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!)
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