Cher Lloyd on taking back control and why she loves her body more since becoming a mum – The Sun
THINK of Cher Lloyd and you’ll likely conjure up memories of crop tops, skater skirts and a healthy dollop of attitude to boot.
But the video for her latest single sees the former teen star – now aged 26, married and a mother to a toddler – in full seductress mode, dressed in a sexy, studded bodice, while writhing around on a satin-sheet-covered bed.
It’s quite the departure, and one Cher says not only reflects the fact she’s taken back control of her career after becoming swamped by a ruthless industry, but also how much more confident she feels about her body since giving birth to daughter Delilah two years ago.
“I find it so strange, but I’m a lot more confident about my body now after having a child than I was before. It’s weird, because before pregnancy I was skinny, I had no stretch marks and no lumps and bumps.
“Roll on to now and I’ve got tiger stripes from my thighs all the way over to my bum and there’s nothing I can do about that, it is what it is. But I see them as my proud mum stripes. I grew a human. So what if there are a few lumps and bumps now? That’s not going to stop me squeezing into a pair of tiny beaded knickers and flaunting my stuff.”
The self-penned pop track Lost, released during lockdown (“I did wonder if I should postpone, but then, what better time to give my fans something to be involved with and have some sense of normality through music?”), marks a turning point for Cher.
After six years away from the spotlight, she feels more than ready to come back and this time, armed with the wisdom of experience, it’s completely on her terms.
“I’ve always felt I’ve been pushed from pillar to post within the industry. If I wore baggy clothes and dressed like a tomboy, then I was too chavvy, and if I dressed in a skirt that was a little bit short, then I was too slutty.
“Over the last few years I’ve thought: ‘Sod it, I don’t give a s**t what people want to call me or label me.’ I will wear whatever I want to and what makes me feel comfortable.
“I’ve learned as a mum that there is so much more to this life than obsessing over my image. It’s not my number one priority any more. I don’t have time!”
It’s a decade since Cher, then just 16 and wearing sky-high heels, slashed jeans and her hair piled up in a messy bun, burst into the public consciousness with that memorable X Factor audition, in the series that went on to produce One Direction.
The audacious talent and extraordinary confidence during her performance of Turn My Swag On made Simon Cowell’s eyes light up and caused Cheryl (who would become her mentor before they publicly fell out when Cher appeared to question her ability to sing live) to pronounce her: “Right up my street.”
But Cher’s story is a cautionary one. Despite that early promise, reaching the final of that year’s competition to finish fourth and going on to enjoy initial solo success, the process crushed her.
“People say it’s a fast track to success, but it’s also a terrifying one,” she says. “No one warned me and I never had the chance to figure any of it out. I had to deal with it quite alone and that was scary.”
She might have come across as self-assured, but in reality she was a vulnerable, young girl who didn’t have a clue what was about to hit her.
From day one, the show created a narrative for Cher and she was cast, as she puts it, as the “chavvy gypsy”, thanks to Romani roots on her mother Dina’s side.
Her family history was deliberately hyped up in order to provoke extreme reactions in the watching public and it set her up as the love-hate figure of the series – the truculent teen – with little she could do about it except play the role.
“I was a naive 16 year old, who came from such a small shielded town where bad things didn’t happen, and I think I found it more difficult going on to a show like that because of where I was from and my background,” she says.
“I could deal with the pressures of performing at the drop of a hat, that wasn’t the part I struggled with – anything creative was a dream for me.
“When it came to the world of showbiz and gossip, that’s when it started to crumble and the dream turned into a little bit of nightmare. I feel like I was thrown to the wolves and it was so mentally damaging.”
Cher was signed by Simon Cowell’s Syco label at the end of the series and her debut single Swagger Jagger stormed to the top of the charts. The album Sticks + Stones reached No.4.
But, still only 17, she was deeply unhappy, suffering a daily onslaught of online abuse including racism and death threats, and she questioned how she was going to be able to continue.
She was forced off the stage at V Festival in 2012 after being pelted with bottles of urine. Her voice catches as she speaks today, the memories of that time still painfully raw.
“I spent most nights crying in hotel rooms – sure, they were fantastic five-star hotels, but I was so lonely. I didn’t trust anyone. I thought everyone was out to get me or wanted to take the p**s out of me and ruin whatever dream I had.”
For a long time she was angry about her treatment, although over the years those feelings have subsided into more of a sadness, and she talks about the experience with a thoughtfulness and eloquence that make her hugely likeable.
“I’m more disappointed that it was OK to do that to a human being, and that talent could be overlooked because people wanted to create a character. And even 10 years later, I’m still having to prove to people that that person wasn’t me. The things that happened to me back then would not be allowed to happen today. It feels tacky and gross and we don’t want to sit and laugh at other people.”
The appetite for that kind of television, she says, is thankfully no longer there.
“It actually feels incredible that as a nation we pulled together and said that’s not the → right way to treat people. We have to stop doing it. I love that that’s happening, especially now that I have a child – I don’t want to live in a world where people think it’s OK to laugh at and bully people for the sake of a bit of TV. It’s not on.”
It was when Cher was at her lowest that she met her husband Craig Monk and everything changed.
They were introduced in 2011 at the salon where hairdresser Craig worked, fell in love, married two years later when Cher was 20 and he was 23, and it’s because of him that she believes in fate.
“I think people get placed on your path who you’re meant to meet along the way at certain times, and he was that person for me.
“I don’t think I would have made it out if it wasn’t for him. I was struggling with my mental health and, hand on heart, I don’t know if I’d still be doing this without his help. I think I would have spiralled and my mental health would have got the better of me. I’m so lucky to have met him when I did.
“He came along and suddenly I had someone telling me it was going to be OK and I had to stop feeling angry and rise above it. Having someone there to help and guide me and also be the person to bring me happiness… I had no happiness, I was so sad.
“He made my life and my world… And he’s still doing that nearly 10 years on, and it’s brilliant!”
She adds: “There have been lots of people who have been there for the highs, but have disappeared through the lows. I don’t need those people in my life. I will not be inviting them back. Craig has consistently been there and that’s why I married the guy. And it’s why I won’t ever leave him.”
Shortly after Cher and Craig, now 29, married in 2013, a chance to start afresh came about completely unexpectedly when her single Want U Back broke the Top 10 in America. Cher headed Stateside to do promo work and didn’t come home again, staying in LA with Craig for the next three years.
“It wasn’t ever the plan to go and crack America and move there, it just happened. It happened overnight and without any warning and it turned out to be the most incredible time of my life. I felt like I was so accepted and it felt amazing.
“It was almost like I had a fresh start where people didn’t say those things about me, they just listened to the music and appreciated what I could do.”
Nevertheless, she quit her record label the following year after she felt she’d lost creative control of her second album – a decision she describes today as “huge, crazy”, but one she needed to make “to get back that feeling I had at 16 when I first went on that stage.”
She took some time out, wrote some songs and found “the most perfect management team”, who have helped her “find out what sort of artist I want to be” and made sure she’s been involved in all the decision making regarding her music and career.
However, she thinks she would have been treated very differently from the start had she been male. Certainly the fact she had – heaven forbid! – opinions never went down particularly well.
“I think a lot of people wished I would just stand there, look pretty and shut up. A million percent. That would have been much easier for them, because girls aren’t supposed to have opinions, are we?
“We need women speaking out, because of course there is sexism and we still have a long way to go.”
She recalls a recent incident shortly after the birth of her daughter Delilah when she lost out on a big job purely because she was a new mum. She keeps the details deliberately vague, but her frustration is clear.
“An opportunity came up for me within the music business and I was really close to getting it. I’d had my baby and I was ready to go back to work. But that opportunity was taken away from me because a man thought it would be too soon to start work again after having a child.
“It was the most gut-wrenching moment to be made to feel that suddenly I wasn’t valued. I was frowned upon for having a child. I wanted to be a working mother and obviously that would never have happened to a man.
“I have a supportive husband, so why wasn’t it thought of that he could take care of her while I worked? I think it’s important that people understand that this is still going on.”
Despite the considerable difficulties she’s had to battle back from, in the six years she’s been away, Cher has bought and renovated a house in Essex, which suggests she managed to achieve a decent level of financial comfort post X Factor.
“I was lucky enough to be able to concentrate on writing and finding my feet again in the UK, getting a house and planning to have a baby,” she says when asked about money. “It’s been a whole heap of rollercoaster ups and downs and finally I’m back on my feet again. It feels really good to see old fans and new fans and to feel like the UK has taken me under its wing again.”
Given the past, she’s understandably guarded about sharing too much of herself with her 2 million Instagram followers (7 million over on Twitter) and is still figuring out the balance. But, equally, the industry has changed beyond recognition since she was last in the public eye and she knows how crucial social media can be.
“I wish I was more open, and it’s something I struggle with. I wish I could go online and say: ‘Hey, everyone, this is me speaking live from my home!’
“Some people divulge every part of their life on there, but I don’t know if I can ever be like that. But I also don’t want that to take away from me being able to have success – social media is a big part of how we push out our music. But how far is too far?”
Too far is definitely sharing photos of Delilah, who turns two later this month. Cher and Craig have made a conscious decision to keep their daughter off social media.
“I don’t want pictures of her to be out there for the public to see, to judge, to comment on. I’m a protective mumma bear.
“A day will come when she wants to join up, and I’m dreading that because we do what we can to protect our children from the horrible parts of the world.
“It scares me, because 13 year olds today aren’t like how I was when I was 13. I had scruffy trainers from kicking a football around and a snotty nose from playing outdoors. And now 13-year-old girls do better make-up than me! This is the way of the world now and it’s frightening.
“We’re living in a world where influencers are the type of figures a lot of children look up to. I don’t know how long that will be the trend, but if Delilah turns round and says: ‘Mummy, I want to be an influencer’, I think I’ll be like: ‘Umm… OK.’
“At the minute, she says she wants to be a doctor, which I can definitely live with!”
She says Delilah is “very energetic, very vocal and not a shy child”, and then laughs as the description reminds us that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“Oh, but she is so feisty, 10 times worse than I ever was! She’s recently started a new tantrum phase and I’m not used to that.
“There are times I put her to bed and have a little cry to myself and think I could really do with a glass of rosé!
“Me and Craig enjoy every minute with her, but we are both learning how to be parents all the time. No one is perfect. She’s a happy child and well looked after and loved. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
Cher is only in touch with one of the 2010 X factor cohort – Katie Waissel, who also polarised opinion and became a series villain as a result.
“It’s been such a long time and we are all very wrapped up in our different lives, but I’ve messaged Katie back and forth and she’s such a lovely girl. She’s really into her fitness, she looks incredible and she has a little boy now as well. It’s great to see her doing well. She had a rough time and it’s lovely to see her growing as a person and a mother. It’s nice to see her find her feet. You can tell when someone is in a good place.”
And Cher seems to be in a pretty good one herself.
“I feel probably the most content that I’ve ever felt. I always dreamed of having a child. It was something I wanted and she completes us. Everything we do is for her and us three as a team feels so brilliant – I couldn’t be happier to have my own little family. It feels amazing.”
Does she like herself? She pauses, momentarily stumped.
“It’s such a difficult question,” she says. “There are some aspects I still need to work on. But I’m massively grateful for where I am now and whatever happens from here is a plus.
“This is my passion, my dream, my life, and I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.”
- Cher’s new single Lost is available to stream now.
Movie you watched? Matilda. Delilah loves it.
Book you read? I can’t even remember! I read stuff on my phone, awful!
Box set you watched? Peaky Blinders.
Podcast you listened to? The Joe Rogan Experience. Russell Brand’s episode was really good.
Album you listened to? We’ve been listening to a lot of Anne-Marie, Little Mix, Queen and Arctic Monkeys in lockdown.
Time you cried? Yesterday. I had a bad day.
Time you were drunk? A long time ago. Pre-pregnancy! I’m too scared of not being 100% capable of dealing with a disaster.
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