Girls Aloud having a great time

EMMA LEE While many TV talent show winners’ records end up in the bargain bin after the cameras have stopped rolling, Girls Aloud are still going strong. Emma Lee spoke to Nicola Roberts ahead of their Norfolk concert on Friday.

EMMA LEE

“We're not just puppets”, says Nicola Roberts, one-fifth of Girls Aloud emphatically. As if anyone would have suggested that they are.

Sure, they came together through that most modern of routes - the TV talent show. But five years since Nicola, Cheryl Cole (nee Tweedy), Kimberley Walsh, Sarah Harding and Nadine Coyle were plucked from obscurity on Popstars - the Rivals, they've barely been away from the charts, or out of the tabloid gossip columns.

Their debut single, Sound of the Underground, was edgy and fresh compared to the usual hastily-recorded first offerings released by reality TV protégées.

And, rightfully, they trounced their aforementioned rivals, One True Voice (can you remember their song? Thought not), in the race for the Christmas number one spot.

Part of their success and longevity (if you can sustain a pop career of more than a couple of years, you're considered a veteran) has been down to realising that pop fans want something slightly more sophisticated than mushy ballads, silencing the critics who predicted they'd be another one-hit wonder.

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While the Spice Girls might have paved the way for Girls Aloud (they used the same magic 'five feisty girls' formula), their back catalogue is way more impressive.

The Spice Girls' breakthrough single Wannabe set out their manifesto, but it was very of its time, and (and it does pain me to write this) a lot of their material was quite average and forgettable.

But Girls Aloud's discography is packed with pop gems - No Good Advice, Something Kinda Ooh, Biology, the Show, just for starters.

Take, as another example, their new single, which is released early next month. Sexy No No No! is a strong contender for the pop single of the year - it's an adrenaline-fuelled wave-your-hands-in-the-air dance anthem.

It's unmistakeably Girls Aloud, but a bold step up from what they've done before.

“We don't like to keep it the same. People would get really bored. We would get bored,” explains Nicola, who's taking a quick break from rehearsals.

“So we try and make them better than the last one. Every single we release has to be better. We never wanted to be the same as everyone else. We wanted to be different,” the chirpy northerner says.

It was artists like Whitney Houston who inspired Nicola to be a singer herself and to go in for Popstars - the Rivals.

“I just love singers with powerful voices. I would come home from school and would put Whitney on the stereo and would try to sing along with her. I also love Christina Aguilera and Anastacia - singers who have got to where they are because they really can sing, not just because they're pretty.

“I loved being on that show,” she adds. “For a teenage girl it was a dream come true. That was the first major thing I had ever done. And because I was a confident singer I wasn't frightened. I loved it.”

Chatty and funny, Nicola's a true pro at handling the media - but then, as she points out, she was just 17 when she won her place in Girls Aloud, and so has done much of her growing up in public.

Not that you become immune to the catty sleights that are sometimes dished out. In the early days the girls' weight was much discussed.

“Obviously I can't speak for the newspapers, but I'm sure that five girls are quite easy for them to write about, you know what I mean?” Nicola says matter-of-factly.

“If you want to be a singer, but don't want that attention, don't audition. You have to accept that it comes with the job.”

But, she concedes: “It is really difficult when it starts getting personal, especially when you are young - you're 17 and getting called nasty names. It's not nice. It was a lot harder than it is now. We're all normal girls. We don't want to be disliked,” she says.

Rumours of splits, which have so far proved unfounded, have dogged them throughout their career. One week Sarah's going solo, the next Nadine's moving to America to be with her (now ex) actor boyfriend.

“This is our fifth year - I can't believe how long we've been around,” she says. “We just take every album as it comes. If it does badly we won't do another one. We're still having a great time. It's all we've ever wanted to do.”

And what's the weirdest thing she's ever read about herself? You can almost hear her roll her eyes as she tells the story.

“The weirdest thing that I've read about myself in the papers is that I was going to propose to my boyfriend on stage. Like I would stop the music, and say 'I've got an announcement to make'? Please.” (Actually it sounds more like “pur-lease”)

“Can you imagine,” she giggles. “Maybe that's something Madonna would have done in the '80s, but I wouldn't do it myself.”

So what's next for Girls Aloud? It seems like their diary is pretty full. Another album is in the offing later in the year, and they've also donned their school uniforms for a cameo appearance in the new St Trinian's film.

“We're pleased with everything on the new album so far - it's great to get back into the studio and sing,” Nicola enthuses.

And is there any truth in a rumour they could be teaming up with the Arctic Monkeys? They've already done the pop and dance genres, so why not raw, scuzzy indie too?

“Where did you hear that? That would be good. Really good,” she laughs. t

t Girls Aloud play Holkham Hall on Friday, August 31. Support comes from former X Factor winner Shayne Ward and Jamelia. Tickets are available from EDP offices.

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