I was mis­er­able in S Club 7

Rachel Stevens was so up­tight, she hated her popstar years. But mother­hood’s mel­lowed her, she tells Ni­cole Lam­pert, so she’s ready to give it an­other shot (But I wouldn’t say no to a re­union!)

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - COVER STORY - Belu WaterAid packs raise money for clean wa­ter projects in the world’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties. Visit belu wateraid.org

T here are few times when Rachel Stevens’ new life as a mother, and her old one as a sex sym­bol and No. 1 popstar, col­lide. But when they do it’s al­most al­ways at chil­dren’s par­ties. Reach, the S Club 7 song Rachel and her six band­mates had a hit with in 2000, may be more than a decade old but its catchy beat still makes it a firm favourite when it comes to tod­dler dis­cos.

‘When­ever it comes on, ev­ery­one looks at me to see how I’ll re­act,’ she smiles. ‘I think it’s bril­liant that peo­ple are still play­ing our mu­sic. But all that stuff feels like a life­time ago. So much has changed.’

S Club 7 had their first No. 1 hit in 1999 with Bring It All Back, be­fore un­leash­ing a string of catchy sin­gles cul­mi­nat­ing with the 2000 Christ­mas hit Never Had A Dream Come True — with pro­ceeds go­ing to the char­ity Chil­dren In Need — and 2001’s in­fec­tious sin­gle Don’t Stop Movin’.

They split up 10 years ago and Rachel, as the band’s most fa­mous face and res­i­dent FHM poster girl, went on to have a suc­cess­ful solo ca­reer with a ma­jor hit in 2003 with Sweet Dreams My LA Ex. But then record sales fell and it went a bit quiet. Next came Strictly Come Danc­ing in 2008 (Rachel came sec­ond be­hind the ac­tor Tom Cham­bers). Then, just as she had our at­ten­tion again, she van­ished.

That was thanks to Amelie, her twoyear-old daugh­ter with her prop­erty-de­vel­oper hus­band, Alex Bourne. Rachel, 35, has en­joyed a quiet cou­ple of years be­ing a mother, but now she’s ready to get back to work. ‘Be­ing in a band gave me a strong work ethic and I’ve al­ways been very driven,’ she says. ‘I’ve loved spend­ing time with Amelie but I knew I needed to do some­thing else.’

If she wor­ried about be­ing for­got­ten she needn’t have. She’s just be­come the face of Next’s Pe­tite range, for women 5ft 3in and un­der, while from now un­til Septem­ber her face will ap­pear all over bot­tles of Belu wa­ter.

Pro­ceeds will go to WaterAid — she’s an ambassador for the char­ity — and, on a re­cent trip to Ethiopia in that ca­pac­ity, she says she met a sin­gle mother of eight who had to walk miles to get a bucket of dirty wa­ter, which cer­tainly made Rachel ap­pre­ci­ate her life a lit­tle more.

Since be­ing ‘spot­ted’ in the can­teen at Sony Records (at the time she was dream­ing of be­com­ing a fash­ion buyer and was only there to have lunch with her brother), and signed up to the band by Spice Girls Sven­gali Si­mon Fuller — be­fore he had even heard her sing — she’d happily ad­mit that, while she’s al­ways been am­bi­tious, there’s never been a plan.

She would quite like to try her hand at more act­ing (the S Club 7 singers also starred in their own faux re­al­ity show, a kind of mod­ern­day ver­sion of The Mon­kees). and she’s even been dis­cussing— feel free to squeal or shriek de­pend­ing on your taste — an S Club re­union with the full orig­i­nal line-up of Tina Bar­rett, Paul Cat­ter­mole, Jo O’Meara, Han­nah Spear­ritt, Bradley McIn­tosh and Jon Lee. ‘We met at Tina Bar­rett’s flat and it was like we’d never been apart,’ she says. ‘It was re­ally chilled. We talked about get­ting back to­gether and al­though we all have our own stuff go­ing on right now, if the right thing came up, it could be fun.’

This time around, she might even get a chance to en­joy it. I met Rachel many times in her S Club days and she was al­ways sweet but very much a closed book. She never talked about her feel­ings. Chris Moyles once called her ‘re­ally bor­ing’, while Scissor Sis­ters singer Ana Ma­tronic said she ‘has all the per­son­al­ity of a slice of toast’. But the Rachel I meet to­day is dif­fer­ent; she’s more will­ing to open up. S Club 7 cat­a­pulted her to in­stant fame — the band sold 13 mil­lion al­bums, and their tele­vi­sion show, Mi­ami 7, was screened in 104 coun­tries. Yet be­neath the smile, she had to plas­ter on her face as the fe­line glam­our girl of the group, she now ad­mits she was pretty mis­er­able. ‘I was go­ing through a very con­fus­ing time when I first went into S Club,’ she says. ‘My par­ents were split­ting up and it re­ally hit me. At the same time, I’d got this job that thrust me into this ex­cit­ing world — I didn’t want to show peo­ple what I was go­ing through.

‘We were be­ing mar­keted at a very young au­di­ence and I was put into the “nice and sweet” box. I ended up play­ing a role that wasn’t me — or at least there was more

to me. I’d put on a smile and pre­tend ev­ery­thing was great and happy. We all have dif­fer­ent lay­ers to us as peo­ple. None of us are just nice and sweet. I’m am­bi­tious and some might call me a bit of a con­trol freak. I was vul­ner­a­ble but I have al­ways strug­gled to show my vul­ner­a­bil­ity.’

Hard­est of all for some­one who is so wary of talk­ing about her feel­ings was a very pub­lic fall-out with her fa­ther, Michael Stevens. There was a huge fam­ily row when it emerged — through a news­pa­per — that the man she adored and had al­ways re­spected had a side­line pub­lish­ing a guide to Lon­don’s best pros­ti­tutes. And then, when she re­fused to open a new cloth­ing shop for him, he lashed out very pub­licly say­ing, ‘ She’s a to­tal a******e. I don’t care if I never see her again. She’s a stun­ningly beau­ti­ful girl — that’s about all she is. She’s so self­ish.’

Un­til now Rachel has re­fused to talk about her fa­ther, but she ad­mits that be­com­ing a mother has soft­ened her views. ‘My dad is not in my life, un­for­tu­nately, but I’ve got to the stage where I wish him well,’ she says sadly. ‘I’m not shut­ting the door to see­ing him again. I’m older now and feel more com­pas­sion to­wards him. We all make mis­takes. When you be­come a par­ent, it makes you ap­pre­ci­ate your own par­ents.’

Mother­hood has changed her in dif­fer­ent ways, too. She says it’s taken her a long time to re­alise that, how­ever hard she works, noth­ing is ever go­ing to be per­fect. ‘The first three months of hav­ing a new­born baby was a com­plete shock to the sys­tem,’ she says. ‘As I said, I’m a bit of a con­trol freak but sud­denly I had no idea what I was do­ing. I re­mem­ber hav­ing an ab­so­lute melt­down when Amelie had been crying all day. I think all mums go through that. All you hear about mother­hood is how amaz­ing it is — and it is amaz­ing — but no one tells you how hard it is. It’s so over­whelm­ing.’

But there’s never been a nanny, al­though she did take on a ma­ter­nity nurse for a few days when she be­came des­per­ate for some help (and sleep). She’s due to pick up her daugh­ter from nurs­ery af­ter we speak. ‘Some days it takes me an hour to get out of the house and I won­der how that hap­pened,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve al­ways taken things re­ally se­ri­ously. I think you could see that when I did Strictly. Peo­ple thought I was a trained dancer, even though I wasn’t, and I felt un­der a huge amount of pres­sure to be per­fect.

‘ Tak­ing time out for mother­hood has shown me a lot about how life isn’t about be­ing per­fect. It’s about be­ing your­self.’

But liv­ing by that mantra is a work in progress. Af­ter years of eat­ing take­aways and, more re­cently, her hus­band’s cook­ing, she’s fi­nally learn­ing to cook. A friend comes around to her home to teach her and she now cooks twice a week.

‘We all want to be ev­ery­thing,’ she muses. ‘We want to be a do­mes­tic god­dess, bake our chil­dren’s birth­day cakes and have a suc­cess­ful ca­reer. Well, I’m try­ing. And I’d like to teach Amelie that do­ing your best is al­ways good enough.’

SSweett pe­titetit ClClock­wisek i from above: Rachel with Strictly’s Vin­cent Si­mone; S Club 7 in 2002 (back row, Jo O’Meara, Bradley McIn­tosh, Han­nah Spear­ritt, Paul Cat­ter­mole and Rachel; front row, Jon Lee and Tina Bar­rett); with Amanda Holden and San­jeev Bhaskar on The Ku­mars At No. 42

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