressed crown in Celebs On Sunday’s reader poll, she trounced the likes of Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham to be named the best-dressed celebrity. Upon hearing this, Cheryl physically squirms in her seat.
‘Ooooh, I’m cringing!’ she says sinking deep into the sofa. ‘I don’t,’ she says, closing her eyes and pausing. ‘I don’t think about it like that. I haven’t always been like this, I’ve got to a point where I’m a woman and I know what suits me, but there were all those awful stages where everyone has seen me at my worst. We weren’t groomed at all in Girls Aloud, we were just shoved out there and told to get on with it, so I learned the hard way by seeing all the ticks and crosses and people saying “What the hell is she wearing?”.’
But despite looking gorgeous on the surface today, she’s less bubbly than the last time we met and is cautious of giving too much away. Being the first time she’s spoken to a British journalist since her marriage ended, who’d blame her for putting up the barriers? Given the unpleasantness she’s dealing with now, does looking pretty make her feel better on the inside – and did she worry about what to wear today?
‘I’ve really discovered that how you dress is how you feel,’ she says philosophically. ‘If I’d come here in tracksuit bottoms or pyjamas then I’d just want to curl up on the settee and have a cup of tea. I always want to feel nice – I want to look nice. I like making the effort, it’s nice for a woman to make herself look nice and feel good.’
And what happens to her mood when she thinks she’s not looking her best? ‘[I feel] lousy and self conscious… More so with me hair than me make-up. I can’t walk out the house unless it’s puffed up. It depends on the day and the kind of mind you are in. If you’re having a bad hair day forget everything – just forget it,’ she says trailing off with a deflated sigh. ‘Stay at home.’
It’s reassuring to know even someone as polished as Chezza has bad hair days, although I can’t help thinking a misbehaving bonce is more likely to tip the iceberg than be the root of her worries. Fortunately she’s happy to share the secret weapon that helps her battle on.
‘I used to have this thing about sunglasses and celebs wearing them when it’s cloudy, but I don’t know why,’ she says chuckling to herself, ‘I’ve got over it.’
Sticking on a pair of sunnies isn’t the only thing that lifts Cheryl’s spirits. Thrusting an open-toed boot in my direction, she smiles and points. ‘Look – happy toes!’ she says giving her tootsies a wriggle. ‘You look at your toes a lot, don’t you? So I call them my happy toes and painted them all bright shiny pink. Every time I look at my feet I feel happy. It’s a new discovery of mine. It makes you feel happier and gives you a little surge.’
Pleased the boot wasn’t coming at me for any reason other than to show off her digits, I tell her I’d just seen some exclusive footage of her in L’Oréal’s new Glam Shine Reflexion lip gloss advert and she’s looking smokin’ hot and loaded with confidence. It clearly wasn’t a bad hair day when she filmed it, despite the shoot being only weeks after her split with Ashley.
‘This time, they played loud music into the studio,’ she recalls. ‘I felt more glamorous. I had the guy going “GO GO GLAMOUR!” and I felt like I was in a pop video. I was in my comfort zone. It wasn’t so much pressure, I wasn’t thinking “I’m the L’Oréal girl”. Filming the whole first advert I was like, “Oh God, I’ve got to say, “Because I’m worth it” at some time!’
Surely those immortal lines must slip off the tongue now? By all accounts Cheryl got the practice in as a teenager, jokingly repeating the catchphrase to her friends, and even now she shouts it back to fans who heckle her in the street. But the million-dollar question is, does she actually believe it?
‘I can’t take myself seriously,’ she begins, before finally conceding she does believe the mantra. ‘Now I just think “Wow” and embrace it instead of letting it scare me. It’s amazing.’ Atta girl! You really are, so don’t let anyone – including low-life footballers – make you think otherwise.
One last question – obviously it can’t be easy for you to nip into New Look whenever you fancy, so how do you shop?
Cheryl: I always look on the Topshop website or mywardrobe and net-a-porter.com is right up there. I’ll put my music on and a facial mask – if you have to wait 20 minutes, and you can shop after you’ve painted your toes. It doesn’t make the time pass so slowly. Happy days – and happy toes!