“Dairy Milk or Galaxy?” asks Cheryl, lounging in a tan leather chair on the 10th floor of her record company’s London offices.
We’re supposed to be talking about her new single – the throbbing, lovelorn Let You – but somehow we’ve ended up discussing chocolate bars.
“Me, I can’t resist a Ripple,” she says, before sharing her technique for eating a Kit Kat: “You bite the chocolate off the ends and suck tea through the middle”.
Eventually, after a debate on whether Double Deckers used to contain raisins (they did), we get down to business.
Let You is Cheryl’s 35th single, a tally that includes five solo number ones and the record-breaking run of 20 consecutive Top 10 singles she achieved with Girls Aloud.
It’s part of her return to music after a five-year hiatus, during which time she had a baby son with One Direction star Liam Payne and appeared as a judge on the BBC talent show The Greatest Dancer.
The opening salvo in her comeback campaign, a slinky pop squiggle called Love Made Me Do It, stalled at number 19 in the charts last year – but the star has survived enough bumps and bruises in her career to shrug that off and move on.
As she prepares to launch Let You, we asked Cheryl to sit down and look back at a scrapbook of her 17 years in the spotlight. And we didn’t even have to bribe her with a Curly Wurly.
Ballet days – circa 1989
“I went to the Royal Ballet when I was little. I was very passionate about it, but when it got very serious, it took the fun away and I didn’t want to do it any more.
“You either thrive and enjoy the severity of it, or you don’t. I was too little. You need to have fun.”
Auditioning for Pop Stars: The Rivals – Early 2002
“Dear sweet Lord, have mercy. Bless her.
“I don’t remember much of that day. I was so nervous. You’re just going there to sing them a song and hope for the best. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
With the Popstars contestants – June 2002
“How times have changed. You wouldn’t get away with that [photo] now.
“Back then, I had no idea about sexualisation, as in being sexy to attract attention. But I think that was their aim… although that’s the most unsexy picture I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Winning a place in Girls Aloud – November 2002
“Honest to God, do you know what happened? Before Davina [McCall] called my name, I had a premonition. Right before she said, ‘Cheryl,’ I almost heard her say it in my head. I never thought I was going to get into the band until that split second.”
Becoming a band – November 2002
“I can’t speak for everyone else but I think we all are on cloud nine. That night, after I got in the group, that’s the only time I’d say I’ve experienced euphoria.
“You can’t really prepare anybody for that level of instant fame, I don’t think, but at least we had each other to lean on, to talk to. We were all experiencing the same things.”
Performing at G-A-Y – May 2003
“We’d had a fight with the guys from Busted, and they called Nicola [Roberts] a rude ginger bitch in the press – so I told her to write, ‘So what? I am a rude ginger bitch,’ on her skirt.
“I don’t know what was going on in my head! But I guess that’s why people liked us. We were just real girls and we weren’t preened. We were just having the best time in our Adidas tracksuits and Nike trainers.”
Gunged – July 2004
“I loved doing those programmes. They were the best bit of being a pop star. I think Holly Willoughby was the one who slimed us. [It was, on the ITV kids’ show Ministry of Mayhem].
“But look, it had already started getting slightly bougie because I’d bought myself a diamond necklace!”
Charity visit to Great Ormond Street – December 2004
“In the beginning, you’re just finding your feet but one day you realise, ‘Oh, I’ve actually got a voice. I can do things to help people’.
“We got so much pleasure from doing hospital visits – It really helps pep people up and lift their spirits.”
Girls Aloud’s first tour – May 2005
“Why did nobody help us a bit more? On that tour we were still doing our own hair and make-up, every night.
“Did you know that we were almost dropped by our record label after the first year? The first album did alright, but it wasn’t selling to the all the people who watched the TV show. Twenty million viewers wasn’t turning into 20 million sales.
“So we were almost dropped, then Peter Lorraine [marketing director at Polydor Records] said, ‘No, give them one more album,’ and we did What Will The Neighbours Say. After that things got good.”
At the World Cup in Germany – June 2006
“Oh my! Victoria Beckham. That’s the world cup – and I don’t look very impressed!”
BBC: How did it feel to be talked about for your relationship with Ashley Cole, rather than your career?
“I never, ever used to think of it like that. And if people addressed it like that, I used to be insulted. It’s your real life. Your real life is going to watch your husband. It doesn’t come into your mind, the whole comparison thing.”
“The Z Factor” on Channel 4 – August 2006
“Look at that, me playing Sharon Osborne – and two years later, I replaced her on The X Factor. How ironic!”
Filming the video for Can’t Speak French – March 2007
“I wasn’t having the best time personally on this day, to be honest. There was stuff in the press about my personal life and I spent half the video asleep in a different room. It’s hard to have to go to work when you’re going through that – but it’s the same for anyone.
“We do look fab, though, don’t we? And trust Sarah [Harding] to have a kiss mark on her boob. She probably kissed it herself.”
Judging The X Factor with Simon Cowell – August 2008
“There he is. That look says it all: Smug.”
The Promise hits number one – October 2008
“The Promise was a real moment for us, because we fought to get that as a single. The label said to us, ‘If you release The Promise as the first single [from their fifth album Out Of Control], it’s career suicide and that’s on you.’ But The Promise went on to be our biggest single.
Winning a Brit – February 2009
“Sarah went up and said, ‘It’s about time!’ and, ‘Now we’re going to go and get pissed!’. I remember Kimberly [Walsh] putting her head in her hands, because she was always the sensible one that was going to be composed and say the right thing.
“But Sarah was talking for the fans. We always felt like we got snubbed at the Brits, so we were ecstatic.”
Climbing Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief – March 2009
“When you think it’s tough, it’s tougher.
“The guy that was guiding us kept lying, just to get us through. He’d be like, ‘You’ve got four more hours’ and you’d do the four hours and he’d say, ‘Just three to go’.
“And I’d go, ‘Are you actually frickin’ joking me? I’m about to die.'”
“I couldn’t have done it without Kimberley, and not without Alesha Dixon – who was in our tent as well. Chris Moyles gave us his coat at one point. We bonded. It was harsh.”
Supporting Coldplay at Wembley Stadium – September 2009
“We knew by then that people wanted to take a break, so this was a nice way to say goodbye.
“It was such a random line-up – Girls Aloud, Coldplay and Jay-Z. But now I can say officially we supported Jay-Z at Wembley Stadium.”
BBC: Can you imagine a Girls Aloud/Jay-Z collaboration?
“Oh, that’d be epic. But we never had featured artists or raps on our songs. We didn’t need to. It was just fun being us.”
Launching a solo career – October 2009
“Oh My God, performing Fight For This Love on X Factor. I’ve never been so nervous in me entire life.
“It was my first solo performance, on a show I was working on as a judge, and then, half an hour before I went on stage Simon [Cowell] said some dodgy things. Like, ‘Remember Cheryl, you’ve done this to yourself.’
“I don’t know if he was giving me something to fight against, like ‘I’ll prove you bitches wrong,’ or if he was simply saying, ‘I don’t know why you put yourself through this.’ I’ll have to ask him.
“He’s changed a lot since he’s had a baby, so he might feel a bit bad these days.”
Unveiling her waxwork – October 2010
“As if I got a waxwork in Madame Tussauds!
“Do I think it looks like me? Not now that it’s 10 years old. She needs to get a different outfit and some new hair.”
Performing Call My Name on The Voice – May 2012
“The Swan Dive! I don’t know why I put myself… Well, I do – because it creates a moment.
“I remember, I’d been ready to jump and they played the wrong music – and by the time they played mine, I was jelly. So I leapt extra far to compensate and I nearly fell flat on my face. Luckily, it was fine.”
Cannes Film Festival – May 2012
“Ah, Cannes! I’ve been maybe about eight times – but I don’t always stick around and watch the films. Sometimes, they’re in a foreign language and I’m just not there for subtitles in a ballgown and high heels.”
Diamond Jubilee Concert – June 2012
[Laughing] “The Queen meeting the queen!”
“I’ve done some pretty epic stuff, haven’t I? But when you meet royalty you realise they’re just people.
“I’ve slipped up on the protocol a couple of times – I called Charles ‘Charlie’ once, and I heard his assistant gasp. But he didn’t really respond. There was no, ‘How dare you, peasant!’
“We’ve spent a lot of time together on the Prince’s Trust and my foundation; and I love how passionate Charles is about our youth. It’s brilliant to listen to him talk.”
Arriving at Radio 1 – August 2012
“That’s quite mild, in terms of photographers. At one point it was crazy.
“They can be really rude – shouting awful things just to get a reaction. But I learned pretty quickly not to respond.
“It’s unfair on the fans who are there waiting – because I want to meet them, but at the same time I don’t want photographers screaming abuse while I’m doing it.”
Ghetto Baby video – December 2012
“Someone called this the double sex crab, which is actually a good description! It’s such a good move.
“What happened was one of the dancers did it on his own, then the choreographer said, ‘you get on top of him and do it as well’.
“Did I ever fall off? No. He was very supportive, very muscular, very taut.”
Girls Aloud reunion tour – February 2013
“How times change, right? Compared to that first tour, we look polished and focused. Totally different.”
BBC: Was it nice to come back and see the affection fans had for the band?
“Not really, if I’m honest. There were still some underlying issues that had never been addressed, sadly. It could have been a lot more fun than it was for us.
“We’d been off on our own for so long that you’re not in the same bubble you were in first time round. That bubble had popped.
“There were great bits, too. Times when we cried from laughing. It just didn’t have to be as tough as it was sometimes. That’s all.”
Paris Fashion Week – October 2017
“That was seven months after I had the baby and I wasn’t back into shape. One of the reviews said, ‘is she pregnant again?’ which is pretty rude.
“But even though I still had a belly, I was feeling proud of myself. I was a mother now.”
Writing the new album with Nicola Roberts – September 2017
“Aw, forever friends. A huge part of my life.”
“We work well together because we’re opposite – she’s melodic and I’m lyrical. She’d written for me before and I’d just tweak lyrics here and there. But this time we were in the studio together, working side-by-side.”
Becoming a mum – 2017/18
“That caption’s meant to say learning to juggle – not jiggle! Not juggling like with three balls but juggling my life, and work and motherhood.
“He’s not juggling. He’s got a great social life. He’s off here, there and everywhere.
“His latest accomplishment is saying, ‘please,’ and, ‘thank you’. And he says, ‘purple, yellow, green, red’. He counts to 20. It’s really amazing. I’m very impressed by him, as you can tell.
Cheryl posted these photos to Instagram, choosing not to show her son’s face, and gave the BBC permission to reproduce them.
With Harry and Eleiyah on The Greatest Dancer – February 2019
“I loved that show – and I get really emotionally connected to people on it. I can’t help it and I won’t apologise for it.”
Filming the Let You video – May 2019
These lyrics are personal – but I’m not speaking just for me. There was a girl in the room when we wrote it who was up to here with men problems, so I was wringing her for ideas! So it’s not autobiographical, although there’s definitely things I’ve experienced in there. I want it to be everyone’s song. It’s universal.
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