Pop star, style icon, national treasure, shoe maven: as she opens the floor for questions, Cheryl Cole’s roller-coaster ride shows no sign of slowing down a nation’s darling, unmitigated northern sweetheart, folds her small self up into a large velveteen armchair; those Disney-deep, rare (protected) woodland-mammal eyes betraying both wit and a feral wisdom as she readies herself to talk about her latest project: shoes.
Interview by Harvey Marcus.
OK. Let’s rewind. Is Cheryl Cole still a national treasure? I’ve lost track. One minute she was, the next she wasn’t. Once there was Ashley. Then there wasn’t. Then there might have been again. Then there was Derek Hough, the ‘hunky’ (© tabloids everywhere) dancer from America’s Dancing with the Stars. Then the whole ‘two nations divided by a Geordie accent’ American X Factor scandal: was it/wasn’t it all engineered for the purposes of publicity by the nefarious – boo! hiss! – Simon Cowell. Then Ashley turned up at her 28th birthday party, and then there was Tulisa and then… Well, then there’s Cheryl Cole, riding the capricious and unforgiving rapids of success and fame which, in today’s celebrity hothouse climate, means you either love or hate her, think she’s gotten too big for her latest range of shoes or still believe in the heart-string-tugging Cheryl Tweedy who first appeared on our screens all of ten years ago, at the Popstars: the Rivals audition, when the quaintly unreconstructed Pete Waterman, flanked by Geri Halliwell and an age-defying Louis Walsh, mugged to the camera: ‘You’d need to be dead if you didn’t think she was stunning! My God!’ The Cheryl Tweedy who wanted to be a ‘hip-hop’ girl, she’ll tell me later, to escape the Newcastle estates in Walker and Heaton, where she grew up.
It’s worth keeping an open mind about Cheryl Cole. There is just something about her. As is the way of modern- day celebrity, we are here for a reason to talk about that new shoe collection, stage two of her extremely successful collaboration with the fashion webshop Stylistpick.com.
And so the boundaries are drawn up. The interview is to be restricted to Cheryl’s style and her shoes. OK. And her beauty. OK. I geddit, already. Style and shoes. And beauty. I understand.
Having agreed that we only allow the good old British public to ask Cheryl questions, these too – I despair of you -are. I’m afraid, vulnerable to censure. So, yes, we will never know – thank you Ashley Lome, a surveyor from Cambridge -‘Why did you go back with Ashley Cole?’ Nor the answer to the question posed by Vikram Talla, a student from Bristol, working in finance: ‘Do you remember me from X Factor in Cardiff, when you danced with me and gave me a kiss? I sang you a Bollywood song.’ Or even – courtesy of Ross Harrington, a city guide from Finsbury Park in London – ‘Did you consider elocution lessons before goingto America?’ However, she is prepared to answer a select few. Then (there always seems to be a ‘then’ with Cheryl Cole), as this rather formal Q&A session unfolds, and she begins to relax, and we stray beyond the questions posed, you rediscover this warmth you held for her at the start. Remember why you cheered for her so much. Start thinking that, maybe, something of that hoary old cliche is true: maybe she didn’t change that much, only we did.
Why did you dye your hair blonde? You should go back to red as it suits you better (Dubi Valentino, a student from Acton, London).
Cheryl: Well, I am red now, so that’s nice! I’m always dyeing my hair. I dyed it red almost two years ago and dyed it back to brown, then dyed it red again… I just wanted a change. People have this idea that when you’re in the limelight, if you change your hair or shoes it’s because you’re channelling the new you and it’s a new step in your life. It’s because you get bored of the same haircolour. It’s fun. It’s not psychological: new me, new hairdo. I find it hilarious people think to that degree.
How many pairs of shoes do you own? (Chelsey Doyle, a student at the London College of Fashion).
Cheryl: I haven’t counted. Thousands. Some in suitcases ready to go to charity shops… It’s definitely got worse over the years, my shoe thing. Just worse and worse and worse. I should really seek a little bit of therapy. Me doing my own shoe range is quite cathartic. I just remember when I was 18,19, younger even, when I started admiring shoes worn by people like Victoria Beckham in the magazines and thinking, ‘Wow.’ But I could never afford them. So for me it’s amazing to make my own shoes that people can afford, but are still gorgeous and on trend.
What’s your favourite food? (Yasmin Julis, an HR officer from Wood Green, London).
Cheryl: Indian takeaway. I like lamb madras, lamb samosas and pilau rice.
Do you have any regrets? (Harry Cologne, a finance and accounting student from Enfield, Essex).
Cheryl: In life? No. Life’s too short to have regrets. Mistakes are life. I don’t live like that. I don’t have that mentality. I think that things are sent to you so you learn and grow. If you regret them, you would never be the person that you are.
Marie Claire: Are you amazed at the reactions your life receives?
Cheryl: Amazed is not the word I would use. I mean, sometimes, when people say things I like, ‘Is the fact she’s wearing a pair of jeans sending out a signal?’, that still freaks me out. People psychoanalysing every move you make is weird. People have this idea of what my life is like because of what they read, and it couldn’t be further from the truth most of the time. It’s something you learn to deal with, not something you accept as normal. I’m from such a normal family and background. I’m grateful for that; otherwise it could send you crazy.
Who are your role models? (Sherice Taylor, an HR advisor from Wood Green, London).
Cheryl: I don’t have celebrities, I have role models like my mother, who’s got a great heart.
Marie Claire: How does your mum cope with all the attention you receive? After all, she never chose this path. Yet she and your family are on the same journey.
Cheryl: They shouldn’t be, though. I don’t see why that’s right. She is so oblivious to this industry. You have no idea. I read things about my mother where they say she’s this pushy showbiz mum. Yet I could tell her I won an Oscar tomorrow and she would say, ‘That’s nice.’ She gets on with her life. Her life doesn’t revolve around this.
Do you have a stylist or do you pick your own clothes? (Laetitia Cose, a business student from London).
Cheryl: When you’re in this industry, you don’t have time to go to the shops, looking for clothes for a promo. Victoria [her stylist] knows me inside out. We’ve worked together for seven years.
What do you talk to Prince Charles about when you meet him? (Chloe Baines, a student from Guildford).
Cheryl: That’s a secret.
Marie Claire: Do you know Prince Harry fancies you?
Cheryl: I do! [Laughs.] I love Prince Harry. Actually, I had a dream last night that I married him and was a real-life princess. And Charles was my father-in-law instead of my charity partner [in the Prince’s Trust].
Do you do your own food shopping? (Adrian Crooks, о designer from Ilford).
Cheryl: Yes. Who else is going to do it? You just go online these days and they deliver it to your door.
How do you stay so slim? (Rosie Tann, a dental hygienist from Southend).
Cheryl: I’m like any other woman – my weight fluctuates. I have a pair of jeans one size bigger than the other just in case I’m a bit heavier that week. I work out and try to make healthy choices.
Marie Claire: Do you go on diets?
Cheryl: No, I try to avoid them like the plague. That can get you into a vicious circle. I did when I was younger. When I originally got in the band, I remember the first mean story I read where newspapers called us ‘pork stars’ – because the show was called Popstars: the Rivals. We were all fat. Well, not fat, chubby. Marie Claire: Not on a Hear’Say level? Cheryl: Yeah. [Sighs.] Yeah. And Louis Walsh had come out publicly and said, ‘They’re all fat. They all need to lose weight.’ And the record label sent us all to have training.
Marie Claire: Fat camp?
Cheryl: Probably, but we were just thinking they were doing us a favour at the time. We were so deluded.
Marie Claire: At that stage, how much did you feel in control of your life?
Cheryl: In the beginning you don’t know the industry. I’d never had to handle the pressure that comes with fame. That’s something that no one can explain to you. Especially not from home, because nobody’s experienced it. Thank God we all got along in the band, because that would have been hell. Pure hell. It makes me chuckle sometimes when I see the new up-and-coming ones and I see myself in them.
Marie Claire: Such as Little Mix for example? Or Cher Lloyd?
Cheryl: It’s cute. You see they’re excited and they feel like they’re in the industry, but really they haven’t done anything yet. It’s a learning process.
Marie Claire: Would you like to go through that again?
Cheryl: In some ways I would like the naivety, but in other ways, absolutely not. We worked like crazy in those days. We didn’t stop for breath.
Marie Claire: At which point did you feel in charge of your careers?
Cheryl: We never had management. Louis claimed to be our manager, but he never did it. We didn’t talk to him or anything like that. He just took the cheques. We didn’t have management. We managed ourselves with the record label, and Sundraj [Sreenivasan, her PR, who’s here today] did far more than his job required in the beginning. For, like, two years. We were learning ourselves, without management.
Marie Claire: So wasn’t Louis Walsh involved at all?
Cheryl: Not at all. Zero involvement. Oh yeah, he took the cheques, I told you. Marie Claire: So you’re best friends? Cheryl: I talk to him, because now I get that business is business and that’s how he runs his. But he never chose a hit. Who chose them? Us. It could be the key to our longevity, because it was genuine – we never had media training. Everything was raw and real. The only thing that was different was that we were put together through that process.
Do you think you’ll be as successful as Victoria Beckham? (Ben Weeden, a student from Guildford).
Cheryl: In terms of clothing? Erm, it’s kind of an odd question, because we do completely opposite jobs. I love her new collection, so hopefully she will send us some of her nice… Maybe we can merge the two! [Laughs.]
What’s the next chapter in your life, career wise? (Dipal Patel, from Wimbledon, London).
Cheryl: Who. The hell. Knows. [Laughs.] In life, in general, you just don’t know. That’s the fun of it.
Are you happy? (Fiona White, a stay-at-home mum, Oxford).
Cheryl: Yes. Very, thank you.
Do you walk your own dogs? (Mitchell Doyle, an illustrator from Reading).
Cheryl: See what I mean? People have this crazy idea of my life. Look at the questions I get asked. So I have a dog walker, a clothes picker, a food shopper…
Will you go out with me? (Tom Misselbrook, who works for the BBC).
Cheryl: What does he look like?
Marie Claire: There’s no photograph.
With time running out, and her publicist hovering in the wings, there’s an interesting postscript to the afternoon. One that, despite the constraints placed upon today’s interview, reminds you that maybe we didn’t get it wrong, and that a big part of Cheryl remains the same salt-of-the-earth, natural beauty the country fell in love with in the beginning.
Quite unexpectedly, she sweetly asks: ‘So when you do an interview, are you always looking for a headline or an exclusive of some description?’ It’s a sincere enquiry, without subtext. What is surprising is that a 28-year-old Cheryl Cole, with thousands of interviews behind her, remains genuinely naif-like as to the machinations of the press. While I make an attempt at explaining the differences, and sometimes similarities, between the tabloids and a magazine such as Marie Claire, she listens intently, though her hesitant expression hints at the hurt she’s suffered over the past year and more; enough to regulate days like these. When I confess that were it not for the conditions she and her team imposed, I, too, would be asking about Ashley Cole, Simon Cowell and her private life, her response betrays the need of a young woman seeking understanding, not confrontation.
‘Don’t you think that in itself is strange as human to human?’ she asks, quietly, before voluntarily taking a stab at articulating why she now feels it necessary to control what she does and doesn’t say in public. ‘It’s a hard thing to explain.’ She picks her words carefully. ‘My position. If you haven’t experienced it. It’s such a hard thing to explain. And I wouldn’t have got it before I was in it.’
Then she adds: ‘I sometimes think that I’m too naive about what goes on in this business.’