Cheryl Cole: ‘I’ve dined with Prince Charles, but I’ve also sat in a crack den’
From teenage wannabe to the nation’s favourite Geordie, Cheryl Cole’s life has captivated us for a decade. She talks to Barbara Ellen about bringing back Girls Aloud, the importance of loyalty – and why she’ll never be part of Simon Cowell’s harem
Cheryl Cole has one of my favourite voices of all time. I’m not talking about singing – though what I’ve heard of her new album, A Million Lights, sounds great and the likes of Kanye West are predicting a major US breakthrough. It’s when she speaks – the expressive Geordie accent that can go from warm and lilting when she’s seriously considering a question, to soft and silly when she’s having a giggle at herself, to acid and disdainful when she feels like it.
Her voice is certainly warm when she enthuses about her forthcoming solo outing (her third, after 3 Words and Messy Little Raindrops): the first single “Call My Name”, the haunting title track, and another song (“Ghetto Baby”) written by Lana Del Rey. It’s also warm when she discusses Girls Aloud “doing something special” for their 10th anniversary later this year. “I missed everything about them – even the drama of five girls trying to get ready for a live performance,” she says. Nor is Cole above having a giggle about her recent revelation that she’d dreamed of nuptials with Prince Harry: “Oh yeah, I married him in me dream, didn’t I?” However, the voice isn’t so warm or soft concerning a certain Simon Cowell saying she “manipulated” him on The X Factor. “He’s crazy!”
We meet in a London studio after the Observer photo shoot. She clomps into the interview room on a pair of towering heels, her famously dimpled face, with the deep-brown eyes, is almost obscured by a veritable lion’s mane of tumbling chestnut hair. Cole settles down on the sofa, gratefully accepting a bottle of water. She’s friendly and engaged, though at certain points she seems washed out, talking in trailing whispers – perhaps unsurprising given the constant travelling across the Atlantic to finesse the album, as well as the very steamy “Call My Name” video (lots of back arching in tunnels, and the like).
Cole is now completely over her 2010 (potentially fatal) bout of malaria. Is a near-death experience more frightening in retrospect? “Absolutely,” she says. “It takes a long time mentally to come to terms with it. As it’s happening, you’re just going through it. Looking back, you think: wow, that was really near.”
Coming up to her 29th birthday, Cole has just won an injunction against the paparazzi, who’ve pursued her for a decade of not only near-death experiences but also fame: “music Cheryl”, “TV Cheryl”, the on/off marriage to England footballer Ashley Cole, their eventual divorce and, lately, being fired from the US X Factor.
“I just wanted to wake up in the morning and not have 30 strange men sitting outside my door,” says Cole. “They would follow us all day and all night. I had no freedom.”
Cole isn’t overplaying the ongoing fascination. Her life and times have turned her into a global perma-trending topic whether she likes it or not. At her X Factor height, it was almost as though Cole morphed into a beatific “Geordie Diana”. Her sacking from the US X Factor felt akin to the OK! magazine version of the fall of Rome. Even now Cole’s every thought, move and change of leggings is recorded, as if it were of the gravest public interest. It’s not difficult to see how there could be times when her fame might feel like a magnifying glass, with her as an insect being fried alive.
All of which could account for Cole’s legendary stonewalling in interviews regarding relationships (Ashley!) and anyone or anything she deems too personal. My own sneaky attempts to barge into her personal space, as it were, get me precisely nowhere, and I rather feebly give up. Cole’s reserve seems absolutely genuine. On the other hand, one of her new tracks is the provocative “Screw You!” (“I loved you so much, but you couldn’t give up fucks”). Isn’t this asking for trouble (at least a load of nosy questions about Ashley’s infidelity)?