When I first met Cheryl Cole she was an excitable chatty teen fresh from Newcastle with stars in her eyes.
She’d live in low slung tracksuit bottoms, didn’t know fashion, wore corn rows in her hair and the word hair extensions would have frightened her.
Right now she’s a platinum selling solo star rarely seen in anything aside from designer clobber, has just designed her own ring for high-end jeweller De Grisogono and has a team of people working for her.
But allegations of infidelity in her marriage to footballer Ashley Cole followed by a messy divorce, a run-in with malaria and X Factor controversy meant she closed the hatches down for the past two years. If you weren’t a high-end glossy magazine or Vogue then interviews or access to the star just wouldn’t happen.
But now it’s time to start speaking.
And it’s clear she’s nervous as I saunter into her dressing room after last Sunday’s results show. “Does it stink in here?” She asks in a fluster and starts furiously wafting scented candles around the place.
There’s a dog basket on the floor with a dog bone sitting on it, a big bowl of fruit and she’s got a shower in the corner, which she uses from time to time. Oh, and there’s a bowl of twiglets and an ice bucket with two bottles of champagne. “Ooooh, pink bubbles. Posh,” she says as her assistant pops the cork. “I love twiglets.”
Meeting Cheryl is clearly part of a charm offensive with the press – and boy was it needed.
You’ve read so much about her marriage (and divorce) to Ashley Cole over the past months that it’s almost like you’ve forgotten who the lady is.
After the past few years I honestly expected a nervous and guarded Cheryl to be standing before me. But what I got was completely different.
She’s cheeky, talkative and surprisingly open – and it’s obvious she’s more than ready to put the past behind her.
“The future for me isn’t planned. I’d love to tour next year but who knows,” she says as she quaffs a mouthful of champers and fiddles nervously with an unlit ciggie in her other hand. “I really don’t have any plans for Christmas. I’m not wanting to make future plans. I want to just do whatever I want when I want nowadays. It really is a completely fresh new beginning in all aspects of my life.”
Last night she told Piers Morgan on his Life Stories show that part of her would “always love” Ashley in a thoroughly tearful interview. The star assures me she won’t be watching the recording back. “Doing the Piers Morgan interview marks a new era in my life,” she reflects. “It really does. It’s done now and I’ve spoken. I was ready to say something. I had to at some point otherwise it would have gone on and on.
“Its hard when you’re famous because people know everything about your life. And then the public come up to you in the street or when you’re out when you’re having an awful time and comment on your private life or what they’ve read. I think that’s just rude. You have to keep something back for yourself. I’ll never be able to watch that interview back. It would be far too hard.
Her supposed love interest Derek Hough is the only subject that Cheryl manages to expertly dodge throughout our chat. I try every trick in the book to get her on him. “Derek’s on twitter you know, I follow him,” I enthuse. “And Derek’s out in LA too – surely a reason to visit there more often,” I say. Still nada. It’s clear she will not be drawn on it.
Fortunately she’s more than happy to talk about a lot of other things.
Conversation swings to America and the prospect of being a judge alongside Simon Cowell on US X Factor. She’d clearly love the role but you sense Cheryl has already dismissed the idea. She is adamant she will never change her thick Geordie accent. She says: “I’m a Geordie girl and even if the US show did work out – I won’t be changing my accent for anyone. Its not even on the cards – and I’m not reigning it in in any way. Take it or leave it. If they tried to change me then I’d just go on and talk even more Geordie.”
She talks fondly of Los Angeles and sounds like, despite initially being confused by it, she’s now happy about her frequent trips over there to see her ‘pal’ Derek and to record music. She explains: “LA is a strange place. When I first went there I got annoyed by all the people everywhere being so bloody nice – it was annoying. I didn’t want to hear people saying: “Have a nice day” with my coffee.
“I’d literally come home and want somebody to be rude to me. But now I’m starting to realise that having somebody being happy isn’t such a bad thing. Its actually pleasant. There’s too much negativity out in the UK sometimes.”
I suggest being in LA gives a certain amount of her anonymity back. But she laughs in a sad way and says: “Ha, I can never have my anonymity back. Not even by going to LA. If I’m there then there are tens of British paparazzi hanging outside my hotel or wherever I go. I know I can’t get anonymity anywhere. Its just part of being who I am and although I’m not fine with it I just get on with it. You have too.”
The star performs the lead single, Promise This, from new album Messy Little Raindrops tonight on the results show and she’s literally petrified about the whole ordeal. “I’m petrified,” she squeals. “I have my judges hat on for most of the time and then I’m up there and changed and dancing. Last year when I did it I was so nervous I could barely remember me name. Especially when you are mentoring your acts and they’re all singing live in front of you, it makes you even more nervous. I start rehearsals this week. So we will see how it goes. Its exciting to be releasing a new album – it’s fresh and a lot different to the first. This is a different time in my life so it was always going to be.”
And performing infront of her fellow X Factor judges has a lot to do with it – especially Louis Walsh, who this year appears to have singled out Cheryl as his bullying target. She stares deadpan and says she’s not going to take anymore of Louis’ cheeky behaviour. “I’ve made it clear to Louis that if he has something to say he better say it to his face,” she warns. “He knows where my dressing room is. He should come in here and be honest if he has a problem.
“I’ve asked him about it and he doesn’t really want to talk to me about. But I was ready last weekend to say something. I hate what’s going on at the moment. It scares me. This show is meant to be about the contestants. I don’t actually even like going on the Xtra Factor anymore because every week so much is said between Simon and Louis. It makes me feel uncomfortable.
“Sometimes it gets so bad that I just have to leave the studio. I can’t stay in there for another moment. I won’t talk to anyone after the show. I’ll just leave. It’s serious and I get hurt.”
But unlike Louis, she seems to hold a lot of respect for fellow female judge Dannii Minogue. She’s totally astounded how she’s juggling motherhood and appearing on the show. “I look at Dannii and just can’t believe that she’s doing it all,” she says in disbelief. “Dannii’s in her dressing room breastfeeding and out with us and the contestants the next. It’s literally incredible. And don’t even get me started on her figure.
“I said to her the other day: “How do you do it?” And she replied: “Do what?” Being a working mum isn’t a chore – it has come so naturally to her.”
I’m obviously not just here to talk X Factor. I want to get to the bottom of Girls Aloud and what’s going on with Nadine Coyle – who all the ladies are not in touch with these days. “Have you heard Nadine’s single Insatiable?” I say. “Yes,” she says with the naughtiest smirk on her face.
“And what do you think of it?” I add. “Great,” she beams. And the smirk got bigger. “What do you think of it?” She says.
I decide to challenge her on these continual rumours that Girls Aloud will never appear again as a fivesome. After all, how could they after all the goings on of the past few months?
Nicola Roberts revealed in April that singer Nadine Coyle had not spoken to the rest of the band for months. Roberts said: “If I’m really honest, we haven’t spoken to Nadine since we did the Coldplay gig at Wembley in September. I talked to the other girls about it on Monday and no, none of us have heard from her. But there’s no feud.”
Anyway, it’s clear I overstepped the mark. Her publicist says: “OK, let’s wrap it up.”
Fortunately Cheryl’s ready to fight my corner. “I’m still talking and I’m not finished,” she says putting him in his place.
“I don’t get why people are putting a negative slant on her and trying to make it a battle between us,” she says. “I see the four other girls all the time because they’re in London – I’d have to have some pretty big binoculars to be able to see Nadine in LA.
“We’re different. But one day, and I don’t know when, I hope we’ll be back together in the band. But we’re all doing pretty well so I have no idea when.”
I expected Cheryl to have turned into a super diva, be fiercely cautious and difficult. So I was thrilled after my hour that she was still that normal girl I’d met all those years ago. She’s the definition of a modern day celebrity on paper but a normal girl behind the scenes.
I finally ask when she’s going to join twitter and tweet to the world about her life. She frowns as if confused and says: “You’ll never catch me tweeting. What’s the point? I’d love to be able to look at other people’s lives and follow them and I almost considered doing it under a fake name but I’m addicted enough to my Crackberry as it is.” And on that note I leave her to get changed into her trackie bottoms and hoodie and she gets her car home.