Photo Shoots > 2012 > Ram Shirgill :
Cheryl Cole is now known as Cheryl. She gave up her first surname, Tweedy, when she married the footballer Ashley Cole in 2006.
Then he was allegedly unfaithful, and then there was some boomeranging back and forth, with rings coming off fingers and newer, bigger rings that seemed to bellow ‘FORGIVE ME’ back on fingers, and then he was allegedly unfaithful again and then that was that, because Cheryl-Tweedy-Cole-Cheryl may be a bad picker but she is nobody’s fool.
So, of course, it makes sense that you may not, aged 29, relish the prospect of lugging someone else’s surname around with you for the rest of your life. But Tweedy was never going to re-stick. I mean, who is Victoria Adams? And so, for her third album, A Million Lights, she’s just Cheryl, thanks very much. I suspect her manager Will.i.am had a flickering, busy old hand in this branding, because that’s what he does, essentially. He spins and rinses and brands. And she, wisely, listens.
‘He’s a genius,’ she says. ‘He has a genius mind. Just to listen to him…’ It’s a compelling partnership, this self-proclaimed Queen of Chavs and the slightly space-age Black Eyed Peas frontman, solo artist, super-producer, actor, designer and techno-guru from the LA ghetto. It seems clear from the start that one of the reasons they rub along so well is because he talks and she listens.
And, my word, does he talk. He is monosyllabic, dry, locked-in and seems to be battling a stammer until the verbal flood-gates fly open and all of a sudden he’s on a manifesto-centric roll, holding forth, twitchy, lyrical, cheeky. It’s overstimulating stuff. Contrarily, one of the first things apparent in Cheryl is that she is difficult to overstimulate. She is, these days, calm and powerful. She radiates resolve.
We are on the ES shoot in St John’s Wood on a balmy Saturday morning. Cheryl pitches up punctually in a Phillip Lim top, tight jeans and soaring Burberry heels. She is quiet, obliging, self-contained and, as we all know, absurdly pretty. Even Rihanna recently declared the Geordie girl ‘the most beautiful woman I have ever seen’. Because Cheryl is so serene, the entire crew are super-tranquil. Not so when Will slides in two hours late, puncturing the zen with his studded Louboutin slippers, off-kilter energy and wonky humour. Suddenly everything is a bit weird and overexcited; suddenly everyone is a bit gaspy and fizzy. Everyone, that is, except our Cheryl.
The pair met four years ago when, in her first musical expedition outside Girls Aloud, she featured on his solo single ‘Heartbreaker’. Everyone assumed that if they weren’t in love, then he, at least, was. ‘Of course that’s the natural thing people go to,’ she says. ‘Heaven forbid you should have any other kind of relationship with someone from the opposite sex.’ And then, faintly scandalised: ‘I was still married then, too.’ Ashley may be the faithless kind; his ex-wife is not. ‘I had always thought Will was quirky and out there and just ridiculously talented, and he is all those things. He’s amazing and we just clicked straight away.’
Will — who has produced for U2, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj — took her seriously as a musical force. He persuaded her to go solo. Commercial and delightful though she clearly is, it is perhaps challenging to identify the trigger for his extreme enthusiasm and commitment. I don’t think it’s as simple as a bloody great crush. He’s too odd for that. So what inspired him, in an early studio session with Cheryl, to compare her lyrical delivery to that of Michael Jackson? ‘Her personality,’ he says baldly. ‘Charming, approachable, adorable, sweet, broken, fragile, strong.’ Fine, I can believe all of those things — but, for once, Will, answer the damn question. ‘So, what is music?’ he asks instead. ‘Music is channelling, collaboration, rinsing. Music is harmonious, it’s tolerant, it’s compromise. Music is about going through shit. And thinking about shit. Shit is the shit. Shit is the only thing that is f***ing nasty but that can grow grass. Shit is f***ing dope.’ His mother is also dope, the house we are shooting the pictures in is dope, my dress is dope, Prince Charles is dope.