She’s regularly voted one of the most beautiful women in the world. Naturally gorgeous, with flawless skin and the kind of figure that would make Simon Cowell’s high-waisted trousers look haute couture.
So, if there’s one girl you’d think would be oozing confidence about her looks, it’s Cheryl Cole. But nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.
In an exclusive interview with Fabulous, the singer admits she battles body issues just like the rest of us, and is tormented with self-doubt on a daily basis.
“Do you ever reach the point when you’re happy with your body?” she asks. “I don’t think you do. I can look in the mirror in the morning and feel rubbish,” she says.
Cheryl’s words seem utterly bonkers when she’s stood before you – 5ft 3in of what is probably as close to perfection as you’re ever likely to get.
She’s been named FHM’s Sexiest Woman In The World for the last two years running, was voted most photogenic woman in history, beating style icon Audrey Hepburn to the top spot. Even super-sizzling Rihanna described Cheryl, 27, as the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen.
But we’re meeting Cheryl Cole after the year she described as 11 out of 10 in terms of awfulness. A year so bad it could make a girl with four L’Oréal Paris campaigns under her glossy barnet start to question the “Because you’re worth it” slogan.
First she had her heart broken yet again by cheating husband Ashley, 30 (they are now divorced after four years of marriage and he’s recently been dating I’m A Celebrity! contestant and Playmate Kayla Collins, 23). Then Cheryl almost died after contracting a deadly strain of malaria on holiday in Tanzania. On recovering, the nation’s sweetheart faced an unprecedented public backlash after choosing mini-me Cher Lloyd, 17, over Zimbabwean-born Gamu Nhengu, 18, to go through to the X Factor live rounds.
To make matters worse, it all came at a time when she should have been riding high, having launched a hugely successful solo career – her first two albums 3 Words and Messy Little Raindrops topped the charts, between them producing four top-10 singles.
Tired and fragile
This goes a long way to explaining why, despite looking incredibly beautiful, she also looks pale, tired and fragile today. As a glimmer of hope for the rest of us, she’s wearing a lot of make-up. Smoky, night-out eyes, dyed red hair (shade 550 from L’Oréal Paris’ new Casting Crème Gloss, FYI) and glossy magenta lips that reveal a white-as-Simon-Cowell’s smile. And, of course, there are her legendary dimples.
She seems so vulnerable, we just want to give Cheryl a good hug and tell her everything will be all right.
“I’ve been working so much, I’m just so tired,” she admits, confessing to “feeling a bit dirty” having fallen asleep with her make-up on once this week already. Heaven forbid!
Clockwise from top left: Cheryl during her marriage to Ashley Cole; on X Factor with Simon Cowell; a young Cheryl; performing with dancer Derek Hough
We’re in London. Somewhere. We would tell you where if we knew. But after the year she’s had, Cheryl’s keeping things close to her chest – including the location of our meeting.
“How will we know where to go?” we ask her people before leaving Fabulous HQ.
“The driver will know,” they respond, referring to the swanky blacked-out Merc that comes to collect us.
“Call us when the car stops.”
Us women give ourselves such a hard time
After embarking on a James Bond-style mission, speeding through the capital’s back alleys and sneaky short cuts (partly cab-driver cunning, partly, we suspect, to throw us off the scent of the eventual destination), we arrive at a smart townhouse.
Before we even see her, we’re given a stern reminder of the rules – no X Factor questions, no personal questions, no Girls Aloud questions. Hmmm.
Then the door to an upstairs lounge opens to reveal the nation’s best-known Geordie sitting perched on the edge of a sofa, her teeny, doll-like frame almost swamped by the size of it. Is she very, very skinny? Well, no, actually. Slim, yes, but a healthy slim. There are no bony bits, no jutting collarbones, no signs that a matter of months ago she was given 24 hours to live. What’s most striking is just how tiny she is. From the back, she almost looks like a child.
However, make no mistake. Cheryl may appear delicate, she may have been through one of the most hellish years of her life, but she’s tougher than she looks. She’s had to be.
Cheryl Tweedy grew up one of five siblings on a council estate in Heaton, a tough area of Newcastle blighted by drugs and crime. A teenage friend, John Courtney, 21, died of a heroin overdose in 2006. An ex boyfriend was a drug user. Her older brother Andrew Tweedy, 30, sniffs glue, is an alcoholic and has appeared in court more than 50 times for mugging, theft and vandalism, despite Cheryl’s attempts to help him.
Her sister, Gillian Tweedy, 31, has been cautioned for brawling. Cheryl herself showed signs of early rebellion. She was suspended from school for two weeks after swearing on a bus, and eventually left with few qualifications.
But performing was her salvation. Her mum Joan (one of the few people she trusts) encouraged her to dance, scrimping and saving to pay for costumes and enter her in talent shows.
Cheryl says some of her self-esteem issues stem from her childhood. “I was teased when I was young. A lot,” she says.
She doesn’t elaborate, but has previously said she was bullied at school. “Kids mocked me for having dark skin and other little things like that. It just shouldn’t happen, full stop.”
In her teens, Cheryl was also involved in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Has there ever been one moment when she looked at her reflection in the mirror and thought: “You know what, I look good today”? She pauses. A long, brain-racking pause.
“Erm, God, wow. I actually don’t think it’s ever happened to me. If I’m completely honest, I don’t. Us women give ourselves such a hard time. I think women are sexiest when they’re happy with what’s going on inside. When we’re confident and comfortable in ourselves.”
And is that how she feels now?
She half smiles, but says nothing. Headstrong Cheryl won’t answer any question she’s not comfortable with.
Clockwise from top left: Cheryl with her mum Joan; mentoring Cher Lloyd in X Factor 2010; on Piers Morgan¿s Life Stories last October
We try again. Are there any judgements people have made about her that have stuck in her mind?
“No. People used to say bad things to me all the time. There are a lot of negative things I’ve read about myself. But there’s nothing I’ve held on to. If I let them stick, if I let negativity and badness get in, then I couldn’t…” she trails off.
Following Cheryl’s Piers Morgan interview last October, she has vowed never to discuss her private life again.
“I’m just a heartbroken girl,” she told him when he quizzed her on ex-husband Ashley Cole’s betrayal.
“Part of me will always love him. We had a great marriage, the most fantastic wedding, but I just don’t know where it went wrong. Once we get through all the obstacles I hope we can be friends.”
She’s determined to put the past behind her, but it’s clear she was hurt very badly. Which is perhaps why she has refused point-blank to reveal the nature of her relationship with American Dancing With The Stars professional Derek Hough, 25.
The pair met while filming the video for her single Parachute and have been virtually inseparable ever since. It was Derek she fled to in LA when revelations broke that Ashley had cheated again, this time sending sordid sex texts and bedding at least two girls. Derek was the one who whisked her off to the (doomed) holiday in Tanzania and was at her bedside as she fought her way back to health from malaria. And if rumours are true, she’ll soon be living not a million miles from him. Cheryl has all but guaranteed herself a spot on the judging panel of American X Factor when Simon Cowell takes the hit show Stateside later this year. So how does she feel about going to the capital of cosmetic surgery, LA?
“There is a massive difference between here and LA,” she says. “In Hollywood you see surgery all the time, walking down the street. But I don’t think it’s good or nice, because everyone looks the same. Part of being you is your uniqueness and identity. If you get the same surgery as the woman next door then chances are you’ll start looking the same. That’s just not good.”
We ask if anyone’s ever suggested she have surgery. After all, she’s the only person on the UK X Factor panel who hasn’t admitted to dabbling. Along with Dannii Minogue and Louis Walsh, she received £3,000 worth of Botox vouchers as a Christmas present from Simon Cowell.
Never change your look for a man
“Oh my god, no. No! I’m 27,” she says, shocked.
When asked if it’s something she’d ever consider, we suddenly find ourselves on the receiving end of Cheryl’s famous don’t-mess-with-me spirit.
“Why are you so obsessed with surgery?” she snaps. “We have a responsibility to feed women a positive body image. And judging people on their decisions – be it body weight or the surgery they’ve had – is a bad message.”
This girl is all about the sisterhood. She admits, excitedly, that if she had to do a Katy Perry and kiss a girl she’d go for actress Megan Fox, 24 (“You just look at her and go ‘wow!'”), and orders us to: “Never change your look for a man. Never.”
Our audience with Cheryl drawing to a close, there’s just enough time to ask her about her resolutions for 2011. Her response: “More sleep”, typically gives nothing away.
But if she proves as popular in America as she is here, then Cheryl-mania is about to reach fever pitch. And we don’t count on her being able to keep her resolution…