As a teenager, I was desperate to be a pop star. I couldn’t sing very well, but that never stopped the Spice Girls, right? So I wrote songs, and practised singing them (and cringed at the sound of my own voice. These days it’s a lot better and stronger though, so practice does pay off).
I spent my late teens scanning the ‘Auditions’ pages of the newspaper The Stage, hoping to spot the advert that would lead to my big break. A lot of the ads I circled were searching for singers for pop groups. And thanks to an ad placed in 1998 when I was 18, I almost succeeded in getting into a famous pop group: S Club 7.
The advert in question was for ‘singers and presenters’, and was an open casting call for boys and girls aged 15-19 at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden, Central London. So I dolled myself up and turned up at Pineapple to find half the teenage world already there.
[Me. Nice teeth, shame about the earrings.]
There were literally hundreds of equally glammed-up girls and spruced-up boys queuing in line. Eventually, a woman from the production company came out of the main hall.
‘We’re not going to be able to audition everyone, as there are so many of you,’ she said, ‘so if I point at you, you’re to come into the hall, and if I don’t, then apologies and thank you for your time.’
She started pointing at teenagers – and, to my delight, she pointed at me. I walked into the hall gleefully.
We all sat on the floor in a group in front of a tall blonde woman, who explained that her production company were putting together a TV show featuring a girl-and-boy pop group. She went round the hall and asked us each to sing something. My mind went blank, so I sang ‘Happy Birthday’!
[I’ve only just realised that my vest says ‘Jesus’.]
Then I remember being asked to interview a beautiful mixed race girl. I asked her a question about her love life, and she said ‘That’d be telling,’ and I replied ‘Yes it would, so tell me!’ The blonde woman seemed to like that, and smiled approvingly.
I hadn’t brought along a CV or photo (not that I’d have had much to put on a CV at that age, other than winning Miss Harrow!) so the blonde woman gave me her card and asked me to post my photo and CV to her. I remember her saying ‘And do post them, as this is going to be big.’ The name on her card was Heather Alexander, and she was from 19 Management – which I realised excitedly was Simon Fuller’s production company (he managed the Spice Girls).
I posted the CV and photo off ASAP, and got a call soon after from the blonde lady for a ‘recall’ – also to take place at Pineapple Studios. I turned up and there was a short queue of pretty girls who all looked similar to me: dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned, beige or olive skin.
I had to do a piece to camera and say who I admired most in the world. I remember saying something about Duran Duran, which they probably didn’t expect from someone my age. Then I’d prepared a song, ‘Fever’ (I was singing jazz standards throughout my teens and playing the piano too, though I sang a cappella during the recall). I think in retrospect they would have preferred a chart pop song.
[Me, making friends with a fence.]
They thanked me, and I never heard back. I guess I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for after all. Soon after that, I started dating a much older guy called Simon (not Simon Fuller) who was the band Shed Seven’s manager. The Sheds were signed to Polydor, and when I told Simon about the audition, he said ‘Ah, that must have been for S Club 7.’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘They’re the new pop group Simon (Fuller) has put together,’ he explained.
The next year, S Club 7 hit number 1 in the charts with their debut single ‘Bring It All Back’, which was released on Polydor, and I felt extremely wistful and envious. I realised that I and all the other dark-haired olive-skinned girls at the second audition must have been in the running for Tina’s place in the band.
[S Club 7’s first single ‘Bring It All Back’. Tina is in the red.]
A couple of years later, I received another call from 19 Management about possibly being in S Club Juniors (later called S Club 8) and travelled down to Battersea to meet the team. However, I think they’d forgotten how old I was, and decided I was too long in the tooth at the advanced age of 20!
So I never got to be in S Club anything. My life could have been so different – but would it have been better? Probably not, especially as I had rarely thrived in groups of kids. Plus I’d never have created the Atheist Bus Campaign, and nor would I have had my wonderful daughter.
[Me and the Lilster, back when she was six and had cut her own fringe.]
Years after the auditions, in March 2010, I’d get to perform an original song I’d written (below) with Tim Minchin at the Simon Singh benefit at London’s Cambridge Theatre. (Simon was being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for saying in a Guardian column that chiropractic was bogus, so the benefit was a celebrity fundraiser to support him.) The entire thousand-strong crowd sang the chorus along with me – so I got a little taste of what it felt like to be a pop star then – and it felt awesome.
THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!
Me: 12st 9.6lbs (total loss in 16 days: 4.6lbs)
Oh God. It was all going so well, and then I got my period and binged on chocolate. Forgive me.
John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 16 days: 3lbs)
John chooses this moment to narrow the gap.
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