Nicola Roberts wrote a letter to Geri Halliwell asking for help to make it in the music industry.
The 36-year-old pop star revealed that when she was a child she tried to get in touch with Geri – who at that time was at the height of her fame as Ginger Spice in the Spice Girls – and begged her to listen to her tape and “pass it on” to industry execs.
She said: “I wrote a letter to Geri when I was 11. I put the blonde bits in the front of my head and I wrote a letter because I used to sing, Say You’ll Be There, all the time in competitions. I wrote a letter to say, ‘Hi Geri, I’m such a big fan, I really would love to be in the music industry. I’m a really good singer. I sing, ‘Say You’ll Be There’ all the time and I win all the competitions. Please, if you could listen to my tape and pass it on to somebody, that could help me.’ I don’t know where we sent the letter off, maybe my parents didn’t even send it, I don’t know, but I wrote the letter!”
Nicola later found fame as a teenager when she was selected alongside Cheryl, Nadine Coyle, Kimberley Walsh and the late Sarah Harding to be in Girls Aloud via the ITV talent show ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ and spoke of how surreal it was to end up being mentored by the ‘Mi Chico Latino’ singer on the programme after being a fan for so many years.
Speaking on the ‘Hear Her Voice’ podcast, she told host Laura Whitmore: “Then for Geri to be so supportive of me and so encouraging and really championing me throughout ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ was just one of those moments where you’re just like, the universe…what is this? What is happening right now? You can’t write that!”
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Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1985, Nicola Roberts is the eldest of four children and the youngest member of Girls Aloud. Finding fame at 16 as a competitor in TV talent show Popstars: The Rivals, she and the group went on to score some of the biggest hits of the 00s, with 21 Top 10 singles and four No 1s. She later released an acclaimed solo album, 2011’s Cinderella’s Eyes, and has performed in London’s West End and written songs for other artists. Roberts supports the Recycle Your Electricals campaign.
Frankie (on left)
This was taken at our auntie and uncle’s wedding. Nicola and I were quite showy as kids; we liked the attention. But when it came to family events, we wanted to dress up then go home – do it all on our own terms. That’s why we look so done.
Nicola and I were inseparable growing up. When our brothers arrived we were like mother hens – having to change nappies and feed them bottles. We’d be silly, too – at meal times we’d pretend we were in a restaurant and we’d host our own TV shows.
While Nicola and I have never properly fallen out, we fought a lot as kids. Ball-of-rage fistfights. There would be props involved: pans, picture frames, plugs, Hoovers – hot water was a thing at one point. Nicola was vindictive with it. Once we had an argument, probably about something stupid like me moving her Pot Noodle, and instead of getting me right away, she bided her time. She said she’d wash my hair before bed and when it was time to do it she scalded me.
I was 13 when she signed up for Popstars: The Rivals. We were just these little kids who lived in the northwest – and I didn’t really understand what was going on. Our family were at a holiday camp in Devon when Nicola had to go to the auditions. Every day Dad would come off the phone and say, “She got through!” and I’d be like, “Oh great”, not knowing what a big deal it was. We’d take trips to London, 14 of us in a minibus, watch her perform, then I’d be back home the next day, hanging out with my friends on the street.
Although our local community got behind her – there were banners on roundabouts saying “Vote Nicola” – the older girls I’d run into were jealous of her and mean to me. There were pockets of real resentment. I tried to fight them and always knew how to stand up for myself, even though they were six years older. They weren’t going to do anything.
Whenever Nicola and I would spend time together, we’d always do new fun things. She made her world feel normal for me, even though she was on TV. I loved going to photoshoots with her or shopping and thinking, “I’m going to get all these things that I don’t need!” Fame became just another version of our life together.
That said, it’s hard having a sister in the public domain. I was so young when Nicola faced a lot of criticism in the press, the sort of things you should never say about somebody, especially not a teenage girl. Looking back, it’s really hard to know that someone you love, someone so beautiful, could have been seen in a negative way.
Nicola and I were close then, but we are fiercely close now. She doesn’t even need to speak and I’ll know what she’s thinking or what she might need. It’s us against the world – but then it’s always been that way.
We’re from quite a big family. My mum is one of six, my dad is one of four and they all had four or five kids each, so we were always at weddings, communions and christenings. This was before the time of straightening irons, so the night before we’d have put our hair in cotton rags. We’d wake up with ringlets, get dressed, go to the wedding and sit there bored while Mum took her 500th photograph of the day.
Why do you back the Recycle Your Electricals campaign?
I was approached to create a dress with designer Alexandra Sipa for the Fashion Awards to strengthen the message about recycling and sustainability.
The fashion industry contributes 10% towards global emissions and something like 55,000 tonnes of electrical cables are being disregarded or hoarded in British homes every year.
The dress incorporated 210 unwanted electrical cables to show that beautiful things can be created using recyclables to encourage people to take steps towards a healthier planet. Fabrics don’t have to be disregarded the way they are.
Are you very aware of what you wear and its sustainability?
I don’t fast buy, I’ll only buy if it’s something I really need, and I try and buy from sustainable brands.
As the seasons change, we might need a new coat or sweater but it’s not about bulk buying. When I was younger, I’d buy for the sake of it. Recycling at home is the most basic first step you can take — it’s a super bugbear for me if friends or family don’t.
Most of the things in your house are plastic — water bottles or plastic around our vegetables — and the idea of that going into general waste and then sitting in landfill is too uncomfortable to imagine. Landfills are the most sickening idea.
Do you feel a responsibility to use your profile to urge people to be more environmental?
We all have a responsibility to each other. I think it always helps when someone has a profile but there’s no harm in asking your friends and family, ‘Have you thought about it this way?’
I annoy my family because I’m a vegetarian so I’ll tell them about the effect the fishing industry is having on our oceans, the carbon emissions that are coming out of our beef factories, while they’re all eating meat and consuming dairy. I’m that person.
You do a lot with the fashion industry. What do you love so much about it?
I just love fashion and the freedom it can give. When I was younger I was shy and struggled with self-confidence.
You’ve been through so much, especially with Sarah Harding passing. Has it changed the way you live your life?
When you have a loss close to you, it magnifies how fragile life is. Nothing is given or promised.
We can make all the plans in the world but it leaves you feeling concerned anything can happen at any given moment.
But it’s important to not become mentally swallowed up in those thought processes because that’s not healthy either.
It’s just about trying to be positive, present with your friends and family, and do things you enjoy. Make the most of your days and don’t take anything for granted.
How hard is it to find your feet after being in a top girl band?
When you come out of a band, it’s definitely a shock to the system. You’ve been in a very secure bubble for a long time and you’re not privy to different surroundings.
So when that bubble falls away, it’s your job to find new friends and different interests, which feels slightly alien.
I went straight into the studio to write for other artists because that’s where I felt at home. You just have to be aware of what your interests are. I want to act too so I have an acting agent.
Can you believe you won The Masked Singer in 2020?
No! That show was bonkers. You’re not introduced to the rest of the talent so you have no idea who else is on the show or what you’re up against until the show airs and you see how good they all are.
You can only do your best with the songs you’ve chosen and hope the audience likes them.
But it came at a great time because I’d just come out of not a very nice period personally and then won it, and everyone was so welcoming and supportive.
Did all the Girls Aloud girls recognise it was you?
Yeah, they all knew and were all texting me and I just couldn’t reply. I’d be like, ‘I don’t know what you’re on about.’ And they’d be like, ‘I don’t know how you think you can lie to us.’ I was like, ‘Honestly, I have no idea! I can understand that you think it sounds like me but I’m telling you, it’s not me!’
It was so hard and it was over weeks — even my family would text me and I just couldn’t reply. I felt so bad. I hadn’t sung for such a long time — since the group, really — and even then I didn’t get to sing the way I sang on The Masked Singer.
It was so enjoyable to open up my lungs and know that when I open my mouth, people respond well.
You were only 16 when you found fame…
I was too young, really. I think about that and maybe it was beneficial because I wasn’t fully aware of everything going on.
But I’m so much stronger and confident in who I am now. It would’ve been nice to be on such a huge platform with this personality rather than being fresh out of school and thrown in not even at the deep end but the Atlantic Ocean.
See recycleyourelectricals.org.uk for more information.
LOOKING back, I always hated being this pale.
I would put body make-up on to go and have [costume] fittings with the band because I hated my skin tone.
I felt like once I took my clothes off, the seamstress or the stylist was going to think: “Oh my god, she’s so white!”
I was so wrapped up in it and so self-conscious that I let it get so much bigger than it was.
Even from when I was a very small child, I knew that being pale wasn’t considered beautiful, because all the adults were always using sunbeds.
When I was at school, it would be a blazing hot day and I would ask my parents if I could wear tights because I was so embarrassed about how pale my legs were.
They just let me do what I wanted to do, there was no big sit-down to see if something was going on with me.
Boys at school would joke: “You’re so pale, you look like death warmed up.”
I think they would hear it from their dads at home, because that perception of women just trickles down, doesn’t it?
When I auditioned for Girls Aloud in 2002, I became more aware of my looks.
The reason I wanted to be in the band was because I could sing.
I didn’t think about how it was going to make me feel and the fact that I might look different from the other girls [Cheryl Tweedy,
Sarah Harding, Nadine Coyle and Kimberley Walsh]. Once I got into the band, the magnitude of all those other things just became so apparent and I saw comments about me in the media, from people on television and the radio, other celebrities and the public.
Everything was related to my appearance – nothing was about what I sounded like.
It felt horrible for me as a teenager in a new world.
But still, I would always think I’d rather be me than the person saying those things.